Age of Assassins by RJ Barker

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I’ve wanted to read this for a long time, but I haven’t had a chance to until now, and I’m so glad I picked this one up on audio. Apologies for the spelling of names, as I did audiobooks these are all my best guesses on how things are spelled.

Our main character, Gertin, was raised as a slave until age six when he was sold at auction to a new “owner”. His new master is an assassin,  she bought him at auction out of the kindness of her heart as counterintuitive as that seems. He has a clubbed foot and so no one else wanted to buy him – he was considered to be a waste so he was going to be fed to the animals if no one coughed up three marks to buy him. Melerah takes pity on him and decides she can give him a better life even if that life is one of an assassin. Throughout the book we get two timelines, one in the present and interludes full of flashbacks leading up to the present. Most of the flash backs have to do with the relationship between Gertin and Melerah and the more background I got, the more endearing the relationship became to me. She trains him well, and at 15 years old they get ensnared into a mission by the Queen to find out who wants to kill her son, the only heir to her kingdom.

The Queen is a bit like Cersei, she’s currently poisoning her husband to death, she’s incredibly ambitious, her son being the next King wasn’t good enough for her, she wants him to be High King –  she’s absolutely in love with her son despite knowing that he’s a monster. Her thought process is that she can “control” her son, but from an outsider’s perspective it’s all self-delusion. It’s a mystery who wants the heir dead and there are a lot of potential subjects considering how precarious his family’s rule is, and how much of an asshole he can be to everyone around him. Gertin is assigned to the squire’s division to see if he can gather any information there, and observe the heir since he’s in training as well. People form cliques and in order to get information you have to get in with those cliques. With a clubbed foot and being forced into a facade that he’s just a lowly country boy with no skill with a sword, Gertin is finding it very difficult to make friends. He does manage to make one friend, another outsider named Rufrah, but he’s not as unconnected as he seems.  Rufrah has made a friend of all the outcastes, the servants, the slaves, the ones that go beneath the noble’s notice. These people talk to each other and gossip travels fast, with Rufrah’s help Gertin gains ground on who the possible assassin could be.

Mages in this world are hunted down and executed. Long ago there was a Black Sorcerer who Soured the land to the point where it turned yellow and barren. To try and restore the land people gather up magic users and spill their blood on the ground to try and revive it. They don’t always just slit their throats, though. Sometimes magic users are put into Blood Gibbets and slowly tortured to death over the course of weeks, leaking small bits of blood into the soil every day. I really loved the mounts in this, they were called ‘horses’ but they were antlered and have tusks, and they can also live for hundreds of years. The magic in this is subtle, it’s there throughout the book but it’s not an ‘in your face’ approach.

I liked Gertin even though he can definitely be an angsty teenager from time to time. He tends to be more independent given his upbringing, but his youth tends to shine through in stressful moments – or girls. He’s also been incredibly sheltered, he’s lived his whole life with his master and hasn’t been away from her for more than a few hours at a time. Being 15-17 is pretty much all about being stuck in between being an adult and being a child, so his ability to think clearly and make good decisions sometimes, but also mess up and do something impulsive another time rang true to his age. I do think my favorite character though is his master. She’s incredibly mysterious and we only get bits and pieces of her past hinted at through other characters. She’s an assassin but also has mercy, she doesn’t kill because she finds joy in it – it’s just a job. She doesn’t approve of the Queens torture methods and prefers clean quick kills that are more merciful rather than “extractions”. She shows restraint, mercy, and in her own way she’s also very honorable. I love seeing a healthy master-apprentice relationship and theirs was one I’ll remember for a while.

This is told in the third person using a single POV. I found the prose to be pretty concise and straight forward but also not too simplistic. It propelled me through the story and I felt like everything was very well paced. There were action scenes mixed with a mystery sprinkle a bit of murder in there and there was always something to hold my interest. I felt like we really got to know Gertin and his Master since it was a smaller cast and single POV – those types of stories really capture my interest if I’m digging the characters.

I will absolutely be continuing on with this series!

Audience:

  • Assassins
  • single pov
  • master-apprentice relationship
  • magic users are forbidden
  • fast paced
  • audiobooks
  • mysteries
  • coming of age

Final Score:

  • Plot: 13/15
  • Characters: 13/15
  • World Building: 12/15
  • Writing: 12/15
  • Pacing: 13/15
  • Originality: 12/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 9/10

Final Score: 84/100 – 4.5/5 – highly recommended!!!!

5 comments

  1. Yessssss, Barker is a fantastic storyteller and this series will not disappoint you. I can’t wait to see what you think of the next two books, as they just get better and better!

    1. LOL I already bought the second book and I’m 20% through. I can’t stop. The last time this happened was with Abercrombie and Phil Parker’s series Blackgate Chronicles that did well in a previous SPFBO

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