- Blood of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom Book 2).
- R.J. Barker.
- 464 pages.
- Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Fiction.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
The king is dead, long live the king…
The assassin Girton Club-foot and his master have returned to Maniyadoc in hope of finding sanctuary, but death, as always, dogs Girton’s heels.
The place he knew no longer exists. War rages across Maniyadoc, with three kings claiming the same crown – and one of them is Girton’s old friend Rufra. Girton finds himself hurrying to uncover a plot to murder Rufra on what should be the day of the king’s greatest victory. But while Girton deals with threats inside and outside Rufra’s war encampment, he can’t help wondering if his greatest enemy hides beneath his own skin.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Blood of Assassins is the sequel to Age of Assassins. Age of Assassins was on my Top Ten Books of 2017 list, it is that good and was one of the fantasy debuts of last year (which let’s face it, 2017 was filled with some amazing debut books from fantasy authors).
If you are yet to read Age of Assassins then you need to rectify that, trust me, you won’t be disappointed! Firstly, because, as I just mentioned, it’s one of my Top Ten Books of 2017. Secondly, it’s a stupendous read. And thirdly, because Blood of Assassins is the sequel and the second book in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, it makes sense to read the first book first now doesn’t it?!? It’s only logical people and you can’t argue with logic!
Now, saying all that my expectations were obviously, rather high for Blood of Assassins and luckily, Barker manages to deliver and then some on all accounts. With blood of Assassins, he takes what he first started in Age of Assassins, builds and improves on it and has created what for me, is a stunning continuation of his story (well, it’s Girton’s story really and R. J. just writes it) and a sublime second instalment in his trilogy.
The Girton that we encounter in Blood of Assassins is far more world-weary than the younger Girton from Age of Assassins. Five years have passed since the events at the end of Age of Assassins and he has spent most of that time alongside his master, predominantly as a hired mercenary travelling around the Tired Lands. Quite a departure from his role as an assassin. Assassin’s are very cloak and dagger with their primary goal to remain unseen, hidden in shadow and to be stealthy whereas a mercenary is on display for the whole world to see as part of a group. As if to emphasise this point, Girton, at the start of the book has even forsaken his blades for a war hammer! Now, a war hammer is definitely not a weapon for stealth killing!
Simply put, Girton has changed and on his return to Maniyadoc, he finds that Maniyadoc has changed too. Sometimes it’s for the good and sometimes it’s for the bad but time changes everyone and everything (look at me being philosophical). He’s still the Girton that we all love and who gained a legion of fans in Age of Assassins flawed, occasionally foolish and who, at times, let’s his emotions get the better of him but he’s now older with more burdens to carry and his nature weighing him down.
On his return, Girton finds that three kings are all vying to rule over Maniyadoc. One of the three is his old friend Rufra and it is with him that Girton joins forces. There are whisperings of a spy in Rufra’s camp and Girton is tasked with finding the spy. At the same time, Girton’s master has been poisoned and is grievously ill. Along with his search for the spy and aiding his friend in becoming king Girton must also try to find a cure for the poison that is threatening his master’s life.
One of the things that I really liked about Blood of Assassins is that there’s a gap of a span of years between the events that happened at the end of Age of Assassins and the story that takes place in Blood of Assassins. Most second books in fantasy trilogies/series (which I’ve read) follow on and continue with the story straight after the ending of the previous book but Blood of Assassins forgoes that taking the different approach of leaving a gap of years between the books. While it’s only a small thing it makes for a refreshing change and with the time elapsed we get to see how time and age have altered both the characters and the setting that Barker has created.
Girton isn’t the only character that has changed. The years that have passed and the events that have occurred in Maniyadoc have in some way altered all the characters. Some, only in small ways but some in larger ways. One of the characters changes in personality is very startling but however, is also the beauty of it as it is so unexpected and you will find yourself questioning throughout whether it’s actually real or simply a ploy on the characters part..
I won’t mention any specifics about the story but one part that really stood out for me was a siege that takes place in the village of Gwyre, the build-up and the subsequent aftermath which is located about halfway through the book. It really showcases Barker’s ability to write brutal and visceral battle and fight scenes (the one on one duels that take place are also savage) and evoke emotions in both his characters and readers. It is just an outstanding example of both his work and his overall ability as a writer.
In Blood of Assassins, the world Girton’s story inhabits (the world building is top quality) seems larger than in the first book. We get to learn more about the Tired Lands through Girton and his master’s travels alongside various other mentions. And, where Age of Assassins predominantly took place within the confines of Castle Maniyadoc this time, we also visit the surrounding locations of that area giving a more epic feel and grander scale to the world.
A slight and very minor negative (the only one) for me was the inclusion of a few dream sequence interludes throughout the course of the book. They serve to show the internal conflict that rages within Girton due to his nature. However, they take you out of the moment and the present story and while they are only short I’d have much rather just continued reading what was currently happening.
The relationship between Girton and Merela, his master is outstanding. Often fraught with tension it is a deep and complex bond between them that is always full of emotion and that emotion in Barker’s capable hands emanates from off the pages (not just in the relationship between Girton and Merela but in others too like the relationship between Girton and Rufra and even just in random passages and sentences strewn throughout the book) and it is a highlight (one of many) of the book.
I was also pleased to see that mounts (beasts with antlers) were given a more prominent role this time around after only making a fleeting appearance in the previous book. After reading about them in Age of Assassins I’d been waiting with baited breath to see them in action in the sequel and they certainly didn’t disappoint, mount on mount action is ferocious! In my review for Age of Assassins with regards to them, I wrote ‘ideally someone should have been gored by their antlers just so that I could write someone got mounted in my review‘. Well, now I can! Thanks, R. J. as someone got mounted! Yes, I’m childish!😂
Blood of Assassins is a dark book from the characters to the world to the story being told and it is everything that is good in fantasy. It is compelling, tightly plotted, poetically written, well-paced, with fantastic action sequences, unexpected betrayals, twists galore and brimming with mystery. Finally, it is full of feeling. There’s beauty in the darkness and it’s a book that you won’t want to put down.
We are now (sadly, as it means there is only one book left in Girton’s tale) two-thirds of the way through the trilogy. Unless something catastrophic happens with the third and final book I can see no reason why come the end of King of Assassins that The Wounded Kingdom won’t be talked about and heralded as one of the great modern fantasy trilogies and Barker one of the great modern fantasy writers.
Girton is an exceptional character, Barker an exceptional writer and combined together they make a formidable pairing. Blood of Assassins is compulsive reading at its finest, simply stunning and mesmerising.
Purchase Blood of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom Book 2).
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