King of Assassins is the stunning conclusion to The Wounded Kingdom, a fantasy series by RJ Barker, detailing the final fight for the throne that has been promised throughout the series. Fantasy books are often difficult to judge fairly because they have a tendency to come in threes. Barker’s first book (as well as his debut), Age of Assassins, gripped readers with its strong murder mystery plot, engaging characters and extremely pretty prose. Its sequel, Blood of Assassins, was a tale of paranoia and political shenanigans with extremely well written and lyrical combat scenes throughout.
You’d thus be forgiven for thinking that the third book is guaranteed to be good; the first two were different enough from each other to delight the reader while also continuing the solid world building and mesmerising prose that promises to make Barker one of the future big names in fantasy. King of Assassins is not good - it’s a tour de force of brilliant fantasy writing. “Good” does not even begin to define how much fun this book is.
For a start, the main character, Girton Club-Foot is one of those deliciously messy heroes; a collection of terrible life choices, rotten luck and some death defying feats. The things that make him special are also the things that would see him driven out or destroyed. There’s a strong influence of Robin Hobb in Girton - you wonder what he would do if he ever met Hobb’s equally troubled hero, FitzChivalry Farseer.
The pacing does start to become uneven about halfway through. Much of the momentum built up over the series begins to break apart under the sheer weight of narrative here; inevitable, but the change is a little jarring. It’s well worth carrying on, however.
The Wounded Kingdom books are all mystery stories with magic, paranoia, fight scenes and fantasy trappings wrapped around them. Barker concentrates mostly on solving the series as a whole, providing interesting conclusions to ongoing threads (both narratively and thematically). There are plenty of puzzles and problems for Girton to solve (or at least investigate), but this takes a bit of a back seat as the story plunges towards the end.
King of Assassins is a brilliant conclusion to a splendid series, and we can’t wait to see what RJ Barker does next.
KING OF ASSASSINS / AUTHOR: RJ BARKER / PUBLISHER: ORBIT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW