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Hachette Book Group
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Age of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom) Kindle Edition
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|Length: 432 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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I have a lengthy list of things I want to read, and this novel, from a first glance "Coming of Age Assassin Story" seemed like some teenage boys first attempt at a novel.
Then, by happenstance, my favorite author James Islington posted a glowing review. I had to take him at his word, and I pre-ordered the book.
I just finished it minutes ago, and I must say. This book is NOT what it seems at first glance. The depth, the characters, the very wording of every sentence is a wonderful experience.
Many books I have read lately, either feel rushed, or not complete. This is neither. The pacing is wonderful. You feel at the end like you have taken in a great experience and of course desire more. But I am willing to wait for it. (Not too long mind you)
So, I join James Islington and advise you in the strongest manner I can. READ THIS BOOK! NOW!.....like seriously. What....why...why are you still here?
It’s excellent book, guys. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad. Poetic in places. To the point in others.
Queen Adran is a psycho. Her son is an incompetent, dull and aggressive bully but also an heir to the throne. Adran is afraid someone may attempt to kill him and in order to keep her sweet boy safe from assassins, she employs assassins. Or rather – possibly the best assassin alive – Merela Barn. The two have a history that’s hinted as we follow the story.
Merela has an apprentice – Girton. That’s our protagonist and the story is told, mostly, from his first-person perspective. In order to prevent the prince’s murder, they need to put on masks. Girton pretends to be a clumsy and inexperienced squire, Merela is a disguised as traveling jester. Their investigation proves that quite a lot of people has a reason to want Prince gone for good. Some people close to the throne have dangerous pasts, some are involved in complicated politics. The list of suspects grows. Girton and his master need to untangle this web of lies and deceit.
While trying to integrate in castle live Girton Clubfoot discovers things new to him: friendship, first love, feeling of betrayal and being utterly lost. Up to this moment, his interactions with other people were limited (mostly to killing them) and due to job’s character he traveled a lot
Some blood is spilled in the book. People die. There’s violence and abuse. But it’s not really a grimdark book. It’s full of hope and our deadly assassisns have heart and it’s easy to root for them and relate to them.
If you look for a book in which assassins fly from one rooftop to the other and eviscerate people in creative ways leaving a trail of blood and despair behind them, look elsewhere. If however, you’re in the mood for nicely written book about assassins who solve the deadly mystery using their brain and skills, you’ll be hooked. As the book is told from Girton perspective, it’s quite emotional places. He’s a young boy who was sold by slavers to his master years ago and now he’s coming of age. The events presented in AoA make him question many things.
The bond between Girton and Merela is touching. She’s his master and probably the best assassin alive. She’s an efficient and cold killer and yet it seems she loves Girton deeply and watching this is really heart warming. She encourages him to see past his disability (Girton has club-foot) and she’s there for him when needed. Girton is a bit naïve but he’s also intelligent and good at heart. At times his overwhelmed with self-doubt but it was really easy to care for him. Apart from this Girton is a talented assassin and when he’s in the state of flow, he moves flawlessly through iterations (dance-like movements used by assassins) destroying his opponents in seconds. He’s not superhuman though. His muscles get sore. He can be defeated.
Most side-characters were done remarkably well – they felt complex and fully fleshed. I love Girton for who he is, but I must Say it’s Merela Karn (his master) that I’m fascinated by. Apart from being a motherlike figure for him, she has some impressive deduction skills that allow her to make the final reveal. Also, this reveal is quite surprising.
World-building is done well and we learn quite a lot about the world, it’s religion and history in a way that doesn’t slow down the plot. It’s integrated into the story almost seamlessly. There’s magic in this world and it comes at a price. When a sorcerer uses it, it’s drawn from life around. A history knows examples of sorcerers who scorched the land and killed hundreds of people in a single burst of power. Magic is not a force to be toyed with. It’s considered an abomination.
