Blood of Assassins by R J Barker

February 15, 2018

Blood of Assassins is a direct sequel to Age of Assassins. If you haven’t read book one in this series, then it is entirely likely that this review will contain something akin to minor spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you all…


The assassin Girton Club-foot and his master have returned to Maniyadoc in hope of finding sanctuary, but death, as always, dogs Girton’s heels. The place he knew no longer exists.

War rages across Maniyadoc, with three kings claiming the same crown – and one of them is Girton’s old friend Rufra. Girton finds himself hurrying to uncover a plot to murder Rufra on what should be the day of the king’s greatest victory. But while Girton deals with threats inside and outside Rufra’s war encampment, he can’t help wondering if his greatest enemy hides beneath his own skin.

One of my favourite reads last year was the debut novel from R J Barker. Age of Assassins is a confident fantasy adventure, well told, following an apprentice as he learns the arts of dealing death. Blood of Assassins re-joins the story five years after the events of book one. Girton Club-foot has grown into a young man, but is still apprenticed to the master assassin Merela Karn. They have travelled the world, plying their trade, but eventually circumstance has brought them back to Maniyadoc only to find the region being ripped apart by a bloody civil war.

Girton still has much to learn. He is still trying to control the magic that infuses his being. Living with such a huge secret is taking its toll. I think it’s fair to say Girton still has a temper and a mile-wide stubborn streak to go along with it. There is an internal battle going on inside our hero. It strikes me there is a large part of his character that fears change in any form. This is best illustrated by his attitude towards his master. The prospect of no longer being with Merela makes him act like a petulant child. I don’t doubt there is a good man lurking deep within Girton but sometimes that man is almost impossible to spot. If I’m honest I’m not a huge fan of your stoic, square jawed heroic type, so it pleases me that Girton is about as far away from that as you can get.  He gets angry and he isn’t averse to having a strop. Not exactly what you’d expect from a trained killer perhaps, but it does make for some fascinating insight into the inner turmoil he is experiencing. I found myself wanting to grab Girton by the collar and give him a good shake. Now, ignoring the fact he would probably kill me before I managed to do so, I think this is an entirely reasonable attitude to have. Whenever an author manages to elicit a strong emotional response from me I take that as a good sign.

The five-year time jump works well as it allows existing characters the chance to evolve in the reader’s absence. There is one character in particular who has changed quite considerably. I’ll not say who, it would spoil the reveal.  The important thing is that though time may have passed, there are still plenty of conspiracies and evil schemes going on. Just about everyone Girton meets appears to be up to something nefarious plot or another. When kings, politics and religion are in the mix then there are always going to be those keen to take what power the can for themselves.

All these plans and power plays aside R J Barker also has a real knack when it comes to writing action scenes. There is a chapter that details a siege in a small village and the frenetic back and forth is perfectly pitched. Girton, unsurprisingly, is caught right in the midst of all the chaos, bloodletting and death. There is a constant barrage of action and reaction that ensures each scene rattles along at a breakneck pace. It is enough to take your breath away. There is a visceral, unconstrained quality to this pacing that compliments the novel’s quieter moments. The climax of the novel is a real highlight. Everything builds towards a huge battle and when it finally arrives all hell breaks loose. The interesting thing though is that while hundreds are fighting to the death all around him the actions focuses squarely on Girton. He is forced to finally face his inner demons and accept who and what he is. That sense of quiet calm in the midst of such a violent storm feels palpable. I was impressed the author managed to convey this juxtaposition so effortlessly.

You’ve probably guessed but I’ll confirm your suspicions any way – I really enjoyed Blood of Assassins. The plot is engrossing, and it manages to build successfully from the events in its predecessor. Whenever I read a book in an ongoing series, I’m always pleased when I finish it and cannot wait to discover what happens next. That is the mark of a skilled storyteller.  If you enjoyed book one of The Wounded Kingdom, then I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of this. Blood of Assassins is fantasy fiction executed flawlessly.

When I read book one in this series I recommended listening to Eric Serra’s blissful soundtrack to Leon: The Professional. I’ve decided I’m going to continue the assassin related musical theme with book two. While reading Blood of Assassins I suggest listening to the Assassins Creed: Origins soundtrack by Sarah Schachner. Sinister, thrilling and at times nice and dark. It is the ideal companion for Girton and his adventures.

Blood of Assassins is published by Orbit and is available now.  The final book in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, King of Assassins, is set to follow at a later date.

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