Review: Blood of Assassins by R.J. Barker
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 2 of The Wounded Kingdom
Publisher: Paperback: Orbit | Audiobook: Hachette Audio (February 13, 2018)
Length: Paperback: 480 pages | Audiobook: 15 hrs and 8 mins
Narrator: Joe Jameson
In general, I find that most second books of a trilogy rarely live up to the first one, and so I foolishly thought this would be the case here as well. Well, I’ve never been happier that I was wrong. R.J. Barker has topped his first book with a spectacular sequel containing even more intrigue, more action, and more heart.
Several years have passed since the end of Age of Assassins, and in that time, many changes have come to the Tired Lands. Among the biggest of these is the ousting of Aydor, former heir to the throne, and now Rufra rules as king. War, however, still rages across the land, with three ambitious men all vying for the same crown. In the intervening years, our protagonist, the assassin-in-training Girton Clubfoot, as well as his master Merela have been traveling with a band of mercenaries, trying to keep a low profile amidst the conflict in order to escape the bounty hunters on their trail. But despite their best efforts, disaster finds them in the end, and with Merela incapacitated by a deadly poison, Girton has no choice but to return to Castle Maniyadoc at the behest of an old foe.
Still, coming back to Maniyadoc has its upsides. Girton is reunited with his friend Rufra, who has not forgotten our protagonist’s role in helping him become king. The problem now is keeping things that way, as rumors abound that Rufra has a spy among his inner circle. Girton has been tasked to root the traitor out, but this time he is on his own without his master’s guidance and advice. Furthermore, with Merela out of commission, there is no one to help him with his greatest secret—the fact he has the ability to wield magic, a crime that carries a penalty of torture and death in the Tired Lands. As the power in him grows stronger each day with no outlet for release, Girton fears that his control will fail him before he can save his friend.
Blood of Assassins has a similar premise to Age of Assassins, but this time the stakes involved are so much higher. To find the spy, Girton must also think like a spy—except he’s not very good at it. As an assassin, he’s more well-versed in the business of killing rather than the business of subterfuge and espionage. In the first book, he was also able to move around Castle Maniyadoc relatively unnoticed as just another squire, but now that he is lauded as King Rufra’s champion, staying under the radar has become impossible, making his job that much harder. Ultimately though, Girton’s greatest challenge will be to overcome his own demons. Without Merela’s counsel, there’s no one to steer him in the right direction or tell him when he’s letting his own emotions cloud his judgment, and he becomes his own worst enemy. Like an impulsive teenager, Girton often comes out swinging without thinking things through, and that lack of subtlety burns him more than once throughout the course of this tale.
What we’re seeing here is an older but not quite so wiser version of our protagonist who is trying to find his own way. Despite his blunders and occasional selfishness though, one just can’t help but feel for him. The last few years have not been kind to Girton, and he has suffered many losses which have challenged his worldview, even going as far as to make him change his fighting style. He has also become a lot more guarded towards Merela, because of the events in the last book that strained their relationship. Along with that comes a realization that his master is not invulnerable, and the possibility that he may lose her—to death or to abandonment—is a fear that drives him to take some reckless actions. All things considered, the level of character development and exploration we see here is quite astounding, and my feelings of endearment for our protagonist have only grown. In addition, Girton and Merela’s relationship continues to be one of the best master-apprentice dynamics I have ever encountered.
The best part of this book, though, is a possible spoiler so I can’t go into too much detail; suffice to say, I admire R.J. Barker so much right now for making me do a one-eighty on a particular character that I despised in the first book. It allowed things to build up to an epic finale, which had me holding back tears from all the different emotions roiling inside me.
Bottom line, Blood of Assassins is the kind of book you want to shout about from the rooftops at the top of your lungs and demand everyone you know to pick it up and read it. I’m beyond excited and a little nervous to read the final book in the trilogy, but if things continue trending in this direction, I have no doubt it will be a stellar conclusion.
Audiobook Comments: The awesomeness of this book was such that I could not bring myself to stop reading even when life got in the way. Fortunately, I was also able to listen to the audiobook while on the go, and I’m happy to say that this format provided just as much entertainment as the print edition. Joe Jameson is a seasoned narrator who has read for many other titles I’ve enjoyed in the past, and he’s once again delivered a wonderful performance in Blood and Assassins, providing the perfect voice for Girton.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Age of Assassins (Book 1)