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The Wounded Kingdom #1

Age of Assassins

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To catch an assassin, use an assassin...

Girton Club-foot, apprentice to the land's best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But his latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince's murder.

In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire kingdom.

408 pages, Paperback

First published August 1, 2017

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About the author

R.J. Barker

19 books1,186 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 694 reviews
Profile Image for Petrik.
687 reviews46k followers
April 2, 2019
4.5/5 stars

A highly enjoyable debut; I finished Age of Assassins in less than 24 hours.

I think people need to set their expectations right when they’re going to read this book. If you expect this to be an Assassin’s Creed type of story where the assassin goes on full throttle killing mode or be involved in a battle against another assassin for the majority of the book, you’re most likely going to be disappointed. I came into this expecting it to be something along the line of Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice and with that mindset, I had a fantastic time with this addictive debut.

Age of Assassins is the first book in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy written by R.J. Barker. Honestly, Age of Assassins has been recommended to me several times since its publication; it’s one of the standout fantasy debut of last year and plenty of readers/reviewers have asked me to give it a go and review it but somehow I never got around to it until yesterday; I’m really glad I gave it a go because this turns out to be a great debut.

Told in first person narration, the story centered on the fifteen years old assassin with a disability, Girton Club-Foot. Girton is an apprentice to Merela, one of the best assassins in the Tired Lands and they’re tasked to uncover who’s the traitor that’s going to kill the heir to the throne. I will say this, fantasy enhanced with mystery elements makes a great combination. I’ve read some fantasy books that have mystery elements implemented into their story (few examples: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson, City of Stairs by Robert Bennett, etc.) and I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s one of my favorite hybrid genres. Let’s get this straight once again, Age of Assassins is not an action-oriented book; it’s character-driven and it has a lot of similarity with Assassin’s Apprentice. Other than the majestic Mounts, there may not be something new in this book, if you’re looking for something revolutionary for the genre, look elsewhere. That said, just because there isn’t something new instantly equal to the book is bad because guess what also isn’t new? Almost every fantasy book now; what matters to me is that the story, characterizations, actions, and world-building were well-told and Barker did it wonderfully with his debut.

I loved the characterizations of Girton Club-Foot that reminded me a lot of Fitz Chivalry; both being an assassin’s apprentice at a young age, the blessing and predicaments they had to deal with were similar. Finding friends in an unlikely situation, having a loyal animal companion, being bullied, learning to cope with responsibilities, and whether it’s the struggle of juggling the life of being an assassin and the longing of wanting a normal life; all were similar and honestly? I absolutely enjoyed them all. Girton's personalities and development felt realistic to read due to the well-written characterizations and he became a character that’s easy to empathize with. Although the exploration of the bond between an apprentice and their mentor is something very common in the fantasy genre, it’s quite surprising to me that I found Girton and Merela’s bond to be one of the main highlights of the book; it was heartwarming. Plus, the short interludes—told in third person narrative—that served as a flashback sequences that explored the meeting and relationships between Girton with his master effectively displayed why they became so close. Like I said before, this is a character-driven story and most of the time you’re going to be reading the daily life of an assassin’s apprentice and his struggles instead of reading him doing actual assassin stuff. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re not going to see any assassin actions at all like you experienced in the majority of Robin Hobb books, Girton is so much more capable of being an assassin than Fitz and you’ll get to see him in action sporadically and at the last section of the book.

Although actions weren’t the main focus of the story, the action sequences were really great and can be surmised as an evolution from dancing to killing techniques. Check out this passage:

First iteration: the Precise Steps. Forward into the range of his weapons. He thrust with his stabsword. Ninth iteration: the Bow. Middle of my body bowing backwards to avoid the blade. With his other hand he swung his club at my head. I ducked. As his arm came over my head I grabbed his elbow and pushed, making him lose his balance, and as he struggled to right himself I found purchase on the rim of his chest piece. Tenth iteration: the Broom. Sweeping my leg round I knocked his feet from under him. With a push I sent him flailing into the hole so he cracked his head on the edge of it on his way down.”

The elegant killing moves displayed through dances (iteration) that made them look like a form of art; don’t worry about not understanding the term too because as you can see, Barker explained the actions behind each iteration rather than leaving it to readers’ interpretation on what the term supposed to mean.

I found the simplicity and the flow in Barker’s prose to be immensely enjoyable to read. Although there were a few typos and repetitive sentences, I didn’t find them distracting to the flow of the story and the pacing was very well-paced. I’ve been binge reading Malazan Book of the Fallen series for the past month that reading simple prose starts to feel like finding an oasis while being stranded in a desert; not saying bad things about Erikson's prose or the series but that series can be exhausting for the brain to read at times. Also, I would like to mention that the world-building was gradually implemented without any form of info-dumps. In fact, I found the history of the Tired Lands and why magic/sorcerers became an abomination to be superbly told; especially the section on the history of the Black Sorcerer. I do however wish there were more exploration on the world-building and the great action sequences because I think they were some of the main spotlights of the novel; I’ll most likely get to see them in the sequels and I will find out really soon.

Overall, Age of Assassins was an impressive and stunning debut. I can't believe it took me this long to finally get to this debut, especially when I've reviewed half of the standout debuts from last year. On the other hand, I'm also glad I waited because Barker has finished writing an entire trilogy within a year and now I have the entire series to binge read. Onward to Blood of Assassins! Thank you and well done, R.J. Barker!

You can order the book HERE!

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
317 reviews1,343 followers
January 14, 2018
I received an advanced copy of Age of Assassins in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Orbit Books, Nazia, and R.J. Barker for this opportunity.

Age of Assassins was simply unputdownable. It has been a long time since I have devoured a book so fast. From the quality of this tale, it is almost unbelievable that this is R.J. Barker's debut outing. The main characters that we follow are a 15-year-old disabled assassin called Girton Club-Foot and his Master who is arguably one of the finest and most experienced killers who has ever dwelt within the Tired Lands. After a blistering opening section and certain complications at Castle Maniyadoc they are assigned to take on a deadly business venture which requires them to track down a lurking fellow assassin who is contracted to kill the heir to the throne.

"To Catch An Assassin... Use An Assassin"

The majority of the narrative is presented in the first person perspective with Girton re-telling his adventures within Maniyadoc where he was trying to achieve the desired outcome set by his mysterious employers. To fit in within this alien environment he has to take on the guise of a character completely unlike himself that he must play to infiltrate the castle, its most influential individuals and understand the political viewpoints that these people promote whilst always being convincing and not giving away his talents and his assignment. As a new arrival to the Castle he is hated by most but still, he meets unlikely friends, makes formidable enemies and crosses paths with a pretty stable-hand. There are dangers, Royal complications, and twists throughout the whole of this narrative. Unlike many debut novels where a young hero starts as a weakling and then somehow becomes the "Hero of Ages", Girton already knows his craft pretty well therefore it is interesting to see him in his disguise, analysing the situations with deadly poetic but mathematical precision and then how he has to act as a helpless Squire so not to blow his cover. Assassination and combat maneuvers are presented as a sort of science here with numbered balletic movements and it is highly engaging. In addition to the first person perspective mentioned, we also occasionally see past events presented in the third person through memories or dreams. These interludes or interruptions flowed superbly well, channeling the action in a childish, dreamlike fashion and these sequences were often intense and sometimes downright harrowing. Girton's past has not been the most picturesque and enjoyable.

As well as a highly absorbingly presented yet ravaged fantasy world, the genre familiar notion of assassins and equally familiar plots where a nation brims with unrest and potential civil wars - one of this book's greatest assets I believe is the thrilling mystery elements that are present from the beginning. In addition to the above-discussed more familiar aspects of a fantasy tale, the mystery side of things is truly exquisite which makes Age of Assassins almost reminiscent of an original Joseph Rouletabille or Sherlock Holmes novel but of course not set in a late 19th, early 20th-century setting. One reason for this is we follow one of the main characters whilst the other is running off doing their own thing (Watson and Holmes anyone?) checking in occasionally so we never have a full picture of the happenings which is similar to the old-school detective stories. There is so much going on in this book, so many minuscule motions that characters make, minute slips of their "masks of sanity" with things they may say that have a huge impact on the story. Age of Assassins is a book that needs attention paid to it, little nuggets of information are dropped throughout and if I noticed them then when a revelation was made I felt awesome to have analysed part of the outcome. In my mind, Barker's book definitely has as much in common with a detective and a thriller story as it does fantasy novels and I think it is a stunning mix. There is so much going on and sometimes when a dilemma, question or issue is answered or analysed then consequently double that amount of problems are then created.

