- King of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom #3).
- RJ Barker.
- 528 pages.
- Fantasy / Epic / Grimdark / Fiction.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING . . .
Many years of peace have passed in Maniyadoc, years of relative calm for the assassin Girton Club-Foot. Even the Forgetting Plague, which ravaged the rest of the kingdoms, seemed to pass them by. But now Rufra ap Vthyr eyes the vacant High-King’s throne and will take his court to the capital, a rat’s nest of intrigue and murder, where every enemy he has ever made will gather and the endgame of twenty years of politics and murder will be played out in his bid to become the King of all Kings.
Friends become enemies, enemies become friends and the god of death, Xus the Unseen, stands closer than ever – casting his shadow over everything most dear to Girton.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I suffered a burnout reading fantasy after the start of the year and stepped away from the genre indulging in my growing liking for the crime genre (thrillers/mystery). Since then, I’ve gotten back into fantasy (it is my first love) but now temper it with reading more thrillers. The first fantasy book that I read after my burnout was Blood of Assassins (BoA), the mixture of fantasy and thriller merging together really well and acting as a bridge to help me rediscover my lost love for fantasy. Due to this, I have a great appreciation for the mystery elements that Barker has included in his trilogy blending the two genres together like a master storyteller and making The Wounded Kingdom trilogy thrilling fantasy.
It’s always with a sense of melancholy that you start the last book in either a trilogy or a series as come that final page you know that there’s no more. It’s over, the journey ends and you will never again get to spend time with the characters that you’ve come to know and care about.
Yes, of course, there is the chance that the author will revisit the characters and the world a few years down the line and you can always re-read the trilogy or series yourself. But, you won’t get to experience the thrill of reading and finishing for the first time again with all of the subsequent shocks and emotions that accompanied your initial read through.
When you finish a book, though, it’s at the forefront more with either a trilogy or a series as you will have put more time into reading them and come to the end your disappointment will be heightened if that last book fails to live up to your (often lofty) expectations. You will ask yourself, was it worth my precious reading time? And I should answer that question before I continue. So! For The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, was it worth my time? Resoundingly yes! It is a trilogy that was definitely worthy of my time and it is more than worthy of yours too (hint, go and read it).
There were some similarities between Age of Assassins (AoA) and BoA (for those unaware they are the first two books in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy) with both featuring mysteries that needed solving centring around Maniyadoc but the books were also different too. BoA expanded the scope of AoA to include more of the surrounding area (and through Girton’s journey during the time between when the books are set we got to see snippets of the wider world too) but it was mostly the same location as AoA just altered by war and changed by the intervening years.
AoA predominantly took place inside the walls of Castle Maniyadoc whereas quite a lot of BoA took place in the surrounding areas and included far more large battle scenes. King of Assassins (KoA) is similar once again with Barker ramping up the expansion and taking us out into his wider world as we leave behind the confines of Maniyadoc and venture forth to Ceadoc (which is similar to Maniyadoc but far grander in size and scale with a variety of towers, their individual keeps and a town on the outskirts of the castle) and Ruthra’s goal of becoming the new High King and instigating change throughout the Tired Lands.
Rufra, however, isn’t the only one to venture to Ceadoc and stake his claim to the throne of the high king, many others also journey there either for the same reason, they too wish to be the new high king or, to support their chosen candidate. There are many factions in the Tired Lands and many machinations (religious, political and personal) at work in KoA. Ceadoc is rife with betrayals, rivalries, old enemies and new, conspiracies and behind the scenes plotting and scheming.
For me, KoA shares more with AoA than with BoA as there are less large battles and more intrigue and like AoA most of the story takes place within the walls of a castle. Though it is perhaps better of me to write and it’s certainly a true statement to say that KoA takes the best of both of the previous two books and creates the best book of the trilogy. The setting works well for the story told in KoA and Ceadoc itself is a labyrinthine location that feels huge.
The Wounded Kingdom has never been about constant large battles and excessive amounts of fighting. As I mentioned, BoA did have more large battle scenes than AoA (and we finally got to see the mounts in visceral goring action) but the main focus has always been on the characters and the intrigue and not on killing copious amounts of nameless fodder. Whilst that statement rings true for KoA I will point out that there is action aplenty in the book (don’t worry folks, the story isn’t all skulking in shadow and endless politicking) and a battle near the end of the book which serves to propel us towards the climax of the trilogy and also served to satisfy my cravings for exhilarating and bloody action.
The fighting in KoA and The Wounded Kingdom is often incorporated using small-scale fights or duels involving Girton. There is a beauty and a poetry to how he fights, like a dancer, full of grace and moving through various iterations which take him from one move fluidly into the next.
