I received an advanced review copy of Blood of Assassins in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank RJ Barker and Orbit Books. *May include minor spoilers* To be posted on Fantasy Book Review shortly.
The second novel in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy picks up the action 5-years after the climactic events of Age of Assassins. The assassin Girton Club-Foot and his master have been operating as mercenaries since they left Maniyadoc. They’ve travelled throughout the majority of the Tired Lands following violence and battles, putting their skills in dealing death to use and getting paid for completing vicious and bloody set objectives. On the road and after a confrontation his master gets poisoned and Girton races to return to Maiyadoc, which is ruled by his old friend Rufra; seeking aid and hoping to find sanctuary. Times have changed as have the people Girton trained with half a decade earlier. Three of them all believe they are the rightful King and are now competing for the throne. Girton focus now is on being at his friend’s side and finding a cure for his master’s ailment.
As mentioned, times have changed. Once again presented in the first person perspective, Girton is not the same character he was when Age of Assassins concluded. Beforehand for him, the killing was an art, a poem, a song, a ballet, now it is just a necessity in this ever-decaying world. He replaced his blades with an almighty war hammer and is not always the rational thinker the way he was. His master has to tone down his destructive nature and as someone who has magic within him, he could wield catastrophic city annihilating power. When his master is ill he sometimes loses his focus and has a creeping voice in his head offering him all the possibilities he could wish for. It’s like Girton is suffering from a sort-of magic influenced psychosis or schizophrenia yet still remains intelligent, fiercely loyal and an assassin at heart. Blood of Assassins features a variety of unfamiliar characters, new religions, and unvisited settings. I’d say half of the ensemble we are familiar with name-wise, however; not always with who they have become. My favourites to be reintroduced were Nywulf, the former sword trainer and now war commander, Boros, once pretty boy warrior and now a scarred veteran out for revenge, and Rufra, an overthinking but loved King who can’t see the threats and dangers within his camp and the surrounding world.
As well as aiming to heal his master and aid Rufra if he can, Girton is tasked with finding a spy. It is in this area of his focus that the amazing mystery and espionage element that wowed me in the first book is reintroduced. Age of Assassins blew me away with its mix of sleuthing and fantasy that seemed completely original to me, making the story one of my favourites from last year. In great fashion Blood of Assassins is more of the same and the writing is just as beautiful and poetic in manner. Similar to my thoughts regarding the prior book, I don’t think anything written here is coincidental and Barker maps his work out expertly in this puzzling narrative throwing up twists, shocks, betrayals, and surprises where we have to reanalyse where certain characters loyalties may lie. Some of the set-pieces featuring battles and sieges are true standout moments. The world presented here is truly decaying and that is reflected in just how dark some of the scenes in this story are. I didn’t care too much for a few of the brief interlude dream sequences but that is the only negative I have. That isn’t to say they won’t be engrossing to others. In my opinion, Barker’s work is superbly unpredictable and engaging and Blood of Assassins is just as enjoyable and addictive as the first. If anything it’s a better standalone written in a style that has led me to devour both his books within a handful of days. If you haven’t already – do yourself a favour and start this series. Girton is a brilliant character and luckily King of Assassins is only a few months away from release.