Although in Epic fantasy terms it is quite a short book at 400 pages or so, the religions and the history are expertly created through character discussions, factions and also (this will make sense when you read it) dances. The landscape in this world has previously been dealt a brutal hand in infamous battles which have lead to sorcerers and any magic being criminalised and therefore almost eradicated from this world. The cast of characters are vast, my particular favorites after Girton and his master were obscure bullied squire Rufra and the quartermaster Nywulf.

The writing style, to begin with, was unusual. I cannot put my finger on why exactly. It took me about a chapter and a half to understand the flow and appreciate what was being written here. I know it is difficult to write a story in the first person that is truly emotionally engaging yet Age of Assassins definitely is. This story is completely self-contained. The culmination is perfectly composed and the majority of the seeds that have been planted come to feature in the finale... but not all. This is a trilogy so of course there are some loose threads but the majority of these are implied throughout the background rather than at the forefront of the narrative. The epilogue sets things up brilliantly for Blood of Assassins. It is the perfect mix of fantasy and mystery. A stunning and mysterious debut outing where we follow deadly assassins that may be tracking an assassin who is even deadlier. Highly recommended.

James x
Profile Image for ❄️BooksofRadiance❄️.
614 reviews763 followers
January 3, 2018

Whenever a book ends up failing me big time, especially one I expected so much out of, I usually spend the rest of my day screaming internally (sometimes out loud) that I'd wasted my time when I could’ve read some other book.
However, that's not the case here because, although I was greatly disappointed, I'm also weirdly glad that my curiosity is now satisfied... and I can breathe.


First and foremost, can we please talk about the title for a minute? Since it was the only reason I bought this book, to begin with?
Where the bloody hell were they? When I see a book with a 'to catch an assassin, use an assassin' tagline, I think - assassins/ villains/anti-heroes going at it one exciting fight after another.
Thrilling fight scenes, clever manoeuvring, OR if that's too much to ask, court intrigue at the very least?? Although, I do remember there being a kingdom...🤔 but what about all the power hungry characters, edge-of-your-seat plot twists, villains that give you the shivers… or did I read this half asleep? hmm


I found the 'mystery' element of the story so… not mysterious. AT ALL. I was so bored that by the time I got to the middle, I'd forgotten who they were supposed to save. THEN, by the time I finally remembered the dude who’s life was in “danger”, I could not care less whether he lived or died.
OH, and there was also a mystery of some sort concerning a certain character… yeah, don’t ask me what that was.
I just felt no connection to any of the characters, which actually took me back to Godblind. At least there, there were TWO characters that I liked. Which's saying something because I couldn't care less about those characters either.
Anyhow, there's really not much I could say about the plot because I was lost 90% of the time. Now that I think about it, make that 95%.


World building, you say? I’m sorry, what world building? I don’t even remember the name of the kingdom. I SWEAR I READ THE BOOK COVER TO COVER!


Now, this is a tough one since I don’t remember (wow) half the characters either. No, ALMOST ALL the characters, save for the lead and his master (and you guessed it! No clue what her name is), and a few more from this nameless kingdom.

Getting back to the lead, Girton Club-foot who’s an apprentice to the land's assassin, I daresay I liked him. I thought he was quite funny at times, had a lot of heart and couldn’t stomach the idea of taking a life (then again, how many assassin heroes do we get who can’t stand the idea of actually assassinating) but I found nothing original or special about him whatsoever.

It's a coming-of-age story so he reminded me a lot of those, you know - young and awkward future heroes, with a difficult childhood character types who’re thrust into a world they know very little of and have to overcome a few obstacles… so on and so forth.
In fact, the whole time I was reading this, I kept remembering Fitz from Assassins’s Apprentice (Farseer trilogy), not the plot or the pace in any way, just certain characteristics I found very similar to him. And a few other characters I'm not going to bother mentioning. So, in a nutshell, nothing new or special.

All in all, it wasn't for me. I don’t know what I expected to get (actually I do) but I wanted MORE. A lot more. Alas, we can't expect to fall for every book we read now, can we? (but how awesome would that be??)

Before starting:
There’s a rule, you see assassin on the cover - you buy.

...THEN you hope the rash decision pays off. 😕

let’s do this!
Profile Image for TS Chan.
719 reviews887 followers
April 17, 2021
4.5 stars.

An excellent debut, Age of Assassins was a well-crafted and compelling coming-of-age tale - one that's not exactly what you expect a typical assassin story to be.

