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RJ Barker Interview – King of Assassins

RJ BarkerIf you’ve not see Fantasy-Faction’s Best of 2018 list yet, then you are missing out on some great reads. But lucky for you, we have the author of one of our top five picks (two years in a row!) here to talk with us today!

RJ Barker is the author of The Wounded Kingdom. The first book, Age of Assassins, debuted in 2017 to much acclaim (including our own!) and the second book, Blood of Assassins, was released February of last year. The final installment, King of Assassins, came out in August, and as mentioned above claimed the #5 spot on our Best Of list!

Fantasy-Faction was able to catch up with RJ right before the holidays and talk about his finished work and what he is planning for the future.

Now on with the interview!

Welcome back to Fantasy-Faction. Let’s start with something simple. What are your plans for the holidays? Or are you someone who enjoys solitude more than festivities?

Hiya! I’m probably like most people in that I like both. I’m really happy being on my own but also love being around people. I think liking people is probably my strongest facet as a writer, because I put it all into what I do. I’m actually (and this will shock anyone who’s seen me on a panel or doing a workshop) quite a quiet person in real life so we’ll see lots of family around Christmas, and I’ll enjoy that, but I might also slink off to another room and hide for a bit. Or do ‘work’ as I like to say. We have a little boy though, so Christmas is a hugely exciting time for him and I’m really looking forward to it for that reason.

It’s been some months since The Wounded Kingdom ended, but to us readers the taste is still lingering to say the least. How did it feel to complete the trilogy?

Age of Assassins (cover)Good. It felt good. Although I write each book with no plan, I had an over-reaching plan for the entire trilogy and I definitely felt like I pulled that off and that it had a decent emotional punch to it. I’m most interested in a thing when I am writing it and not a great one for looking back. By the time I’d finished The Wounded Kingdom books I already had a pretty good idea for what I wanted to do next, so I was already thinking about that. And finishing a trilogy isn’t a good bye to those characters, they live in my head, they’re always there.

So yeah. It felt good.

Will you miss writing these characters? Or will we get to read more stories with them?

Ha! I should have read all the questions before answering them! I don’t have any hard plans for more stories (I have a vague idea for a book about Merela in the back of my head somewhere) and I have a lot of other ideas that I want to pursue. But as I said, the characters never go away.

And part of it is whether or not there’s call for more stories and whether Orbit wants to put out more. I have no great wish to go back at the moment though. I’m a bit of a magpie, I’m always attracted to the shiny new things.

If you could change bits of your story, would you? Or are you totally happy with the whole?

Blood of Assassins (cover)No, wouldn’t change anything. I never look back. Things are done and can’t be undone so no point even thinking about it. It was the best thing I could do at that point in time and I’m pretty happy with it. I think it does what I wanted it to do. I like the way that Girton’s viewpoint, along with the writing, becomes more complex as he ages. And that the final book, sort of, reinvents events form earlier books and encourages the reader to go back, because maybe what happened in book one isn’t what you think happened when you read it.

I know everybody loves Girton and Xus, but may I ask who was your favorite character(s) to write in the trilogy?

Well, to write it’s Girton, because he narrates everything, so I’m very firmly in his head when I’m writing, and I like the fact it means I can lie to the reader. In book one there are characters that are presented in quite a binary and simplistic way because that’s Girton’s view of the world, but as you go through the trilogy you discover nothing is that simple. And I like the fact he’s not a very good detective, so the reader is always bit ahead of him. You can generally work out some bits of what’s going on.

But I like every character, because I know every character. It’s also difficult to talk about them because if people who haven’t read the trilogy read this then it gets very spoilery. I love Merela though, because she is this avatar of fierce parental love and she’s a middle-aged woman who is extremely capable, and that’s a character you don’t see very much. Then (and if you have read the trilogy you will now exactly who I am talking about next) there’s the character that probably has the biggest journey of emotional discovery throughout the books, and I have a huge soft spot for them. In some ways, maybe it’s even a series about them. The books were always written with the idea that Girton is a bit player in the history of this world, that if you read the history of it he would never feature.

What can your fans expect from you in the future? I know you have hinted about projects in past interviews, but would you care divulge some new info?

I kind of hate the words fans. It has this weird arms-length feel to it and I never feel like that. It’s more like I’ve discovered all these people who share similar interests to me and that I can talk to, when I should be writing more things. We have this weird habit of putting creative people on a pedestal, I think because what they do. When it’s done well, it connects with us on an emotional level and that’s a very powerful thing. But I am very much not special, I’m a bit silly really.

What I’m doing next hasn’t been announced yet, though it’s not actually a very well-kept secret either (cause I can’t keep my mouth shut). I am trying to be very careful and not say too much but it will involve ships and sea monsters.

Is there any other genre besides fantasy that interests you? Are you planning on writing in any other particular genres?

King of Assassins (cover large)Well, The Wounded Kingdom books are structured as detective stories and I love crime fiction, so I’ve been writing a crime novel as a sort of aside from fantasy, just to get my head clear. And before I wrote the WK books I very nearly sold a science fiction novel, which I really love and would like to get out at some point. I love to write really, and it’s mostly about people—genre is just the clothes the story wears.

As the year comes almost to an end, can you tell us a bit more about your favorite books from 2018, and recommend some for our readers?

I don’t tend to read lot of fantasy because I find it very hard to switch off from writing and I’m always thinking, ‘what would I do with this?’ Not in a critical way, it’s just an annoying voice in the back of my head that won’t shut up and never lets me settle. So, I tend to read out of genre.

That said, I did enjoy Priest of Bones by Pete McClean, I think partly because it felt very close to historical fiction, and also, it’s a great story. Then I would recommend everyone read the Slough House books (starting with Slow Horses) by Mick Herron, which are spy thrillers. But he has such a good ear for people and how they think and behave. 84K by Claire North too, it’s not a happy book, but it is great. Rosewater by Tade Thompson is wonderful. I’ve not sat down with Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand yet, but I suspect it is also going to be very, very good.

Thanks for having me, FF. 🙂

Thank you again for speaking with us! For more information on The Wounded Kingdom and RJ’s future works, you can check out his website or follow him on Facebook and Twitter!


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