Author: RJ Barker
Publication Date: February 13, 2018
4.5 of 5 Stars
(I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)
RJ Baker delivers an action packed, mystery filled adventure in Blood Of Assassins. If you were worried about a sophomore slump following Age Of Assassins put your concerns aside and pick this one up immediately. Blood Of Assassins is even better than its predecessor.
As with any review of a sequel there will inherently be some minor spoilers so proceed with caution if you haven’t read book one yet. For my review of Age Of Assassins click the link here.
“In a desperate bid to escape he bounty on his head, assassin Girton Club-Foot has returned to Maniyadoc, but the kingdom he knew no longer exists.
Three kings battle for supremacy in a land ravaged by war – and one of them is his hold friend Rufra. With threats inside and outside the war encampment, Girton races to find the traitor behind an assassination plot. But his magic can no longer be contained and Girton may not be able to save even himself.”
So where to start with this review? After reading AoA I was eagerly anticipating book two in The Wounded Kingdom series and hoping without voicing it out loud that BoA wouldn’t suck. Well, rest assured it didn’t! There’s much to love about this installment.
BoA picks of five years after the events of AoA. A lot has happened to Girton and his master Merela Karn in that time. Fleeing Maniyadoc they became mercenaries in other lands under false pretenses, an decision that has caused them to engage in numerous questionable acts in the name of survival. Tired of running, they return to Maniyadoc to learn things are not quite how they expected. The war between the three kings rages and they must find Girton’s old friend Rufra without falling into the hands of Aydor or Tomas.
The book opens in the midst of a fight. It seems our pair of unlikely heroes can’t avoid more bloodshed. Right away they find themselves in a familiar situation with a choice to make, and a king to save. Only this time there’s a snag. I’ll let you discover it on your own, but it means more work for Girton.
The basic plot is similar to AoA – solve a mystery. Only this time the trick isn’t discovering who is trying to kill the heir to the throne, instead Girton must uncover a spy within Rufra’s camp. To make his task more difficult Girton must do the work on his own while fighting to convince his friend the king that a spy even exists. If that isn’t enough of a task remember there’s a war on; a war between three contenders to the throne. Not only must Girton uncover the spy and foil whatever plot is afoot, he must do amidst the politics and alliances of a war camp and the clash of battle. This gives BoA a level of intensity, tension, and excitement surpassing that of AoA that doesn’t let up until the closing pages.
And then there’s Girton Club-foot. Our protagonist isn’t the same man who left Maniyadoc five years prior. It isn’t just that he’s aged five years and is a little more mature. Girton is wounded and haunted by the past; his past experience in Maniyadoc, especially the death of the girl he fell in love with as well as the horrible events he’s been a part of while traveling in a mercenary band. He’s beaten down. Add to that his struggle with the magic powers rising within him, powers he can’t control on his own, and what we encounter in AoA is a much more morose and volatile Girton who is almost at his end in terms of giving a damn.
What I Liked
Wow…there’s a lot I like about BoA. Let’s start with the plot. While there were similarities with AoA, Barker builds on that basic framework and takes it further. Besides the need to solve the mystery of the spy (compared with who sent the assassin in AoA) there is the added dimension of the ongoing war. Girton can’t help but be caught up turmoil of battle while all the while searching for the spy.
And speaking of the ongoing civil war, Barker shows in BoA just how good he is at writing battle scenes. There are numerous fights in BoA but unlike book one where they were limited to single combat or engagements with small numbers of characters, in this outing we get full on battles! The action is intense and will keep you turning pages. One extended incident in a rural village in the middle of the story is one of the better battle scenes I’ve read in recent years. And what’s more, we finally get to see those mounts in action! Barker kind of teased us with them in AoA, but now they are let loose in all their martial glory with goring antlers, stomping hooves, and biting mouths. I can’t wait to see what Barker does to improve on this element in the next book.
We also get find out a little more about how magic works in this world. I hesitate to say much because I’m really trying harder not to give things away in my reviews, but Barker teases out a little more about not just how magic works but where it comes from, and we discover it may not be what everyone expects, and there may be many more who can wield it. For Girton in particular magic and its hold over him is a vital element of the book. Girton’s struggle with his ability (or curse depending on how he looks at it) provides a great deal of anguish and tension in the story, so much so that it causes him to make some very questionable and perhaps rash decisions. We also get to see magic wielded to great effect in ways we hadn’t before.
As can be expected many familiar characters reappear in BoA,and we get to meet new ones. Again I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll just say the new characters enhance the level mystery in the novel and provide even more uncertainty and danger in Girton’s life.
And ultimately what I still loved was Girton. Like before his is a character that is complex and flawed. By flawed I don’t mean his disability though that does add to his complexity. What I mean is he is still young but has a life experience unlike most others. On top of that he struggles with his past and with what he is…a mage. He is full of both love and hate, but there is so much bitterness and anger and perhaps depression that he’s on the verge of losing his will to go on. That is until he finds a new mission to help his only real friend besides his master. But he struggles even with that at times. This causes him to make some really questionable and at times bad decisions. I found myself rooting for him one moment then inwardly screaming at him, “what the hell are you doing Girton?!” Then at other times he’s forced into making the least terrible of two really bad calls and all you can do is hope for the best and turn the page. What I loved about all of this is that our hero isn’t perfect and doesn’t always make the right call. And each time there are consequences, not just for Girton but for those around him as well.
What I Didn’t Like
Hmm…well…there really wasn’t much I didn’t like. So why give it 4.5 stars and not 5? Good question. And “why” you ask “do you say it’s better than AoA but give it the same rating?” Also a good question. Ultimately like everything else with rating a book it’s subjective. If there was anything I didn’t like it had to do with consequences. Remember when I was raving about all the hard choices Girton had to make and how there were consequences? Well that’s true, but at times I felt like he got off too easy. Not that there weren’t consequences and not that there wasn’t a price to pay, but sometimes I felt he was forgiven a little too easy.
Yet maybe I’m overthinking that. Hell forgiveness is a central theme of the book…can Girton be forgiven…can he forgive himself? And not just Girton. Can others be forgiven? Are there some deeds that are unforgivable? What about when horrible things are done out of love or friendship? What then? This is part of what makes BoA rise above its predecessor. It isn’t just the battle scenes (which I love) or the characters (which I love) or the world building (which I love), its how they are set in motion together around themes of friendship, and love, and forgiveness.
So I’ll leave you with that. I’ve already written way more than I set out to. If you’ve stuck around to this point all I have left to say is go read this book and tell me what you think when you’re done.