Publisher: Talos Press
Paperback: 438 pages
5 out of 5, will read again (and again…)
Bear with me, y’all, because I’m gonna gush about Master Assassins.
Thank you to Caitlin Thomas and Talos Press for my review copy of the book. This in no way affects my review, and it shouldn’t because the book speaks for itself.
Master Assassins is Robert V.S. Redick’s fifth novel and the first of The Fire Sacraments series. The book is about two half-brothers, Kandri and Mektu, told from Kandri’s perspective. Kandri is a well-respected soldier, but he harbors a reluctance to violence and is uneasy about the motives of the Prophet warlord he and Mektu serve. Mektu is much the opposite of his brother: impulsive, exuberant, and superstitious, he is regarded more as a clown than a soldier. The two brothers are competitive and clash often, sometimes seeming more enemies than friends.
“Mektu has a gift for saying the wrong thing. You can take him to a birthday party and count the minutes until he makes a child cry. At weddings, he is apt to mention the last woman the groom has slept with (‘You’re a lucky girl, Chelli. Just ask Sukina.’) Kandri once dragged him to the hospital to visit their dying grandmother; Mektu lectured her about the dangers of sunstroke, and propositioned the nurse.”
In the Seventh Legion, Kandri and Mektu serve the Prophet, an old woman who has led their Chiloto people from enslavement into independence through vicious wars against other peoples. The brothers do their best to lie low, entertaining the idea of someday leaving the Prophet’s violent war and living a life of their own.
“Kandri lives with a double certainty: no one could possibly love the Prophet; no one could fail to love the Prophet. She is a diseased and monstrous animal; she is the Liberator, mother and father to them all. She ignores the most sacred beliefs of the Chiloto nation; she is that nation’s holy core. She is the Giver of Shelter, the Voice of Love; she kills with a tireless commitment.”
Then something terrible happens. Kandri witnesses a crime, and in the darkness attacks the assailant to save an innocent victim. His stomach sinks when he realizes he’s murdered the favorite son of the Prophet. Suddenly, going to war is the least of Kandri’s worries.
He and Mektu flee the camp and set off across the desert, a legion of thousands of soldiers in their wake. Giant saber cats, the dreaded Rasanga warriors of the Prophet, and a legion of thousands of fervent warriors chase Kandri and Mektu into a desert that is filled with thieves, warlords, and giant vultures. All the while, mysteries surrounding the brothers’ father begin to reveal themselves. Seemingly against all odds, can the brothers work together to escape the most powerful force on the continent?
“By the third day the rumor can no longer be contained. It is whispered in the black tents, shared like smokes among the men on patrol, murmured in the drill yard before the bellowed morning prayer. It is weird and horrific and yet a curse no one can fail to understand. Someone’s mind has been stolen, and the thief still walks the camp.”
Master Assassins snatches your attention from the first paragraph. The mystery introduced there is a slow burn that takes a backseat as you learn more about the main characters and their relationships with one another. The story has intermittent flashbacks to Kandri and Mektu’s past, some of which come as Kandri is fleeing on a horse or falling asleep at night. I found myself loving the flashbacks almost more than the current timeline. The past timeline doesn’t pull you out of the story proper and is well-executed. Master Assassins uses an interesting story structure, divided into 6 parts with small dividing breaks rather than chapters. I feel like this helps the novel read very easily instead of a new chapter coming with every flashback or pull of the reins.
I’ve never read Robert Redick before Master Assassins. Evidently, there was a five year gap between the release of his most recent novel and Master Assassins. I can say that, without a doubt, if it takes five years to get a sequel of the same quality it will be worth it.
Master Assassins is like a tapestry, each word a single stitch made more beautiful as a whole. There aren’t any standalone quotes you could put on a t-shirt. It’s a slow-burning story of brotherhood, love, and mystery.
Much like the yatra, Master Assassins will lay claim to your mind from one breathless moment to the next.
Review by Griffin