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Age of Assassins by RJ Barker

Age of Assassins by RJ Barker
Book Name: Age of Assassins
Author: RJ Barker
Publisher(s): Orbit
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: August 1, 2017 (US) August 3, 2017 (UK)

Coming-of-age books are quite common these days, so are the books containing assassins as protagonists in fantasy, so how does a book combing these two themes actually fare? RJ Barker proved that it can work out rather brilliantly. It just needs what every great novels need: strong and interesting characters, unique magic system and worldbuilding, and breathtaking portrayal of action sequences.

Girton Club-foot, is the apprentice to the land’s best assassin, but his latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: being hired to save a life. Someone, or many someones, are trying to kill the heir to the throne of Maniyadoc, and it is up to Girton and his master, Merela Karn, to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder. In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies, Girton must uncover the conspiracy that could destroy an entire kingdom, while making a few friends and dealing with many enemies along the way.

The main strength of this book is the characters and how the author handled them. The main protagonist is someone with a disability, which is always a hard concept to work on if you’re not careful. But Barker did a splendid job on this front. He skillfully detailed the shortcomings Girton faces is his line of work with his clubfoot, how he uses it to his advantage, and also how other characters treat him because of it. The amazing dynamic of his relationship with Merela was another aspect that the author depicted quite elegantly. How this master and apprentice relationship often borders on mother and child, and how Girton is quite oblivious regarding the true feelings of Merela is very emotionally detailed.

And how good was the character of Merela, an assassin with a heart, who often tries to invoke justice and always chooses her clients and targets based on preferences? While Girton gets a lot of revealing regarding his backstory Merela gets very little, yet her words and actions speak a lot. Among other characters Rufra was a favorite for me, and the antagonists were also interesting. The only side character I didn’t really care about was Drusl, who I felt was just created to give Girton a romantic interest, nothing else. I would also like to mention Xus here, the mount that the assassin duo uses, who is an animal that everyone will love for sure.

As for the world, this novel takes place in The Tired Lands. As the name suggests this is quite a bleak place where there is a lot scarcity of foods and other daily commodities, and the wars against sorcerers have drained the land. There is a vicious class system in which everyone except the high born (called blessed here) are totally expendable and have almost no rights. The depiction was at times quite cruel, but rings true to the condition of the setting in the novel.

While it is quite hard to make a magic system unique these days, the author does a commendable job. Without spoiling much I would just like to say while magicians or sorcerers are quite powerful, the magic takes a huge toll from nature and often makes the user lose their sanity. An interesting twist in my opinion.

The action sequences were another also very enjoyable aspect. Barker breaks down the fights into segments and gives the moves the assassins uses various names, making the fights quite delightful to read. Although I would have loved some more action scenes, the quality of his prose in this regard are excellent and I have nothing but praise for the quality on display in the book.

However, the pacing was a bit too slow at times, I often put the book down for days in between my read. But the author does pick up the pace about halfway into the book and its very smooth sailing from then on. The mystery element of the books takes some time to really flow into context, but once it does, it was quite interesting, especially in the scope of such an epic fantasy setting.

All things considered not only is this book one of the best debuts in fantasy fiction last year, it is also one of the best fantasy books of the year, period. The strong characters, original worldbuilding and magic system, and the excellently choreographed fight scenes will definitely make any lover of fantasy happy. I am quite hopeful for the future this series, cause now that the coming-of-age is done and Girton is grown up I know the future holds much more action and intrigue. Damn, I need to get my hands on the sequel right now!


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