It's the story of Girton, a club-footed orphan who became the apprentice to a master assassin, Merela.  While there may be echoes of the orphaned apprentice and master trope, there is nothing derivative about it.  Similarly, even though there were familiar and well-used concepts of coming-of-age stories with Girton being the subject of bullying, finding friendship in another outcast and unexpected love, the story was delivered in a manner that felt fresh.

The highly character-driven narrative is written in the first-person point-of-view of Girton Club-Foot.  I found his characterisation to be realistic, endearing and compelling, which was further augmented by solid supporting characters. Girton's relationship with his master, Merela, was one of the highlights of the book for me as it was moving.  Occasional flashback interludes provide the much-needed backstory of how Girton came to be her apprentice and why their relationship is so strong.

The plot is straightforward simple with Girton and his master being tasked to uncover the identity of the person behind the plot to assassinate the heir to the throne. This placed him in an undercover role as a lowly squire-in-training in the castle where he was then subjected to the usual problems when young men form cliques and bully the misfits. As tropey as this may seem, I've always enjoyed its inclusion in such coming-of-age stories as it is very much a fact of life, whether in medieval or modern times.  Provided, of course, that the bullies received their well-deserved comeuppance; the feeling when that happens is usually pretty glorious.

The plot is straightforward simple with Girton and his master being tasked to uncover the identity of the person behind the plot to assassinate the heir to the throne. This placed him in an undercover role as a lowly squire-in-training in the castle where he was then subjected to the usual problems when young men form cliques and bully the misfits. As tropey as this may seem, I've always enjoyed its inclusion in such coming-of-age stories as it is very much a fact of life, whether in medieval or modern times.  Provided, of course, that the bullies received their well-deserved comeuppance; the feeling when that happens is usually pretty glorious.

I loved the component of mystery in this novel, which to my delight is superbly executed and kept me guessing right until the end. The heir is quite a despicable person, and with all the political and courtly intrigue that is gradually revealed, it just appeared that a whole of people wanted him dead and for valid reasons. How does one uncover the real mastermind under such circumstances?

As with stories involving assassins, readers will want to be shown and not told that so-and-so is a badass killer, etc. There is definitely sufficient showing in here, demonstrated in a fascinating fashion. Almost like a dance, Girton and his master performed iterations with names like “the Precise Steps”, “the Placing of the Rose” or “Boatgirl’s Dip” while fighting. Unlike one popular epic fantasy series which utilised stylistic terms to describe sword forms, these iterations were actually explained so that I understood the movements it entailed.

The world that RJ Barker created fits the title of the series most aptly. The Tired Lands is bleak and scorched by magic, and as such, sorcerers deemed as abominations that need to be exterminated.  The people are classified into three different classes, and there is a pervasive feel of a very broken kingdom. While the in-world mythology and its unusual terms took quite some time to unfold and be understood, it was delivered quite seamlessly into the story without disrupting the flow.  

Barker's writing was also highly accessible - it reads and flows really well, driving the narrative forward without unnecessary embellishment. The pages turned quickly, and with its engaging storytelling, I finished the book in merely two days. Even though I picked this up expecting the more usual vein of assassin-type of story, I actually found myself enjoying it even more when it turned out not to be so. I guess that's also because I've always had a weakness for well-crafted coming-of-age story, and it's particularly compelling when the main protagonist was not your typical heroic figure.

You can purchase the book from Book Depository (Free Shipping) | Bookshop.Org (Support Independent BookstoresAmazon US | Amazon UK

You can find this and my other reviews at Novel Notions.
Profile Image for Mogsy.
2,071 reviews2,631 followers
September 11, 2017
4.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2017/09/11/...

Okay, I’m seriously impressed. Orbit is really killing it with the 2017 debuts (no pun intended), releasing yet another winner in Age of Assassins by R.J. Barker. Though this book had caught my attention earlier this year with its Assassin vs. Assassin premise, I still found myself unprepared for just how enjoyable and addictive it was.

“To catch an assassin, use an assassin…” This is the situation Queen Adran has found herself in when she discovers a plot to murder her son, the royal heir Prince Aydor. But rather than showing her hand, the queen has decided to handle the matter quietly, privately seeking out the services of an expert in the field. Setting a trap, the queen lures her old friend the accomplished killer-for-hire Merela Karn to Castle Maniyadoc, tasking her to root out the would-be assassin and report any conspiracies she finds directly to Adran.

