When it comes to the fantasy genre, sequels are the norm. It makes sense; in the overpopulated world of publishing, readers tend to spend their precious reading time on things that are more likely to be entertaining, and more of the same from an author is a safe bet. This is problematic; leading to many amazing debut novels having less brilliant follow on. Typically this is caused by playing it safe, which isn’t what drew us to the author in the first place. RJ Barker’s first novel, Age of Assassins was rather brilliant, so when it’s sequel, Blood of Assassins arrive, we rather held our breath.We needn’t have worried. Barker gets the formula pretty much spot on, balancing the new and the familiar to keep the reader gripped all the way through. The novel is set five years after the end of the previous book. Our protagonist Girton Club-Foot and his master are working as mercenaries, touring the Tired Lands and using their murder skills to best advantage. Girton no longer sees himself as a poet of the blade as circumstance has turned him into more blunt a weapon. Indeed, his approach to murder has changed. Five years is a long time, especially in a world filled with uncertain magics and constant conflict.
Circumstances throw our hero back into the thick of things and yet again involved with the intricacies of bloody court politics. Whereas the previous novel was a steadily paced fantasy thriller with considered moments and solid sleuth, the sequel kicks everything up a notch. It’s faster, more cinematic yet still as clever. The considered writing and multi-layered approach is as strong as ever, and you may find yourself looking at the previous book to uncover gems of theme and design.
Barker’s writing is smooth and engaging, as well as rather addictive. If you’re the sort of person who likes to make a hot drink before you start reading, expect to find yourself deep into the book only to discover your drink has gone cold. So much so that this is the sort of book that will have you swimming in cold tea; it really is that gripping.
Every bit as intricate as the first, Blood is faster and darker, with more world building thrown into the mix for good measure. It’s pleasing to discover that Barker gives his world as much detail as he does to his characters.
BLOOD OF ASSASSINS / AUTHOR: RJ BARKER / PUBLISHER: ORBIT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW