Tough Traveling: Assassins

Back in 2014, the idea for Tough Traveling started with Nathan of Fantasy Review Barn who came up with the excellent idea of making a new list each week based on the most common tropes in fantasy, as seen in (and inspired by) The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a tongue-in-cheek parody of the fantasy genre by Diana Wynn Jones. It was widely successful, with over fifty bloggers participating at one point before it went on hiatus. But now Tough Traveling is back, with huge thanks to Laura from Fantasy Faction for reviving the feature! Every first of the month we’ll be posting a list of books that fit a particular theme, with the next month’s theme also to be announced. Interested in participating? Well, grab your traveling packs and come along! You are welcome to post your Tough Traveling lists anytime during the month.

May’s topic is:


Assassins are ubiquitous throughout fantasyland. Sharp-eyed readers (or even dull-eyed ones) will notice that their hooded forms often adorn book covers, and that they frequently appear – rather improbably – not to mind being the sole focus of our attention. Whether they’re spotlight hogs or camera-shy and brooding, most assassins will have trained for years and are very, VERY good at their job (i.e. killing people for money).

“I love assassinating assassins. They always look so surprised.”
— Sith Assassin, Star Wars The Old Republic

The Reaper’s Bride

Assassin’s Charge by Claire Frank: Rhisia Sen leads a life of luxury as one of the emperor’s highest paid assassins. She can afford to take assignments as she pleases, but when she takes one that demands she kill a child, she suddenly has a change of heart. This is her line in the sand and she will not cross it, even at the risk of her own life. Now the assassin is being hunted by assassins… Who says assassins can’t have honour?

Ardalan’s Assassin

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: When we first meet the infamous assassin, she is a slave at the king’s mercy. She has already killed many of her jailers in an attempted escape. She will not be broken. This makes her a perfect contestant in the king’s challenge to find a new royal assassin. This is reality television at its finest as we follow Celaena through her training regiment and personal life.

Master Durzo Blint

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks: Durzo Blint is a wetboy. An odd name, certainly, but no one in town makes fun of this deadly assassin — or lives to tell about it. He spends the better part of The Way of Shadows training the young, Azoth, how to walk in his deadly footsteps. Alas, my greatest disappointment of this book is the fact that it is not actually about Master Durzo Blint, but instead this snotty, whiny, brat kid and his cliche problems and magicness that ruins what could have been a great assassin story.

Seishiro Sakurazuka

Tokyo Babylon and X by CLAMP: Why are the blossoms of the sakura (chery blossom) trees pink? It is because they feed on the blood of bodies buried beneath them. Such is the grim work of the mysterious Sakurazukamori Clan, assassins who kill without remorse or compunction and leave no witnesses. There is only ever one Sakurazukamori at a time. The irony being that each Sakurazukamori is killed by the one they love most, though the Sakurazukamori are raised to be devoid of emotion. And so it was his mother’s life that Seishiro took in order to become the assassin of all assassins.

Tokyo Babylon

The “Guild of Assassins” topic was one of my favorites from the original run of Tough Travels, so I’m very glad it’s back! Here’s my chance to add to the roster some newer reads that didn’t get a chance to make it to the list the first time ’round…

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb – FitzChivalry

Color me shocked that I had not included FitzChivalry the first time we covered this theme. This first novel of the Farseer trilogy introduces us to the character and covers his early life as a royal bastard living at Buckkeep Castle. During his time there, Fitz goes from being a stable boy to become a “King’s Man” to King Shrewd, with this rise in station accompanied by weapons and basic combat training. Soon, he also makes the acquaintance of an assassin named Chade, who takes Fitz on as his apprentice.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – Mia Corvere

Mia Corvere’s father was a famed military leader – until he led a failed rebellion and was consequently executed along with his followers. Mia was then captured with the rest of her family, but managed to escape, surviving alone for the next few years in the cold, merciless shadows of the city. Desiring revenge on her father’s enemies, Mia ends up under the tutelage of a shady man named Mercurio who sends her to a secret academy for assassins. However, to pass all their trials is an honor only few attain. To get what she wants, Mia will need to first gain status as a full-fledged Blade – if she can survive that long to do it.

