Age of Assassins is
a. a complex castle whodunit
b. a back/front/side/top/bottom-stabbing political thriller
c. magic-laced coming-of-age
d. ALL OF THE ABOVE.
At first, the premise seems quite simple: an assassin and her apprentice have been brought to the seat of the kingdom to weed out a possible move on the heir. Master and second go undercover inside the castle: Merela as a jester and Girton as a squire. Both try to fit in and accomplish the task of rooting out the threat. Merela’s duty is complicated by her mysterious past connections to the royal family, and Girton must do his best to become just one of the squires in a group that is already split by family hierarchy.
“There is a very particular noise a human makes when confronted with unexpected death. A certain constriction of the throat made by the animal buried deep within us when it is forced to confront its own mortality.”
A couple general thoughts about this one… The world building is revealed in creative ways. i.e. instead of dense paragraphs of background, at one point a conversation between the queen and masters of the visiting festival tells a lot about the tensions and history of the kingdom. Also, the role of magic in the world might be somewhat familiar, but it is used in a way that is pivotal and tied intricately to both character and land.
Three more things to add: I liked the aspect of protecting a very unlikable character. The “Interludes” between every 2-3 chapters where excellent in telling the history of the partnership between Master and Apprentice. Although it takes a bit to lay out the main players, the story really starts to get messy (in a very good way) about 1/2 way through.
Please don’t get scared away by the plot lines mentioned above. The obvious answer to the quiz is D. ALL OF THE ABOVE. And that is the strength in this one; it’s a combination of some of my favorite literary set-ups. Add a host of unique details and you’ve got a great story.
Countless memorable lines and some surprising twists make Barker’s story a necessary addition to your fantasy reading list.