Blood of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom #2) by R.J. Barker

blood of assassinsOnly a couple of weeks ago I read Age of Assassins (review here) and loved it so much that I jumped in eagerly with Blood of Assassins.  The first book in the series was an absolute success, I loved it and the characters that it introduced.  It can be difficult to follow up such a compelling read and yet the second book in the series does not disappoint in fact far from having ‘middle book’ syndrome I would say that Blood of Assassins surpasses the first.  If you haven’t yet read Age of Assassins then I urge you to do so, and I would also caution you about reading this review as it may contain spoilers for the first book.

Girton and his master have been away from Maniyadoc for five years.  They’ve been working as mercenaries and trying to avoid retribution from the assassins guild that placed a price on their heads following events in Age of Assassins.  The Tired Lands that the pair return to are indeed very aptly named at this point and are barely recognisable.  War has taken its toll and left the landscape and people destitute.  The three rivals to the throne have been battling it out, each determined to win the crown.  Rufra and Tomas are the main contenders although Aydor still plays a part and the biggest fear is of him aligning with one of the forces and giving them an advantage.  Returning to see his old friend Rufra, Girton is once again called on to help solve a mystery.  It seems that there is a spy in Rufra’s camp and Girton is going to need his wits to solve the puzzle of who the betrayer is before it’s too late.

I think what really came across for me in this second book is the character growth.  Things have indeed moved on and war and constant strife have changed the people and landscape that we were previously introduced to.  Girton himself is definitely a conflicted individual.  He and Merela still share a strong bond but there is undoubtedly some resentment between the two that is never really broached and there is a simmering of emotions that threatens to bubble over on an almost constant basis.  Girton has practically abandoned his skill as an assassin preferring instead to wield a huge ass war hammer that most people would struggle to hoist.  He has something of an advantage in that people generally underestimate him due to his club foot and yet his anger seems to give him added strength.  He hasn’t lost his ability to mentally cogitate a problem but he constantly lets his emotions get the better of him and generally his frustrated annoyance and fear of losing both his friend and master more often than not win the day and cloud his judgement.  He makes some dreadful mistakes in this book that just had me grasping my head with sheer disbelief but at the same time I wanted to just hug him and promise that everything would be okay.  On top of this Girton spends virtually every day with the fear that his magic will simply overwhelm him and he will be sentenced to a bloody death.  It doesn’t help that in assisting his friend he must now mix with the very people who seek out and kill those with any magical ability, the Landsmen.

Two things, relatively simple on the face of it, but that manage to change the complexion of this book and give it a different feel to the first.  Merela is incapacitated fairly early on and spends a good deal of the story seriously ill.  Now, whilst I love reading of Merela this is, strictly speaking, the ‘Girton show’ and restricting her physical and mental assistance pushed Girton out of his comfort zone and forced him to rely on his own abilities.  On top of that, and again as much as I loved the castle setting in the first book, the majority of the action is taken outside of the walls and this is a remarkably easy and yet effective way of providing a new setting and giving us the opportunity to see more of the Tired Lands.  Rufra and his army have camped outside the protection of the castle walls in a bid to tempt Tomas into an attack.  Of course, Tomas isn’t so easily swayed and instead quite often succeeds himself in drawing Rufra out into the open where smaller scale battles ensue.

In this way we spend more time with the common people, hungry and tired of war.  To be honest, life in the Tired Lands sounds simply exhausting.  There is the blight caused by previous sorcery that gave rise to the fear of any type of magic.  Nothing grows in the soured soil and keeping hunger at bay is hard when there simply isn’t enough land on which to grow crops.  On top of that, living outside of the law are the Nonmen.  Brutal and bloodthirsty they seem to have aligned themselves with Tomas and think nothing of attacking villages and killing with abandon any that they believe assist Rufra.  If that wasn’t enough there’s the threat posed by wild hogs – I kid you not – you wouldn’t want to be caught alone and left to their tender mercy.

There is plenty of bloodshed and fast paced fighting.  In particular a siege that takes place at an outlying village and is breathtakingly realistic.  A small contingent of Rufra’s army, including Girton, become trapped behind the walls by a much larger force of Nonmen.  The description of the fighting that ensues is absolutely gripping.  In fact all of the action scenes are described to perfection.  It’s an element of fantasy that I admit I don’t always enjoy – simply because sometimes I lose the plot a little with the descriptions or my focus drifts.  I can say with complete conviction that I didn’t have any such feelings reading the action sequences in this book.  They were riveting and the fact that I had formed such strong attachments to some of the characters only served to crank up the tension.

I could probably wax lyrical for a little longer but I think it’s time to wrap things up.  I would give a little shout out to Xus who plays a fantastic role and makes me long for an antlered mount of my own.

Blood of Assassins was the perfect follow up.  It successfully develops the characters in a way that is believable, it delivers another strong plot and it makes for compelling reading.  Girton is far from perfect, he makes mistakes aplenty, but he’s relatable and his emotions have a simple honesty that endears him to you.  Frankly I can’t wait to read more.

I received a copy, through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

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18 Responses to “Blood of Assassins (The Wounded Kingdom #2) by R.J. Barker”

  1. Tammy

    I’ve read other reviews that say this is better than the first book, that is so rare! Definitely a series to think about reading when I can take a breath.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I was feeling overwhelmed with books during February but this is definitely a series that I don’t regret requesting.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Drew @ The Tattooed Book Geek

    Great review for a great book.👌 I referenced that siege in my review too, it was phenomenal.📚

    • @lynnsbooks

      It really was – in fact, wow, the action scenes are fantastically written.
      Lynn 😀

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    When you said you felt the contrasting needs of shaking some sense into Girton and a the same time hugging him in comfort, I had to smile because that’s exactly how I felt, more often than not 😀
    It takes a truly talented author to improve on a successful first book, and this novel confirms we have a true winner here. I can’t wait for the next one, as well…

    • @lynnsbooks

      I know – bring on number 3 – although, obviously no pressure – I just want it!
      Lynn 😀

  4. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    You and Maddalena are killing me with your rave reviews! I seriously CANNOT wait to start this…but I have to wait until I am finished with my current read, which I’m stalled on, and I’m so tempted to just toss it aside but I know I shouldn’t. GAH!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Ooh, I’m all intrigued about what book you’re stalling on – but, yes, read this!! *bounces up and down*
      Lynn 😀

  5. sjhigbee

    This is an excellent review, Lynn – and clearly a series I need to get hold of. It sounds a bit like Jen Williams writing style – am I right?

    • @lynnsbooks

      It does remind me a little of Jen Williams now you mention it. Not in terms of stories or characters but something about the tone and the sense of humour, plus characters that you can love.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        Yes – it was the similarity in style and approach rather than the story, reading your review. I’ve started The Bitter Twins, but am finding the early section rather heavy-going…

      • @lynnsbooks

        Okay, well, forewarned, as they say! I’m about to start it too.
        Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        There’s no risk of not continuing, I hasten to add – but I’m just giving it a mention to see if you have the same response…

      • @lynnsbooks

        I’ve started this last night – I must say I hadn’t realised it was over 600 pages but fingers crossed and I hope it’s picked up for you?

      • sjhigbee

        Yes – I am far more into it. But I’m a bit startled at just how bleak the world is…

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    […] Blood of Assassins by RJ Barker […]

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