Synopsis: TO CATCH AN ASSASSIN, USE AN ASSASSIN . . .
Girton Club-foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But their latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.
In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire land.
Holly: Age of Assassins, or as I like to call it.. TRUST NO ONE, is an insanely fun debut novel by RJ Barker! I absolutely devoured this book!
Sorcerers, knights, assassins hunting assassins, intriguing action sequences, unique worldbuilding, an endearing protagonist, MURDEROUS WAR DOGS.. this story will keep you guessing! It’s the perfect mix of fantasy & mystery. I’m really looking forward to reading the sequel next year!
Corey: This book is very likable from the get-go! Right away, we’re introduced to Girton Club-Foot, an apprentice assassin, and Merela Karn, his master. Over the course of the book, though, their relationship is revealed to be so much more than just master & apprentice. At times, Merela is almost like a mother to Girton. They have an easy way about them, and obviously a lot of history together!
I really like how the story begins as this somewhat compact mystery/adventure, but starts to really lay down roots as the events unfold. Like you said, the worldbuilding is unique, and RJ Barker has given us some really great characters in this first book. The writing is lean, almost rough on occasion, but this is easily recommendable, and a great chance to jump into a brand new series from a new & exciting voice in dark fantasy!
Holly: I adored the relationship between Girton & Merela! What a beautiful thing, to have someone like that in your corner. That goes for the both of them! They have so much love & respect for each other. Even though they are a pair of deadly assassins, Merela raised Girton to be caring & to always have hope. It was truly a treat to read when they both occupied the pages of the story, for sure!
I do agree that it took a bit to get used to Barker’s style of writing, but I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing to be a bit rough! I much prefer the unusual to something overly-stylized. It’s obvious he writes with heart & that will always win over perfectly structured writing for me! Although this wasn’t an OMFG THIS IS THE BEST THING I HAVE EVER CRAMMED INTO MY EYE HOLES book, I did feel as though there was something unique within his writing. That? That I am most definitely a fan of!
This is a book that almost bridges the gap between epic fantasy & grimdark. It’s basically a coming-of-age fantasy. If we must label it, it’s probably not dark enough to be called grim, but not in the vein of YA either. For the rest of us who don’t give a fuck about labels, it’s just a damn fun book with delightful characters & interesting magic. The bones of the story are strong & should lend to an even better follow-up novel!
Corey: The magic is fascinating & terrifying in this book! There’s no reverence for magic users in this world, only fear & revulsion. It adds an interesting dynamic, seeing this world that’s been ravaged & depleted by inexperienced sorcerers. Definitely a unique aspect to the history of this world!
In keeping with the coming-of-age themes, I really found the romance between Girton and Drusl to be quite charming! It was just sweet & awkward…amidst all the killing & treachery & political sabotage, anyway. I think 15-year-old Girton and his utter lack of self-confidence is entirely relatable!
Holly: There is this beautiful give & take throughout. Barker intersperses these little nuggets of backstory that weave into the current picture, slowly bringing together the tightly-crafted larger plot. It was quite a refreshing read!
This is a quickly-paced story, not necessarily because of the action. It does have it’s fair share of swordfights & chase scenes, but mainly it feels like the pages were flying by because of the POV. Girton. He really is the heart of this story. He brings something different to the table. This story relies pretty heavily on him & he is a more than capable protagonist.
Filled with magic & political intrigue; plenty of twists & turns; dynamic secondary characters like Nywulf, Rufra & Drusl; some intensely rich action & a plethora of other things. This is a worthy first effort by RJ Barker, one that I would have no issue recommending!
Corey: The secondary characters really shine here, Nywulf in particular! He solidly fills the gruff but fair teacher role in this coming-of-age story.
As you mentioned, the little snippets of backstory are incredible, and frequently heartbreaking. You slowly start to understand more & more about Girton & Merela’s relationship, and it only adds to the great chemistry between the two. There’s so many interesting dynamics between all the characters here…things that are hinted at throughout the book. Barker has really left the door wide open for more great adventures & intrigue in his Wounded Kingdom series…Blood of Assassins can’t come soon enough!!
The Grimdragons Rating: 4 shifty-eyed stars!
(Thank you to Orbit Books for providing us with copies before the release date, in exchange for an honest review!)