King of Assassins by R.J. Barker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, mystery
Published: 7th Aug 2018 by Orbit US & 9th Aug 2018 by Orbit UK
King of Assassins is a powerfully poignant conclusion to a remarkably captivating trilogy.
The Wounded Kingdom is so underrated in my opinion; this trilogy spins a compelling and unconventional assassin story that is deep, dark and personal. Please do not expect Night Angel or Assassin’s Creed or a narrative filled with badass action. Make no mistake though, Girton Club-Foot is still a killer to be reckoned with, but it was his refusal to allow his disability and his cursed talent to define who he is which made his characterisation so fascinating.
In my opinion, the beauty of the trilogy lies in character growth and development of Girton in the harsh and brutal Tired Lands. Told in the first person perspective of Girton, we are first shown his coming-of-age story in the Age of Assassins and subsequently, his threshold years of adulthood as he struggled with angst and despair in the sequel. Finally, in the King of Assassins, sixteen years have passed, and our main protagonist is secure and confident in his identity and abilities.
(There’s also much beauty to be found in the French covers)
In my usual fashion for concluding volumes of a series, I will not make mention of the plot as I believe there may potentially be spoilers, especially for those who have yet to start even the first book and look to this review to decide if the journey is worth it. I will also like to point out that each volume of the trilogy wrapped up pretty conclusively and has a significant time jump in between.
Firstly, what I got out of this trilogy as a whole is empathetic character development that goes through some dark and troubled paths. There are numerous moments of introspection and even some strange dreamscape ones that allude to the unusual worldbuilding that I will talk about shortly. What made it even more enthralling for me was the fact that the author drew inspiration for Girton from himself and his long battle with chronic pain. There will never be a more personal and relatable story than that which was written from one’s own struggles. The growth of our main protagonist is shown through his relationship with his master, his friendships with the unlikeliest of individuals, and his struggles and eventual acceptance of who and what he is. There is also a tale of redemption in this narrative, which is more often grim than hopeful, in which a character became a favourite of mine despite being utterly unlikeable in the first book.
While there are several great action sequences throughout the trilogy (my personal favourite of the lot was one intense battle scene from Blood of Assassins), it is not the primary focus of the story. Having said that, the assassin’s fighting style is beautifully portrayed as a dance as one movement or iteration connects to another with fluidity; another unique factor in this unusual account of the life of a professional killer.
Then there is the worldbuilding that has both the familiar and the weird. The title of the trilogy, The Wounded Kingdom, and the name of this known world, The Tired Lands, are most appropriate in describing the setting in which Girton’s story took place. A land that has been significantly scorched of life by magic, and which has a social structure dictated by a distasteful caste-system. There is the worship of dead gods and the fear of powerful hedgings, which I only have begun to have some comprehension of in this volume. Throughout the entire trilogy, there was not a single moment where exposition overshadowed the plot and characterisation. In my opinion, there was a right balance between each of these essential elements of fantasy storytelling. And I especially enjoyed the mystery subplot evident in each instalment. Even though there are still unanswered questions about the world and its lore, I felt that there was sufficient revelation to drive the narrative forward and to enable me as a reader to feel compassion for the people involved. This final volume, in particular, conveyed a greater sense of the religious and political strive in The Tired Lands.
In summary, The Wounded Kingdom is an compelling and powerful story about loyalty, friendship, redemption and rising above oneself. While I have read both this novel and its predecessors in the form of ebook ARCs, I have bought all of them in physical form for my collection as I firmly believe that they deserve to be on my bookshelves, limited space notwithstanding.
Updated review, originally written in 2018.