Review: Age of Assassins
Recently I’d been seeing frequent mentions about R.J. Barker’s new book, The Bone Ships, but didn’t have ready access to a copy. So I went looking for another book by the same author and found this one. Apparently it’s his debut novel, and was just published a couple years ago. From the publication schedule, it looks like they were probably all written first, and then he got picked up by his publisher. 6-month, very regular release dates kind of point in that direction. Seems like I see this significantly more often from speculative authors across the pond, but not so much from those here in America. Wonder if that’s because I just haven’t noticed them, or perhaps if it’s just something they don’t do here as often. Bonus for people that find they really like the thing, I guess. 🙂
AGE OF ASSASSINS (Amazon) is the first in The Wounded Kingdom series and revolves around the character of Girton Club-Foot. He’s an assassin in training and early in the story he and his master are captured by Queen Adran of Castle Maniyadoc, with whom Girton’s master has some important history. The queen presses them into service to find out who is planning to murder her son. Nice and simple. A private investigator kind of story. Only the main character is a 15 year-old kid, and he really doesn’t seem to know much about digging out clues.
The author’s writing is pretty good. Clear. Concise. Descriptive. The character of Girton comes out rather well rather early on, and even though there was a part of me wishing this wasn’t another castles and knights story, it was hard to look past the main character. This is especially impressive given the fact that this is the author’s debut novel. While true that it may be the case that this isn’t the first novel he’s ever written, but still. The fact that the language never gets in the way of understanding the story and being able to appreciate it is a big step in the right direction for me.
Girton spends most of his time in disguise as a squire-in-training. So in a way, the setting boils down to a “kid at school” story. Only difference, the kid in this story has some serious skills at killing people when he wants to. This was probably the point though that caused the most conflict in me as a reader. So this kid has been training as an assassin for 7-8 years at the time of this story. And when the time comes for him to put a few people down, he totally does. But then there’s a lot of story when he acts exactly like the 15 year-old he is. It seems as if he’s surprised quite often and occasionally seems a bit clueless, and this kind of killed the vibe that he’s a deadly assassin, who arguably need to be aware of what is going on around them. Or like, they could get killed. Yeah?
A lot of the time in the story is spent with him putting up with the hoity-toity arrogance of the heir apparent and his group of cronies. They act like most nobles do: as if they are better than everyone else. In like manner, most of Girton’s other actions seem very mundane in comparison to the end goal. He deals with the bullying from the noble squires, he befriends another scrawny boy and has some upset there, he gets involved with a girl that works in the stables. Occasionally, his master will show up to save him from a bad predicament, and then have him go do something specific toward the goal of “collecting clues”, but Girton spends so little time actually thinking about and driving toward finding the end goal, that the pacing of the plot suffers quite a bit.
A YA assassin navigates the social tiers of a medieval castle. Well-drawn main character and good writing aren't quite enough to make it a compelling read.
I did think the magic system was mildly interesting, but it’s mostly just introduced in this book and only exhibited in small measure. In essence, sorcerers can pull energy from the land and then use it to their own purposes. This kills green life around the point source of where the sorcerer cast his magic. There is a story that speaks of a great swath of land that was drained of all life by a great Black Sorcerer, thus where the name of the series is derived, but other than being used as something akin to a tale of morality, it doesn’t much come into play this time around.
Overall, this book takes the opportunity to build the world and the main character in fairly good measure, but doesn’t really move fast enough or in a single direction to make it a compelling read. It’s definitely decent. Well-written. Good characterization. Sufficiently twisty plot. There just wasn’t enough to make it something that I overly enjoyed reading. Given the things that the author does do right though, I think I can safely say that I’d be interested in seeing what he might be able to up with in The Bone Ships. Anyone read it yet? Throw us a comment or two below
- Recommended Age: 14+ for violence
- Language: Not much. Relatively mild.
- Violence: Gets somewhat gory. This is a story about assassins after all.
- Sex: Some innuendo and a scene that skips over the racy parts