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.

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Weekly Wrap Up : 18/02/18

Posted On 18 February 2018

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Hi everyone.   Hope you’ve had a good week.  The weather here has been a bit naff the past week so curling up with a book seems to have been the order of the day.  Still a bit behind with reviews but I’m trying to catch up – of course it’s a vicious circle – as soon as I review something I read something else, so one step forward one step back.  Still, it’s not the worst problem to have now is it. 😀  So, I managed to read four books but that’s literally because I couldn’t put the RJ Barker books down.  Read them.

Books read:

  1. The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale
  2. Mister Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson
  3. Age of Assassins by R J Barker – which I loved
  4. Blood of Assassins by R J Barker – which I loved even more (how is this possible)

Next Week’s Reads:

  1. Semiosis by Sue Burke
  2. Between the Blade and the Heart by Amanda Hockig
  3. Planetfall by Emma Newman

Upcoming reviews:

  1. Starborn by Lucy Hounsom
  2. Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace
  3. Chaos Trims My Beard by Brett Herman
  4. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (Vintage Sci Fi book)
  5. Paris Adrift by E.J. Swift
  6. Pilgrimage to Skara by Jonathan S Pembroke
  7. The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale
  8. Mister Tender’s Girl by Carter Wilson
  9. Age of Assassins by R J Barker
  10. Blood of Assassins by R J Barker

I’d love to know what you’re reading this week.

The War of Undoing (Kyland Falls #1) by Alex Perry #SPFBO

Posted On 17 February 2018

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thewarThe War of Undoing was the first finalist that I’ve read from the SPFBO.  I have to admit that I was excited to read this one and pleased that it was my first book drawn randomly from the hat.  Overall this isn’t a bad read although I didn’t love it as much as I expected. It has more of a YA adventure feel in terms of tone but at the same time is a little weighted down with a plot that wanders and slows the pace as a result.

After the prologue we’re introduced to the Rainings.  Miller, Tay and Ellstone are siblings living in Tarot – and when I say living I really mean struggling.  Given up by their parents as babies they struggle to survive.  Miller is the eldest and works identifying magical artifacts.  A job which he’s quite good at and seems to enjoy.  Tay, the middle child tries to work and support the family but her temper usually gets in the way.  Tay is basically a very angry person.  Not without cause of course.  She and her brothers have been abandoned by their parents and left to live a life of hardship, even more so when the small stipend they have previously received to help them survive, is withdrawn without warning.  Ellstone is the youngest and loves to have his nose stuck in a book.  The three children are the narrators of the piece the other point of view coming from a young woman called Kisli who is training to become a soldier.

The world building is a little on the skimpy side although I liked that there were no info dumps.  We actually found out quite a lot of the history of the place through Ellstone’s love of reading which I really enjoyed.  Many years ago a war was fought between humans and Vumas (magic wielding beings who are quite similar to humans in many respects).  The humans (barely) won the war and since then have tried to prevent the use of magic.  Most Vumas live remote from humans but their constant persecution has led to a rebel uprising and a war is once again brewing.

In terms of the plot.  The children receive a rather cryptic and bloody message and as a result Tay and Ellstone find themselves on route to Eldermoon whilst their brother Miller remains behind.  From here the children are not only physically divided but also have conflicting ideas of what they hope to achieve.  Tay in particular is bent on revenge against her parents and feels that the Vumas will be the perfect way to exact such revenge.  What I actually really liked about the plot is that far from rushing into the cliche of the children becoming ‘the chosen ones’ who save the world the author takes a different route.  The children really play a small role in fact the ensuing war seems to take place around them, it isn’t the focus of the story and remains on the periphery.  The Vumas believe that the children will be their secret weapon and the humans also believe that they have a secret that will help them to once again defeat their enemy.

 

What I really enjoyed about this was that the author doesn’t go down the route of cliches, even though it felt like the story was screaming out to go down that path.  I thought there was some great emotion too.  Tay in particular, as I mentioned above, is very angry.  So angry in fact that really she’s the main catalyst in splitting the siblings apart and in fact her anger blinds her to almost all other considerations.  I also liked the way the story explores persecution and the idea that history is written by the winners and so might not always be a true representation.  These are really intriguing and thought provoking ideas that I thought were well integrated into the plot.  There’s also a childlike love of exploration going on here and an innocence or naivety displayed by all the POV characters that leads them to make mistakes – which in turn makes them feel much more credible.

In terms of criticisms.  This comes across as quite a young read and whilst I don’t mind that in some respects I readily admit I’m not the target audience.  A number of the characters just felt a little flat and in some places almost comic.  I really didn’t understand the parents or their motivations and was disappointed with the chapter where Tay finally meets her mother.  I could say more but I don’t want to let spoilers creep in.  The first 40/50% of the book is really quite slow and at first I had difficulty in separating any of the children’s voices as they all sounded somewhat similar.  This does resolve itself eventually and the pacing also picks up but there’s a lot to get through before these issues work themselves out.

Overall this was a good read and whilst it might not be one for me I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage others from reading.  I think it would work well aimed at a younger audience, particularly if it’s trimmed down a little to help the pacing issue.

My thanks to the author for a copy of The War of Undoing.

 

 

“And we danced, on the brink of an unknown future, to an echo from a vanished past.”

FFO.jpg

Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .   This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book, compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future week’s themes are listed below. This week’s theme:

‘Groovy baby’ – a cover that is: Retro

I had a few covers in mind for this week’s theme but not all of them quite worked out.  I’ve gone for a book that I own but haven’t read yet – Stephen King’s Joyland.  Let me know if you’ve read this and think I need to move it up the tbr.

Probably not surprisingly there was a large number of covers for this title.  My favourite  (although I also liked the middle cover, middle row) just has to be:

joyland1

Which is your favourite?

