Age of Assassins (2017) by R.J. Barker

He turned, swinging his club. Fifteenth Iteration: the Oar. Bending at the hip and bringing my body down and round so it went under his swing. At the lowest point I punched forward, landing a solid blow between his legs. He screeched, dropping his weapon and doubling over.

Girton Club-Foot is a young apprentice-assassin. He and his master Merala are given a mission to discover the person or persons behind a rumored threat to the throne. The target of this threat is young Prince Aydor, a boy of similar age to Girton. To catch the would-be royal assassin, Girton must go undercover as a squire-in-training, keeping his fighting skills hidden from the other trainees.

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Daily life in the medieval court proves almost as challenging as his hunt for the assassin. Girton needs a friend if he is to fit in but up until now his unique apprenticeship has limited his social life. He is not like other boys of the same age, yet he must convince everyone he is. The deeper Girton digs in his investigations, the greater the risk he appears to be putting himself in.

As I touched the handle I thought I heard something above the dogs–a stifled laugh that turned the blood in my veins to ice. No one should be here. I turned. A silhouette filled the doorway, identity hidden by the glare from outside.

Girton narrates the story in the first-person. He is a likeable character, naïve at times yet all the more realistic for it. He reads like a young man out of his depth and doing his best to adapt to the new world surrounding him. His relationship with his master is beautifully revealed by the author, piece by gradual piece. In fact, I would say that this is the best master-apprentice dynamic I’ve ever read. Merala is so much more than Girton’s teacher.

I could go on waxing lyrical about this very fine book, but instead I will limit the rest of my review to the reasons why I highly recommend it.

  1. The characters are skillfully fleshed-out and individual.
  2. There is a lovely use of dream interludes to add depth and backstory to the narrative.
  3. Barker writes visceral fight scenes with a unique slant; the assassin’s fighting style is similar to a dance, each movement having its own name.
  4. The depictions of friendship and first-love ring true.
  5. The author offers an intriguing take on the “cost” of magic to the user.
  6. As well as being a bildungsroman this book is also a well-crafted mystery in the best Agatha Christie tradition.

 

Age of Assassins was a recommendation from Mogsy over at the BiblioSanctum. It was her enthusiastic review that convinced me to buy this book and I am so glad I did. After falling into a bit of a reading slump over the last couple of months, I flew through this book in just a few days. It hit all the right buttons for me being exciting, intelligent, suspenseful, moving, and very well written. The fact that this book is R.J. Barker’s debut makes it even more impressive.

A motley mix of historical-fantasy, mystery, coming-of-age drama, and romance, this addictive page-turner is so much more than the sum of its parts. I have since learned that Age of Assassins is the first book in a trilogy titled ‘The Wounded Kingdom’. I am keen to return to this world and read more of Girton Club-Foot’s adventures. If the other two books are as good as this one, it’s going to be an exciting journey.

Highly recommended!

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2 thoughts on “Age of Assassins (2017) by R.J. Barker

  1. Pingback: Retrospective for Year 3: Nov. 2017 ~ Oct. 2018 | Who's Dreaming Who?

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