“THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING…
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.”
Thanks given to Netgalley and Orbit for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Blood of Assassins (book two of The Wounded Kingdom) is the follow up to RJ Barker’s hugely successful 2017 debut Age of Assassins. The novel picks up five years after the events of the first book, and we find a more world-weary, jaded Girton returning to Maniyadoc. Girton has been travelling the Tired Lands working as a mercenary soldier with his master – all the while keeping a tight lid on Girton’s burgeoning magic – but circumstances conspire to send him racing back to Maniyadoc and the people he once knew.
Much like the first novel, Blood of Assassins excels with great action sequences and a thrilling plot; the combat scenes are some of the best I’ve read in recent memory, actually. There’s another conspiracy afoot, and Girton must race to uncover a traitor and save his friend Rufra as well as his master, and in this way it’s similar to its predecessor in that it blends together mystery and action into a wonderfully enthralling epic fantasy tale.
Then there are the characters. I mentioned in my review of Age of Assassins that the characters populating Barker’s world were all complex, interesting people – none of which has changed. If anything, that foundation and history adds beautifully textured layers to the people they’ve become, and it’s a joy to discover them anew, familiar and yet changed.
I did find this wasn’t always the case regarding Girton, though. He’s traded his blades for a warhammer, neglecting his assassin skills and hiding from the person he was raised to be. He struggles between love for his master, and a deep, festering resentment of her. And he makes mistakes. All of this is interesting and makes for a complex character, but it’s also frustrating. Some of Girton’s choices are believable, even if they had me screaming at him, but others are just plain infuriating – it’s almost like he’s taken twelve steps back since Age of Assassins and is (knowingly) making the same mistakes he did in the past, wilfully clouding his own judgement at every turn. It made empathising with Girton a more difficult task than last time, but not an impossible one.
But one of the things I was most looking forward to in this sequel was learning more about the Tired Lands and the nature of sorcery. I got all that and more, which kept my interest and has me hungering for book three. I had the same problem regarding the sudden switches from past to present tense as I did with book one – at times this is handled well, but at others it knocked me completely out of the story – but it wasn’t nearly enough of a bugbear to dampen my excitement for King of Assassins coming later this year. Overall, I give Blood of Assassins four stars.
I really liked it.