Enter our protagonist Girton Clubfoot, who is Merela’s young apprentice. Pretending to be a squire while his master dons the guise of a traveling jester, Girton is put through combat training with the other castle boys to maintain the deception. Hiding behind a mask of clumsiness and ineptitude, he begins to ingratiate himself with the other noble sons, when all the while he is actually keeping his eyes and ears open, discreetly gathering information that would help them discover who might want Prince Aydor dead.

The answer, as it turns out, is a lot of people. The heir is a contemptible and loathsome creature who will be a terrible ruler one day when he takes the throne, and it seems like everyone has a reason to want him gone. To make matters worse, Girton’s mission is further complicated by castle politics and scandal, even as his and Merela’s list of suspects grows and grows.

From the start, I was drawn to the fantastic premise of Age of Assassins, and that was even before I learned all about the secrets hidden behind the walls of Castle Maniyadoc. Needless to say, I loved the element of mystery and the way our protagonist conducted his investigation, sniffing around the palace trying to shake loose even the slightest clue. While it’s true that the scope of the setting is somewhat limited and self-contained, the good news is, not once did I feel that it restricted the story or made it feel dull. A rich cast of characters helped with this, each keeping their own agenda tightly under wraps. Plots within plots ensured that that the drama and the tensions always remained high, and often I found myself barely able to put the book down because I was so desperate to find out what would happen next.

But without a doubt, the highlight of this novel for me was the bond between Girton and Merela. Certainly, there’s no lack of examples when it comes to masters and apprentice relationships in fantasy fiction, and yet there was something about this particular one that warmed my heart. Merela is almost as much a mother to Girton as she is his teacher, encouraging him to see past the disability for which he is named in order to reach his full potential. And like any young man coming of age, Girton can sometimes be blinded by his naïve idealism (not to mention an infatuation for a pretty stable girl), which causes him to clash with Merela. Still, the two clearly have something very special between then, and it’s really quite rare to come across a master-apprentice relationship that feels so genuine and developed. Plus, speaking as someone who generally dislikes flashbacks and other such devices, the scenes going back to Girton and Merela’s early days together actually turned out to be some of my favorites in the entire book.

Like I said, Age of Assassins is an exceptional debut, so well written and put together that I am shocked that this is the author’s first novel. R.J. Barker will be going places, that’s for damn sure! If you’re looking for a compelling mix of fantasy and mystery along with a bit of wisdom and heart to go with your deadly intrigue, then I strongly urge you to pick up this book as soon as you can. I had an immensely good time with it, and I can’t wait to continue with the next book in the Wounded Kingdom series.
Profile Image for James Islington.
Author 8 books5,139 followers
June 2, 2017
I loved this one.

I’ve been fortunate enough to read several good books lately, but this is the first in a long time that I’ll be mentioning to my friends as soon as I see them, rather than just when the topic of ‘so what have you been reading’ comes up. And then I'll be insisting that they read it themselves. And then if they don’t, I'll probably be buying them copies for Christmas as a passive-aggressive way of forcing them to anyway.

So to my mind, it’s not just good. It’s spread-the-word good. It’s good.

It no doubt didn't hurt as a starting point that for me, the premise - a coming-of-age epic fantasy following an apprentice assassin - is an easy sell. But then you add in that it has main characters who I actually like… and pacing that is pretty much perfect… and some excellent prose… and an intriguing central mystery… and an interesting, well-fleshed-out world….

Well, you get the idea: it hit all the right notes. I received the ARC in the mail less than a week ago and finished the book in three sittings, one of which kept me up well into the early hours of the morning. That’s about as high a recommendation as I can give.

So do I have any caveats at all? Not really. The closest thing I can think to mention is that the world of Age of Assassins is fairly grim and gritty, which won’t appeal to everyone – but even that side of things is handled quite tastefully, with a discerning eye as to what’s shown versus what’s implied or happens ‘off-screen’. Combine that with main characters who recognise and resist the unpleasantness of the world - rather than having a cast who just shrug and go along with it, as they do in so many other books - and I feel like even people who usually shy away from gritty settings in their fantasy will find a great deal to like here.

Finally as a bonus, this is very much a satisfying story in and of itself: it’s probably as complete-feeling a book as you can get to start a trilogy. I’m excited to read Blood of Assassins, but I’m not frustrated by having to wait for it.