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence – Nona Grey

Red Sister introduces us to the icebound world of Abeth, populated by people who descend from four main “tribes”, each distinguished by special talents. Children who manifest even a single one of these are highly sought after by various institutions, from churches to schools for killers. Across the land, young boys and girls are given away or sold if they show potential, which is how protagonist Nona Grey ends up in a cage, on her way a prospective buyer. But things don’t exactly work out for Nona. Soon, she finds herself facing the hangman’s noose for committing a savage crime, but before her execution can take place, she is rescued by a nun who whisks Nona away to the Convent of Sweet Mercy where young girls are trained to be mercenary fighters and assassins.

Skullsworn by Brian Staveley – Pyrre

When the story begins, Pyrre is still an acolyte, twenty-five years old and pledged to Ananshael—the God of Death. For years she has trained in the arts of assassination, learning countless ways to deliver victims into her god’s embrace. But before she becomes a priestess, she must pass her final trial, which states that in a span of fourteen days, Pyrre must assassinate seven specific targets that fit the descriptions named in a sacred verse. The trouble is, one of her targets will have to be someone she loves, but Pyrre doesn’t believe she has ever been in love. And if she hasn’t been in love, she can’t kill the one she loves, and if she can’t kill the one she loves, she fails her trial. And considering how all acolytes of Ananshael who fail their final trials must offer themselves to their god…well, you see her dilemma.

Shy Knives by Sam Sykes – Shy

Shaia Ratani, Shy to her friends, is a scrappy young scoundrel who specializes in the kind of jobs that no one else can handle. For one thing, she’s not afraid to work outside the law. For another, she’s also not above getting her hands dirty. She has cheated, stolen, maimed, and killed – and though she doesn’t exactly condone or relish doing harm to others, it’s not like she can afford to regret her past decisions either. For a rogues, thieves and assassins like her, sometimes a job is just a job…nothing personal!

Join us next month for another edition of Tough Traveling! The theme will be:

Non-Human Heroes & Protagonists

22 Comments on “Tough Traveling: Assassins”

  1. Strange as it might seem, the assassin’s theme is one of the most fascinating in fantasy fiction, and I need to explore it in greater depth (no matter how that might sound! LOL).
    Both Red Sister and Skullsworn are on my “must read” list, indeed…


  2. Great list – and we share 4 or 5 of the same assassins. I also had the Reaper’s Bride – it was so fresh on my mind that it had to go on there too.
    Lynn 😀


  3. I have read almost none of those. I think what I am learning is I don’t really like Assassins as much as I think I do; especially as a main character. Most of those I have read I only go to the first book of, Hobb and Mass specifically.


    • Hmm, maybe it’s not just you. Now that you mention it, assassins might not be as ubiquitous in fantasy as I thought, but they only feel that way because we run across so many of them in supporting or minor roles.


  4. Great to see Celaena made it onto your list! I love that series. I haven’t read many of the others you’ve mentioned but most are on my to-read list, am looking forward to getting to them.


    • I really enjoyed Throne of Glass too, but I’m sad to say the last couple of books have disappointed me. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to read the final book yet. I guess I should though, just to find out how it all ends 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah that’s a shame, but I can understand, they did have their flaws. I still enjoyed them though (my favourite character is Manon so my fandom increased since she arrived). I think if I were you I’d read the final book, just to see how it ended… that said, I’ve given up on series before and cheated by watching the movie or reading a summary of the ending 🙂


  5. Great list 😀 Azoth was my first thought, since I’m reading Shadow’s Edge right now; but Durzo is the legend, after all…


  6. Ah Fitz was such an unlikely assassin to me. He wasn’t what I expected at all because whenever I think of assassins, I always think of the badass killer in the shadows who can kill you with their pinkie.


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