THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING . . .
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.
This contains Spoilers for the first two books of the series, but none for King of Assassins.
This is an incredible story of familial love and loyal friends. A story of prejudice and secrets, and the cost of both. A story of assassins, plots, betrayals, and secret agendas. The final installment in the autobiography of Girton Club-Foot, apprentice to Merela Karn, King’s Assassin, Death’s Jester, and Steadfast Friend. Welcome, once again, to the Tired Lands.
I have some really mixed feelings about this book. See, part of me knows that this is a really excellent book. Another part of me, namely my heart, got ripped apart in the pages of this book. That part of me took almost a month before I could get my thoughts together to write this review. For that, I blame the author. This book doesn’t pull any punches and does that brilliantly. Now, after that stellar introduction where I promised that your heart will be ripped out leaving you nothing more than a shattered shell of your former self, let’s get into it.
King of Assassins starts out 15 years after the events of Blood of Assassins and once again, I have to start out by praising R. J. Barker for the amazing way he utilizes time jumps. I can honestly say that I’ve never read a series where I’ve seen time jumps handled better than this one. Often when time jumps occur characters start to do non-sensical things that would never make sense for their character when we knew them in the last book. Not so in this series. R.J. Barker manages this brilliantly by bringing in back story via internal monologue and conversations from the present day story. We not only get to go through what the characters are going through now, but we get to see and feel the tension and weight the last fifteen years have put on a young King and his friends. This not only serves to familiarize the reader with the present day characters, but also gives an already compelling and interesting plot a personal and intimate feel.
Girton Club-Foot, as always, is such a great POV to follow. 15 years later, Girton is still a deadly assassin. Though maybe one step slower, his cunning and experience more than make up for this. Girton has now taken up the mantle of Death’s Jester and with that the responsibility of being the master, the adult. Even through this, the Girton in this book was a much more hopeful and optimistic person than the depressed and angry Girton we got throughout most of Blood of Assassins. I really enjoyed how we got to see Girton find some happiness at times through the love of his friends. Girton and his Master, Merela Karn’s relationship as mother and son is always a highlight for me. Their moments together, which are somewhat fewer in this installment, are nonetheless beautiful and heartwarming. Through Girton’s perspective we also get to see a lot of Rufra, Aydor, Merela, and a host of other characters. I am continually impressed by the amount of character development that Barker is able to accomplish among all these characters through only one POV. Each character felt fully realized with believable motivations and actions.
Let’s talk about the setting. The majority of King of Assassins takes place in the High King’s castle of Ceadoc and the town surrounding it. From the start, Ceadoc is an incredibly atmospheric setting. I love when a setting is not just a random place and can really add something to the story. The plague ravaging the town only weeks before, along with the filth, disrepair, and tension in the air really helped set the tone for the entirety of the book. The corruption, greed, moral depravity, and outright sociopathic tendencies of some of Ceadoc’s residents added even more to the bleak atmosphere that was already present.
King of Assassins had some of the best action scenes out of the entire trilogy. R. J. Barker writes fight scenes beautifully and the use of assassin “iterations” has always been one of my favorite parts of the books. However, in this one there were so many different twists, turns, and unexpected events that you always had to expect one at any moment. This left me on the edge of my seat, never knowing if an arrow was going to come streaking out of the dark or there would be a knife in someone’s back in the most “mundane” of situations. But that’s the thing about this book, nothing could ever feel only mundane because the tension was built so high. The characters you love are constantly in danger from all sides and the setting and residents of Ceadoc establish the tone early on of a very bleak and hostile environment.
This is a trilogy well worth reading. If you are looking for something different, something unique with assassins, intrigue, and a mystery to boot, pick these up. You won’t be disappointed.