So that’s about it! In case it's not clear by now - if you think you might even vaguely be interested in Age of Assassins, I’d urge you to give it a try when it comes out later this year. If you end up liking it even half as much as I did, it'll absolutely be worth your time.
Profile Image for Eon ♒Windrunner♒  .
435 reviews483 followers
February 21, 2019
Feb 2019 - Right, AoA reread done. I am rereading the first two books in preparation for finally reading the final book. Age of Assassins is still just as good as the first time I read it. LOVE IT.


Ok, firstly, what is UP with all the amazing debuts?

These authors make writing look easy and I find myself getting whiplash from every time I do a double take at the mention that an amazing book I just read is a debut effort! Well guess what, friends? Enter Age of Assassins, ANOTHER fantastic debut that is worth your time.

The very short version of what this book is about is perfectly summarized in the tag line on the book’s cover - To catch an assassin, use an assassin!

The longer version is that two assassins, namely Merela Karn, arguably the greatest living assassin, and her apprentice, Girton Clubfoot, are lured into a trap and ultimately blackmailed into taking on an unusual job. Instead of assassinating someone, they are tasked with determining whether or not there is a conspiracy to assassinate the royal heir and if so, to prevent it from happening. This leads to Merela & Girton both taking on false identities ( A jester & a squire) and entrenching themselves in the day to day living of the castle and it’s occupants in order to investigate this possible killer.

So there you have it. An action packed murder mystery assassin fantasy! If you just sent this straight to your TBR, well done! You have chosen...wisely.

This book was UNPUTDOWNABLE.

Following the trials and tribulations of a 15 year old assassin who is very good at what he does, and yet has almost no exposure whatsoever to being normal or a kid or even to interacting with people of the same age whilst still having to find a possible assassin in a castle fraught with tension makes for very, very good reading. Girton is thrust into a world that he has no experience of, and it is compelling to see how he navigates this strange new world with the only skills he has on hand, and the invaluable support of his master, Merela.

As I said before, this is, almost unbelievably, the first book by RJ Barker and wow, this guy has a bright future ahead of him if he can keep this up. The world building, the magic, the characters, plot, pacing - all excellent, well written and superbly balanced. The book is written in first person, as the main character, Girton, narrates his past to us. I found it similar to how Vaelin-Al-Sorna narrates his past in Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song. Although this style never bothers me, I know some readers dislike this POV, thus the mention. Something else I enjoyed are the interludes scattered throughout the book. They blend in perfectly and give timeous and relevant information through flashbacks and dreams and are clearly announced as to which it is with the opening line of the interlude. My favourite part of the writing though, are the fighting sequences which were SO. DAMN. COOL! Girton and Merela use what Girton refers to as dances. These dances have various iterations and reminded me of the way Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes planned his fights beforehand. Here is an example of a fight from the book:

First iteration: the Precise Steps. Forward into the range of his weapons. He thrust with his stabsword. Ninth iteration: the Bow. Middle of my body bowing backwards to avoid the blade. With his other hand he swung his club at my head. I ducked. As his arm came over my head I grabbed his elbow and pushed, making him lose his balance, and as he struggled to right himself I found purchase on the rim of his chest piece. Tenth iteration: the Broom. Sweeping my leg round I knocked his feet from under him. With a push I sent him flailing into the hole so he cracked his head on the edge of it on his way down.

It is a fantastic added element to the story that works flawlessly, immersing you in the moment by slowing things down even as the action explodes on page! The assassins also have a range of tricks they use that are freaking awesome and perfectly complement their badassery - the Whisper-That-Flies-to-the-Ear and the Simple Invisibility to name but a few. If that is not enough, Girton has an excellent sense of humour too, even though it was mostly wasted on his master ;)

Last, but not least, the murder mystery is top notch and extremely well done. Clues are littered throughout, characters will have you questioning their motives and everything is woven together with a deft touch to make for an exciting finish. While wrapping up almost all the threads, Mr Barker does leave one or two open for the rest of the trilogy. The story works perfectly as a stand alone though, so do not delay in experiencing it for the sake of a completed trilogy, but rather, go out and get this book NOW.

Age of Assassins has continued the trend of stunning debuts for 2017 and made sure that RJ Barker is an author to take note of. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Samir.
111 reviews177 followers
November 21, 2017
This book got much praise and is deemed as one of the best debuts this year but unfortunately, it really didn't work for me.

This is not going to be a long rant where I blame the author because I didn't like his book. I'll keep it short and try to convey the things that bothered me the most.

