Age of Assassins by R. J. Barker
Publication date: 03 August 2017
Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review
Regardless of how much I manage to read in a given week, month, or year, I always seem to be behind the times in some way. There are so many authors and series that I feel like I’m missing out on, and R. J. Barker’s Wounded Kingdom was one of them. Despite having heard so many great things about his books, particularly from my lovely friend Bethan at The Fantasy Hive, I had never picked up any of them up until now. I decided to fix this and I’m so happy I did! Age of Assassins is firmly sat on my ‘why didn’t I read this sooner?’ shelf alongside books like City of Stairs and Jade City.
To catch an assassin, use an assassin…
Girton Club-foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But his latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.
In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire kingdom.
I love a good assassin book, but I was delighted by Barker’s take on the classic assassin tale. You can browse the fantasy shelves of any bookstore and find plenty of books dealing with assassins, you know, assassinating people (or not assassinating people). However, I was so pleased by the fact that Girton and his master had to actually prevent an assassination from happening — what a great idea! Barker doesn’t shy away from violence and murder, or even showing off just how skilled the main characters are, despite the fact that they aren’t actually contracted to kill anyone in the book.
Age of Assassins doesn’t go particularly in depth into world building or the magic system. This usually bothers me in books that relies heavily on atmosphere and magic, however I found that Barker balanced the world building and the plot really well. We get a good enough idea of what the world is like via character conversations and interactions and the flashback interludes for it to make sense — the magic system is very much the same, however it plays a more central role in the story. I’m dying to learn more about this fascinating world, however I, a reader who is obsessed with world building, was satisfied with what we got.
Oh, Girton. Girton is a fantastic character and has so many layers, whether you enjoy them or not. He’s a combination of incredibly adult and experienced, mostly due to his work as an assassin’s apprentice, but he’s also a sullen, pouting 15-year-old boy. I love the balance Barker struck between the two sides of Girton — he was among the most realistic teenage assassin characters I’ve ever read. I think part of Girton’s charm is that despite the fact that he’s a murdery killing machine, he’s just so human. He can take down a group of armed attackers, but he’s lonely and desperate for friendship. He both respects his master and argues with her over his need for basic human contact and friendship. He mopes, he sulks, he drinks — he just felt so real. I’m very curious to see how he evolves in the next books, especially if there is any kind of time jump and he grows up.
If I had to sum up Age of Assassins in one word, it would be ‘fun’ — I had a hell of a time reading it and it’s the perfect summer fantasy book to tear through while you’re sat outside in the sun. I’d highly recommend going with the audiobook if you can, as the narrator is just fantastic.
CW: violence, murder, fantasy animal abuse, derogatory comments about disabled character
Want to try Age of Assassins for yourself? You can pick up a copy at the following sites (affiliate links):