Age of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom #1) by R.J. Barker

age of assassinsI loved Age of Assassins.  It’s simply my kind of book.  I enjoyed the plot, I became attached to the characters, the narration was clever, the world building subtle and it was a blend of fantasy and mystery that just compelled me to read the book at a foolish breakneck pace.

‘To catch an assassin, use an assassin” is the tagline of the book and is perhaps a little misleading – although personally I don’t really think so, not if you consider what is really being said.  I love books about assassins and this book has more than one but that doesn’t particularly mean they’re all plying their trade.  This is essentially a mystery.  It’s all about preventing an assassination and what better way to stop a killer in their tracks than to use a killer who can spot where those tracks will be made.

As the book begins we make the acquaintance of Merela Karn and her apprentice Girton Club-foot as they steal their way into Castle Maniyadoc.  Their invitation was a ploy used by Queen Adran to draw them into a trap.  The Queen fears for her son’s life and playing on a former acquaintance has lured Merela to the Castle to protect Prince Aydor.  And so Merela and Girton find themselves disguised as a jester and a squire, suitable cover to allow them access to people and places around the castle without causing suspicion.

I’m not going to go any further into the plot, this is a mystery that you can best discover for yourselves which leaves me plenty of room to talk about what else bowled me over.

It sometimes feels like I’m always banging on about great characters and how they really seal the deal for me but I can’t help it.  Good characters make me happy and they’re in abundance here.  And, to be clear, I don’t just mean the good guys, I want the bad guys to be credible too, particularly their motivations.  So, we have the Queen, who has ambition aplenty but also a mother’s love for her son – even if he is a raging bully and very unpopular with virtually everyone else.  Then we have Merela who is a fantastic character in herself (and let me state for the record – I would read a prequel about her life story at the drop of a hat, just saying).  She’s such a cool character to read about, not just her ability as an assassin but her thought processes and the way she comes across as a mentor.  The relationship that she enjoys with Girton is surprisingly motherly and they clearly share a firm bond – which, as assassins, does leave them vulnerable in some respects.  It also means we have a motivation for Merela to serve the Queen.  Both of them have somebody they would protect at all costs.  Girton is also great to read about.  He’s spent the majority of his life following in his master’s footsteps.  This is no ordinary childhood and that particular aspect really comes across here.  Girton’s difficulty in making friends, his awkwardness in regular situations but more than that the realisation as it dawns on him that he has missed out on things that regular people take for granted is wonderfully played out here.  It was really quite touching to see him making friends and even striking up a flirtation and it was also touching to see Merela realise much the same thing herself and second guess whether she was really doing the right thing by him training him to become an assassin.

On top of this we have a selection of other characters. Prince Aydor and his pals are the bullies of the piece, never missing an opportunity to taunt Girton who, in his role as squire, has to downplay his own abilities and appear to be clumsy and useless with a sword.  There are other squires, with two fairly opposing factions already in place, then we have Rufra, another outsider who manages to find friendship with Girton.

As an aside I have to give a shout out for Xus – what a stunning creature.  I have massive envy and want my own fearsome mount.

The world building is very subtly done.  Castle Maniyadoc lies within the Tired Lands.  This is a rather bleak setting with much of the land being soured by sorcery.  Basically the magic in this book comes with a price, it draws the lifeblood from the land killing everything and creating a barren wasteland.  Sorcery, as you can imagine therefore, is abhorred.  Suspected sorcerers are hunted down and killed by the Landsmen, their lifeblood spilling into the soil from which it came.  The people of the Tired Lands believe that all but one of their Gods have died.  Xus, the God of death – who is never short of work or worshippers.  They believe that their Gods may one day return and still follow the priests of whichever God they worship.

That leaves me with one more thing to gush about.  The writing.  The story is narrated by Girton and his chapters are interspersed with interludes involving dreamlike sequences.  To be honest, I’m not fond of dreams being used in books and yet here these interludes just worked for me.  I don’t know why, I can’t explain it really, and I don’t want to come across as just prepared to love everything unconditionally, because that isn’t really the case.  As a rule these chapters would normally annoy the socks off me.   That they didn’t is a really happy surprise.  The writing is really good.  A perfect balance of storytelling, humour and detail.  It almost feels simply done – not simplistic – just that everything comes together like a series of steps in a dance.  Everything falls into place.  Strangely enough the writing is peppered with dance moves that make up the strange trance like fight sequences that Girton falls into.  All I can say is that this all just works perfectly.  A stunning debut, an engrossing story, a mystery with plenty of red herrings and a young boy and his mentor that make for fascinating reading.


I loved it.  That is all.  My sincere thanks to the author.

Where I received a copy: bought.

26 Responses to “Age of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom #1) by R.J. Barker”

  1. DJ (@MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape)

    Definitely not the type of assassin catching assassin you would expect, but I actually like this one ever more! And it sure seems like you were a huge fan of basically all aspects of the story too 🙂

  2. Tammy

    Ok you’ve convinced me! I definitely need to try to fit this in. Also I want to know what Xus is, a horse? Thanks for an excellent review😁

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, yes, read it – I know you’re swamped with books but this is so worth it. I really enjoyed this and as I’ve already read No.2 (eager much) I can even confirm that it was better than the first – so even more motivation to start this series.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek

    Fantastic review Lynn.👌📚 It’s a great book, I’m currently reading the sequel and it’s even better.👌

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yay – I’ve also read the second – I couldn’t help myself. I had to know what came next and I thought it was fantastic. How you can improve on the first I don’t know but RJB definitely did.
      I’ll have a review up next week – but, for me, it was the way the characters have developed. They’ve all changed rather than just feeling like you’re picked up where you left off.
      Lynn 😀

      • Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek

        I haven’t finished it yet, hopefully today but that’s one of the things that I’ve really liked so far too. They still have similar traits but nobody is exactly the same as in AOA, one change (unless it’s a ploy) is really shocking so far.

      • @lynnsbooks

        I think I know what you’re talking about and my lips are sealed….

  4. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Reading your review felt like re-living all the emotions I experienced while reading this book and falling in love with its characters – including the Tired Lands, that are a character in their own right. Books like this one give us the *right* to gush, because there is no other way to share the joy they give us reading them.
    Great review, thanks for sharing!!! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Aww, I loved this and the second is even better. I was a bit impetuous and rushed straight ahead. It was so very good.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Yes, there was just something so…magical about this one, in terms of how all the ingredients came together just perfectly to make it one amazing read. I loved the main character and his master, it was one of those partnerships that melted my heart. I wish we could see more of these mentor-apprentice relationships in fantasy, instead of the cliched “a harsh master has to treat their student like crap because that’s how you train an effective assassin” trope. While I think Girton’s bond with Merela does make them more vulnerable, it also made both of them so much more sympathetic. I can’t wait to read the next one.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, exactly. I want more like this. I couldn’t put it down, it was definitely magical.
      Lynn 😀

  6. sjhigbee

    Damn… I am going to HAVE to get this book! Thank you for an awesomely passionate review:)

  7. melissamyworldinwordsandpages

    I’m listening to this book now. I’m really enjoying it. 🙂 I’m looking forward to finishing it and the next book too! 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yay – can’t wait for your review. I hope you enjoy the second book – I loved it even more if that’s even possible.
      Lynn 😀

  8. proxyfish

    After your Barker-thon I looked this up and it definitely sounded like a good read – and now I’m convinced!! This sounds amazing!!! 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      I loved them both, *bounces up and down* read them. One of those series that I’m just plain excited about and want everyone to read.
      Lynn 😀

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