Just like with the previous books a span of years separates the ending of BoA and the start of KoA and we now find Girton Club-Foot under the guise of Death’s Jester (for most of the book) at thirty-five years of age, twenty years older than when we first met him back at the beginning of AoA. Decades have passed and during the course of the trilogy Girton has come of age, grown and matured, he is still flawed and suffers from occasional bouts of self-pity and foolishness but now he has a more measured and world-weary approach and wisdom to him that’s not to say that he isn’t still recognisable as the same character from the start of AoA, he is but like they do with us all both life and time have changed him, Finally, there are plenty of the now compulsory moments where you will find yourself sighing ‘oh, Girton‘ in KoA. In the more than capable hands of Barker, his stellar characterisation (not just for Girton but with other characters too) and his writing Girton really becomes his own unique character.
Girton is the best assassin (though he’s not only an assassin and transcends the moniker to be something more. An amalgamation of both assassin and warrior as adept at killing on the battlefield as from the shadows) in the Tired Lands. Unfortunately, his Detective skills aren’t as good and whilst he’s passable, he’s definitely not Poirot when it comes to solving mysteries and there is plenty of intrigue and mystery in KoA including one particularly sublime scenario involving an impossible killing that Girton needs to solve.
The Forgetting Plague (which is a dreadful disease that after ravaging the physical body leaves its victims as empty husks) has run rampant throughout most of the Tired Lands, decimating the population and killing two out of every three people that caught it. Maniyadoc wasn’t affected, only in places and mainly escaped free of the devastation caused by the plague.
Time isn’t always kind and the once close relationship between Girton and Rufra has cracked and is very far removed from what it once was. Experiences and the weight of being King have changed Rufra. The friendship between the two that was once so strong is still there in very rare glimpses but it is now a more formal, fractured and strained relationship, a King and his subject rather than that of two people who were like brothers.
Many characters return from the previous two instalments and are supplemented with various new characters too. Whilst reading KoA I realised something that I never thought I would write but Aydor turned into one of my favourite reoccurring characters from the entire trilogy (sadly, I can’t explain unless I spoil it, which I won’t, so, you’ll just have to read the trilogy and find it out for yourselves).
One of the standout parts of the whole Wounded Kingdom trilogy for me, has been the relationship between Girton and Merela, his master. Girton is quite hot-headed and Merela is often the calming influence and the water to douse the fire that is Girton guiding him, making him look, think and question before jumping in. Their relationship transcends master and apprentice to something so much more, they both need and thrive off each other and you can see the strength of the bond between them brimming with emotion and resonating from off the pages.
I really like the world-building in The Wounded Kingdom. Barker doesn’t bog you down in overly excessive detail but what you do learn about the world is fascinating, as is the magic system and it is well incorporated into the story.
I’m a sucker for animal companions in fantasy books and whilst Xus (Girton’s Mount) doesn’t get much page time in KoA, he still has a role to play and whenever he does appear he always has a mighty (or should that be mounty, groan) presence.
I have to admit that I wasn’t a big fan of the interludes that Barker previously included. This time, however, I found them to be fantastic, revealing the backstory of a character I had been eager to find out the truth about and instead of taking you out of the current story they added so much more to the whole book.
I’ve mentioned thrillers in my review and for those of you who read that genre, you know that often, you are kept guessing as to the outcome of the story and/or who the actual killer is until the last possible moment. KoA is similar, not with the killer bit (obviously, Girton is an assassin and if there’s killing to be done it’ll more than likely be done by him) but with the outcome bit. Near the end of a book you will often have an idea of which way the wind will blow yet even after the final battle has ended and right up until the final few pages the story in KoA could still go in any one of a number of different directions before things fall into place and Barker ties everything together with a shocking twist and concludes the trilogy……and then there is the epilogue which throws one last revelation at you before you turn the final page.
With KoA Barker has saved the best for last and that is saying something as I loved both of the previous books but damn, you will be hooked, you will read, you will read some more, you will think to yourself ‘fuck it, I’ve got stuff to do‘ and inevitably you will decide ‘sod it, the book is more important‘ and then you will read even more, you’ll care, you’ll be entertained and on occasion, you might even find your eyes welling up with manly tears. If you haven’t yet guessed it then I thought KoA was a remarkable book and I loved it!
King of Assassins is nigh on perfection and a tremendous conclusion to The Wounded Kingdom trilogy.
I’ll end simply with this, for giving me the chance to traverse the Tired Lands, journey with Girton, spend hours lost in your wondrous story and experience The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, R. J. Barker, thank you.
Pre-order King of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom #3) released August 7th (US) and August 9th (UK), 2018).
On a side note: I’ll be damned if I can get ‘not-my-cat‘ cat to ever pose for book pictures and yet, for King of Assassins she did! Obviously giving it her own seal of approval.👑👍📚🐱
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