King of Assassins – RJ Barker

Published by Orbit Books, August 2018
Source: review copy

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.

Oh, Girton.

You glorious, magnificent assassin. We’ve followed you on your journey from Age of Assassins through to Blood of Assassins and now we’ve reached the final part of your tale. Age was good, so very very good. Blood was, if anything, better.

Could King of Assassins pull off the hat-trick?

Short answer, the easy answer is yes. By the gods living and dead, yes.

The long answer is somewhat more complex, and goes like this.

Regular readers will know how much I love these books. Heck, people who don’t read this blog but foolishly ask ‘read anything good recently?’ will know how much I love these books. (Top tip: never ask a bookblogger if they can recommend you ‘something good’, unless you have a good fifteen minutes to spare and a notepad to write down all the suggestions).

Regular readers may also be aware that since Age of Assassins, I’ve met RJ Barker (and the lovely Mrs RJ) on several occasions, the last of which was at the utterly fantastic Edge-Lit in Derby (also highly recommended). So some of you (yes, you at the back) may be sceptical as to whether I’d just churn out a ‘cor that was good’ review on account of how lovely RJ is.

I would not do that.

What I *will* do is to hold King of Assassins up to deeper scrutiny. Having loved books 1 and 2, I expect RJ to deliver more. I expect him not to screw it up, to drop the ball at the final hurdle, if you’ll excuse the somewhat strained metaphor.

If King of Assassins was any less than bloody awesome, I would sigh and slide the book back onto the shelf, tutting quietly to myself.

King of Assassins, dear reader, is bloody awesome. And oh, so very very bloody.

In Age, we saw Girton growing up an already accomplished assassin, aiding his Master, Merela Karn in a relatively small, compact adventure. A murder-mystery revolving around a plot to kill the heir to the throne.

Blood took that world and expanded on it. We found an older, wiser(?) Girton returning after five years, but the story then ventured forth beyond the castle of Maniyadoc into the world beyond, where three kings vied for power. Girton had grown up (a bit), turned into a bit of a dick (at times), and was left trying to solve yet another murder/mystery with a dash of spying thrown in for good measure.

King of Assassins sees the canvas stretched wider again – King Rufra and his court are journeying to Ceadoc, to put forward his claim to become High King. But in his way lie many obstacles, for the High King’s castle holds many secrets…

The scope is epic, the characters brilliant, the plot devious. The Castle almost takes on a life of its own, riddled with secret passageways, home to many factions all vying for the ultimate power in the land.

RJ can write a fight scene like few others – as I said elsewhere the action is almost balletic, bullet-time fluidity as Girton moves, followed only by blood and death and Xus The Unseen in his wake.

This, my friends, is a fitting end to Girton’s tale. Apprentice assassin turned master.

When I turned the final page I sat for a moment, then slid the book onto the shelf with the others, with nary a tut in sight.

Highly, hugely recommended.

RJ, I cannot wait to see what you come up with next.

King of Assassins by RJ Barker is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the review copy.

Author: dave

Book reviewer, occasional writer, photographer, coffee-lover, cyclist, spoon carver and stationery geek.

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