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The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

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The Penitent Assassin by Shawn Wickersheim – Review & New Cover Reveal

The Penitent Assassin by Shawn Wickersheim – Review & New Cover Reveal
Book Name: The Penitent Assassin
Author: Shawn Wickersheim
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Ebook
Genre(s): Dark Fantasy
Release Date: December 19, 2013

With one SPFBO done and another to begin, I’ve taken some time to read some books I’ve been wanting to read for a while, but what with one thing, another, a tonne of my own writing, and real life in the way I never got the chance too. I know, excuses, excuses.

Shawn Wickersheim’s book, The Penitent Assassin, was entered into the first SPFBO, alongside 299 other books – many of them bloody excellent and well worth reading – but like the vast majority of those books it never made it to the final. I’d read a few others of SPFBO #1 and there were more I wanted to read – well, a window opened up and Shawn’s book fell in. I think it had been leaning on the glass and drinking heavily.

Anyway, the blurb (don’t read it) tells you a lot of what is going to happen in the book, but also misses out a fair amount too. It is almost a spoiler, but not quite.

Mallor is a famous thief, assassin, long thought dead, but returned to the city of his birth to exact a terrible revenge. A lot of people have gained positions of power based on the assumption that Mallor is no more – they are about to find disappointment on the end of a pointy piece of steel. Mallor’s city is a dirty, grimy and disgusting place to exist. Everyone is out to get everyone else and often with little care for the collateral damage this entails.

As you become immersed within the world the author creates, you begin to realise that there is more to Mallor than ‘just’ a thief. Something drives the man to do what he does, not all of it pleasant, but all of it necessary – at least in his mind. There is an almost Wolverine-esque feeling to Mallor at the beginning, tinged with a hint of Deadpool (maybe). My first reaction, and it persisted for a time, was the feeling that Mallor was not entirely sane.

This is a man who holds conversations with a voice inside his head, argues with it even. He admits to being a drug (essence) addict and is determined to clean his system of the drug. Yet this drug is taken and used by almost everyone as a means of achieving magical power – and without that power, you are a mere pawn to be placed and discarded. Of course, to get the drug you first need money and that isn’t always easy. Life in the city is a fleeting thing.

As the story progresses the history of the city, its inhabitants and, most importantly, Mallor are drawn out piece by excruciating piece. The books gives nothing up that you aren’t willing to work for – or at least the characters work for it. A relentless pace, not a chapter wasted, and blood filling every page, the clear prose makes you want to read on and on. I started and finished the book within three days – something I haven’t done for a long time!

The city itself is a character, its dark underbelly is turned over, sliced open and picked over for every scrap of flavour, nuance to further our understanding of the setting. The characters, heroes and villains alike, are flawed and make mistakes. Knowledge is fought for and battled over. More still is hidden away, revealed when the time is right and its impact most needed.

From the woodwork crawl the factions, each battling the other for power without fully grasping the doom that will fall upon them and the city. No character is safe and no building remains standing by the end. Even Mallor himself, our hero, is willing to sacrifice everything he holds dear in order to have his revenge.

All the praise is not to say this debut novel is faultless. Like all books there is a chance to poke holes and pick the bits that don’t quite work. For instance, from the initial descriptions of the ‘trackers’ I pictured something totally different to the later descriptions – I couldn’t quite get a hold of the image, but their efficiency and malice is clear throughout their scenes. Time seems a mutable commodity – some things happened and, to me, they should have taken longer than they did, or time became compressed – night and day merged into one. And a lot happens before the book begins which becomes important later – that can be a touch disconcerting, but roll with it and you won’t regret it.

Those problems do little, to my mind, to detract from the story of Mallor’s vengeance. The battles, escapades, magic, deaths, betrayals and reveals all combine into a rollicking good read that is certainly grim and dark – with just a little glimmer of hope.

The Penitent Assassin (cover)

Add to all that this amazing new cover from J Caleb Designs which captures a lot of the feel of the book right away.

The Penitent Assassin is a fast paced, blood soaked ride through a dark city corrupted by power and avarice. A dying religion, a fallen priest, and a thief who might be its saviour – or maybe it doesn’t want saving.


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