Next week – a cover featuring a staircase

Future themes:

23rd February – “There are too many steps in this castle, and it seems to me they add a few every night, just to vex me”  – a cover featuring a staircase

2nd March – ‘The only true wisdom is to know that you know nothing’ – a cover featuring something from Greek mythology

9th March – ‘…but Icarus flew too close’ – a cover featuring the Sun

16th March – ‘I got no strings to hold me down’ – a cover featuring a doll or puppet

23rd March – “When she was a child, the witch locked her away in a tower that had neither doors nor stairs.” – a cover featuring a Tower

30th March – ‘A little soil to make it grow’ – a cover featuring seeds/spores

6th April –  “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” – a cover featuring a family

13th April – ‘lawns and rocks and heather and different sorts of trees, lay spread out below them, the river winding through it’ –  a cover featuring a panorama

20th April – Where there’s fire there’s… – a cover featuring smoke

27th April – ‘Those darling byegone times… with their delicious fortresses, and their dear old dungeons, and their delightful places of torture’ – a cover that is positively mediaeval 

4th May-  ‘A Hand without a hand? A bad jape, sister.’ – a cover featuring a hand/hands

11th May – ‘Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth’ – a cover featuring a dinosaur/s

18th May – ‘Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;’ – a cover featuring a gravestone

25th May – Trip trap, trip trap, trip trap – a cover featuring footsteps

1st June – clinging and invasive – a cover featuring creeping vines

8th June – Raining Cats and Dogs – a cover featuring a stormy sky

The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch

Posted On 15 February 2018

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the gone worldHailed as Inception meets True Detective Tom Sweterlitsch’s Gone World is a dark and fairly brutal thriller with a modern day setting where sci fi has made the impossible possible.

This is a clever read indeed and one that definitely needs clear focus and attention in order to stay on top of the many plot twists.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that I understood all of the elements at play here and yet in spite of that I found this a completely compelling read.  For me, I’d say this has a feel of Interstellar in terms of the mind bending elements, Twelve Monkeys in terms of the bleak kind of atmosphere and even a bit of Event Horizon although I only use those comparisons very loosely and to try to give you an idea of the feel of the book. I feel like this is a book that I could read at least a couple more times and still continue to find new elements.

Imagine a future where time travel is possible and is used sometimes to help solve the unsolvable.  Using space travel and navigating deep time this is a world where such a thing has become possible.  Of course this ability is kept top secret and falls within the powers of a covert division known as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Using the current year as a base operatives can move forward into time.  Of course, this is only one possible future, as soon as the operative returns the information they return with could change the direction of that ‘possible future’ and it would simply blink out of existence.  At the same time the NCIS have become aware of a cataclysmic event that could end the world.  Known as the Terminus the only thing the NCIS are absolutely clear on is that the date at which this event takes place seems to be jumping ever closer and they’re desperate to uncover the nature of the threat in order to try and prevent it.

In terms of the plot.  As the story begins a family has been brutally murdered.  The father, believed to be a Navy SEAL, and his daughter are missing.  The NCIS are called in to assist and the detective, Shannon Moss, soon uncovers that the missing SEAL was in fact an astronaut on board a spaceship believed to be lost in deep time.  Of course she isn’t at liberty to share this information with law enforcement officers, but, desperate to try and locate the missing daughter before it’s too late Shannon takes the decision to travel into the future to see if any clues can help with the search.

Shannon is the main character and she’s a wonderfully strong lead.  She cares about people, she’s tough and persistent.  Basically the life she’s chosen here isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t for everyone.  Her forays into the future means she has no real possibility of putting down roots or having a family in her current existence.  It all sounds a bit complex but it isn’t really.  Basically, Shannon’s current time line is 1997 (I think), if she travels forward to 2040, for example, the travel alone will take months, she then may spend months in that possible future trying to uncover evidence and develop possible leads.  When she returns to her current lifeline of 1997 although everyone back in that time will be exactly as she left them she will have aged.  It’s a fascinating idea and one that means in her current timeline Shannon is actually nearly the same age as her own mother.  Of course, as soon as she travels forward there’s always the possibility that something could happen to her and she might never return.  To everyone in her current timeline she would simply have disappeared.  Anyway, I digress.  Put bluntly, Shannon is an excellent protagonist to follow.  She is of course surrounded by many interesting characters but it’s difficult to talk about them too much as they may behave differently depending on the possible future that we see them in. Layers, twists, world within worlds and conundrums.  On top of this there are echoes – which, frankly, I’m not even going in to because there are far better minds than mine out there that can probably explain them better and this review feels like it’s becoming far too convoluted as it is.

Basically, to cut to the chase.  I found this intriguing and compelling.  It’s a really clever read and even though I might not have completely grasped everything I’m still thinking about it even now and having little light bulb moments (which make me want to pick up the book again).  This to me is a winning element to any book – the ability to make you keep returning to think about things and mull them over.  I might come up with something that I think is a glitch but when I reason it out I realise that it isn’t – although it usually then sets me off thinking about something else, and so on, etc, etc. 

In terms of criticisms.  The ending felt a little rushed.  That could just be me rushing to conclude things though and it’s difficult to put my finger on but there was just something about it that felt too abrupt.  I can’t say it changed the way I felt about the book though.

Of course the paradox of time travel isn’t for everyone and I can understand why but for me this book really won me over.  It’s raw and edgy, the murder investigation is deftly combined with the futuristic elements of the story and the main protagonist brings a certain something to the read that makes it more palatable.  She’s just so very human, she gets into hideous situations and by the end of the book I felt exhausted on her behalf.  A round of applause for the author for managing to keep all these threads from becoming a tangled mess.

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

 

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