The writing style feels a bit unusual. Sometimes the writing is almost poetic, sometimes phrasing feels a bit off but upon rereading of a sentence makes sense and adds color to the story. It has a really nice flow to it. It has to be noted, though, that some missing letters and misspellings are present in the book.
I’m desperately hoping that this book sells well enough to ensure that full series is published according to plan, without a single day of delay. Books 2&3 are supposed to be published in 2018. I need more stories in this world and with these heroes. After reading it, I’m confident the book will be recognized and celebrated for what it is. I eagerly anticipate the further adventures of Girton and his Master.
TL;DR - buy this book.
Girton is a sympathetic protagonist – he is a diligent student; obedient, loyal, and extremely grateful to his master, who has pulled him from a life of slavery (or worse). In turn, Merela is a highly skilled assassin and yet she brims with compassion and understanding for her young ward. Their chemistry and mutual respect is one of the great strengths of the novel, and reminds me very much of a similar relationship in John Gwynne’s A Time of Dread, one of my favorites from earlier this year. Girton is given room to learn and grow, make mistakes and even act out, safe in the knowledge that his guardian’s love is unconditional. Their shared regard is also their greatest vulnerability, and it’s moving to read the blurring of their master/student, parent/child relationship. Girton has a great deal of agency; he has opportunities to make his own decisions about his future, and later, to reflect on the mistakes he has made. Most heart-wrenching is watching him long for the life he didn’t (or couldn’t) choose, that of a normal boy. All in all, he is a thoughtful and sensitive young man who undergoes setbacks and challenges without falling into the trap of being unbearably self-absorbed (often an issue with teen protagonists – not unrealistic necessarily, but not often fun to read, either). He also has a disability, as his name suggests – this is handled well in that it is not what defines Girton; rather, it is a part of him and accepted as such. It is not presented as something to feel sorry for him over, nor is it something intended to make him ‘inspirational’ to able-bodied readers. It is simply a part of his story, something that is occasionally a hindrance to him and at times, useful to his undercover persona.
The main thrust of the plot lies with our ambitious Queen Adran. Believing that someone wishes to murder her son, she hires Merela to investigate. Merela and Girton must go undercover and blend in with life at Castle Maniyadoc – Merela takes on the identity of Death’s Jester, and Girton joins the ranks of the Squires, which throws him directly into the path of Adran’s spoiled and generally loathsome son. There is an established hierarchy amongst the noble squires, and Girton struggles to find acceptance; indeed, there are a number of events suggesting that someone has it in for him. This is where the plot really kicks into high gear, as the cast of characters opens up and the ‘whodunnit’ aspect of the story takes over. There are so many characters with credible motivations it’s staggering to read. At no point did I feel like I had a clear handle on it, and where normally I pick up on these cues, this time around when the final reveal took place all I could do was laugh. It was all there and I genuinely didn’t spot it. I even kicked myself because once it was revealed I could see exactly where it had been foreshadowed. Bravo, RJ.
The setting is fully realized without being over explained. I think we were given just the right amount of information to be tantalizing, with plenty of room for future entries in the series to flesh out the world. Everything from the antlered mounts and dead gods to the Tired Lands versus the Sour Lands was intriguing and a little bit horrifying – a solid glimpse into the culture of an unforgiving world, where magic is outlawed and considered an abomination which must be repaid with blood, lest the land be drained of life. It is a cruel setting that is at times pretty grim, with a caste system, a deep fear of those who wield magic, and an inherent sense of injustice. The prose flows beautifully, and the glimpses of the past we are given via dream sequences work very well. Barker uses some common tropes, but I think he brings enough originality to the table that I find myself with little to complain about. In short, it was a deeply enjoyable novel and the minute I publish this review I’ll be purchasing a copy of Blood of Assassins without a second thought. Highly recommended.
Sadly I guessed the main plot a bit to early which robbed me a bit of the fun as it is a bit of a whodunnit book.
Also the setting is post-apocalytic-through-magic with is a under used trope in general I think, I mean we always hear about how unchecked magic is bad, but here we actually get to see it!
Would probably rate it 4.5 if it was allowed....