Blood of Assassins: Steadily marching forward, one foot in front of the other

Blood of Assassins by R.J. Barker epic fantasy book reveiwsBlood of Assassins by R.J. Barker epic fantasy book reviewsBlood of Assassins by R.J. Barker

It’s been five years since Girton Club-Foot was last in the kingdom of Maniyadoc, when he and his Master, Merela Karn, were tasked with untangling a royal web of plots, lies, and murder in R.J. Barker’s debut novel Age of Assassins. Now, terrifying Nonmen prowl the yellowed lands spreading chaos and anarchy, Girton’s friend Rufra is king of Maniyadoc, and both Aydor and Tomas have set themselves against Rufra in an effort to claim the kingdom for their own. Someone in Rufra’s inner circle is a spy and an assassination plot is in the works, but having been away for so long, Girton is at a complete disadvantage: he has no idea who to trust, Rufra himself has grown distant and hard during his kingship, Rufra’s forces are fighting an uphill battle against Tomas, and Girton’s Master is badly poisoned in the very first chapter of Blood of Assassins (2018).

Alone despite being surrounded by thousands of people, Girton must rely on his training and intuition to save the lives of his Master and his friend, but his own prejudices and insecurity threaten to ruin everything these people have worked for. Among Rufra’s allies are the Landsmen, whose sworn duty is to kill magic users (and spill their blood where it will rejuvenate the sickened land) and who Girton must stay away from for reasons first mentioned in Age of Assassins, but which become even more pressing in Blood of Assassins. That their campaign of murder/sacrifice hasn’t stopped people from being born with magical talents only strengthens their fanaticism to their cause, and puts at risk anyone born with a deformity or who lives on the outskirts of society. Girton sees the danger in allying with these people, alongside the danger in allying with various priests of dead gods and their own fanaticisms, but Rufra’s idealism seems to blind him to all but a person or group’s best merits.

The Wounded Kingdom (3 Book Series) by RJ Barker, RJ BakerI noticed some Arthurian-figure qualities to Rufra in THE WOUNDED KINGDOM’s first book, and those qualities have only become stronger in the second: he brings disparate factions together in service to his goal of uniting the people, he desires a stronger presence of law and order with an emphasis on justice, he has an uncanny ability to compel loyalty from people who should be his enemies, and he seems predestined for greatness. Thankfully, Barker’s choice of protagonist is a young “mage-bent” man whose friendship and deadly skills also seem predestined to assist Rufra’s climb to greatness, and whose assassin training allows him to move among people and gather information which would be inaccessible to Rufra. There are more than enough Chosen One narratives littering the Fantasy genre — I’d much rather read a story about people like Girton, who have to overcome impossible odds and deeply personal struggles without seeking personal glory or high stations of power.

Girton’s Master, and his complex relationship with her, take a bit of a backseat in Blood of Assassins — she’s incapacitated to some degree or another for a great deal of the story, though her presence is a constant echo in Girton’s thoughts and one of his primary motivators (for good and for ill). Though he’s technically a man in his society, and a battle-tested assassin, Barker isn’t afraid to show readers how fragile and damaged Girton is by his life’s experiences, and the ways in which his selfishness and apparently-good intentions can lead him equally astray. Nor does Barker sugar-coat the consequences of Girton’s actions, to the point where lives are irrevocably changed or ended due to his lack of maturity. I wouldn’t call THE WOUNDED KINGDOM grimdark, necessarily, but it is quite realistic in many aspects.

The next book in the series is King of Assassins, currently expected to be published in August 2018. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Girton better and watching him grow, both as an assassin and as a person, so I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what happens next in his story.

Published February 13, 2018. The epic sequel to RJ Barker’s fantasy debut Age of Assassins, set in a world ravaged by magic, featuring a cast of assassins, knights, and ambitious noblemen. In a desperate bid to escape the bounty on his head, assassin Girton Club-Foot has returned to Maniyadoc, but the kingdom he knew no longer exists. Three kings battle for supremacy in a land ravaged by war-and one of them is his old friend Rufra. With threats inside and outside the war encampment, Girton races to find the traitor behind an assassination plot. But his magic can no longer be contained and Girton may not be able to save even himself. It’s assassin versus assassin for the life of a king.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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