The story never managed to grip me and it was dragging a lot. The first half of the book was very boring and that's not what I expected from a mystery/assassins novel. I didn't care for any of the characters and that is the most important thing for me; if I can't connect with the main character it's hard for me to root for him and that took away the fun.

Also, the relationship between Girton and his mentor felt really weird and their conversations irked me, especially the constant repeat of the word master.

I never got the vibe of reading a book about assassins and felt disappointed because of it. Overall, it lacked the element of suspense and it failed to interest me to continue with the series. I'm not saying this is crap and putting you off from reading it. By all means, read it, many people have enjoyed it but I didn't.

Profile Image for Hamad.
1,048 reviews1,380 followers
January 4, 2021
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Actual rating: 3.5 stars

“Bad friends are worse than no friends”

I initially rated this 4 stars, I am so behind on my reviews and after two months of reading this. I think it is somewhere between 3-3.5 stars only. It is not that I have anything against the book or author, I actually picked it up for my book club. But it is the fact that it was just an average book that I almost forgot about already.

The problem that I have with this book is not really a problem. It is just that it felt similar to many books I read before and did not provide anything new or anything exceptional to my reading experience. I do not mean that every book should do that and If I read this earlier like a couple of years ago, I think I may have enjoyed it more than I actually did now. So it may just be an unfortunate timing on my part!

The cover and tag line and even the synopsis kind of give me an impression that this book is action packed and fast paced with ass-kicking assassins and magic and all this cool shit. I was actually surprised when I knew Girton was a child (not even 16 year old) who has a master and their relationship was like every master/ apprentice I read before. The master that knows everything, the innocent, full of potential apprentice. The way that the master spoon feeds info a bit by bit to the apprentice is something that I have seen many times before too and is something that can get on my nerves sometime. I do remember some of the other characters but barely and that just means the characters did not have a large impact on me.

The cool shit I mentioned above constituted only a small part of the story and what we had instead was a coming out of age story with mystery parts integrated into it rather than the assassins thing I was expecting. The book is also slower paced than I expected and the story just picks up toward the end which was the best thing about it. The magic was not very well explained and the dancing was kind of a new take on magic but I do not think it reached its full potential.

Summary: I expected one thing (Fast-paced, action packed story) and got the opposite (Coming out of age, slower paced, character-driven story). The story certainly had many tropes. Overall, it was not bad and I think it still has potential which is why I am continuing the second book in the series to see what happens!
464 reviews401 followers
January 16, 2019
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!


single pov
master-apprentice relationship
magic users are forbidden
fast paced
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!!!!
Profile Image for Scott  Hitchcock.
779 reviews234 followers
November 23, 2017
2.5*'s based on a strong ending.

This is one of those books where I had high hopes because the reviews from many who share common interests were so good. The writing itself was good. The author's style flowed. The problem was the story itself was very boring and overly simplistic as were the character interaction and development.

The two main assassin's conversations drove me crazy with how naive sounding they were. The apprentice constantly referring to his master as "my master" and went counting seconds doing it as one, my master, two, my master.....made it insufferable and I kept picturing Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein.

I really never development a sense of who any of the characters were, what their emotions were and thus never connected. Although the story was about assassins it read more like a mystery which is fine in itself except there wasn't any suspense until probably the last 20% of the book and even then some of the long winded descriptions that didn't enhance the story were killing the pacing. I think that alone did this book in for me at the start. There would be an entire page about crossing the grounds and entering the castle that really didn't aid the story or character development.

I forced myself to finish and never really felt engaged. I will not continue the series.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,562 reviews2,938 followers
October 2, 2017
This book is one I should have read the moment I first met the author, because I knew I would just love it, and I did. This is definitely my kind of fantasy when I want something light and exciting and something I know will keep me reading and wanting to find out what happens next and who the characters really are and what they care about. This follows young Girton Club-foot who is an apprentice to the best of the Assassins in the world. He and his master, travel the realm finding work along the way, and Girton is almost as good as his master is by the time we meet them both.

This book is told in two ways, we have the main story which follows Girton and his master as they are roped into uncovering another assassin in a castle they are trying to pass through, and the second story is told through flash backs and leads up to the present day, filling us in on how they came to work together. The flash backs really worked for me in this book because they always seemed like essential and interesting information, as opposed to an information overload.

What I liked about this is that it has a simplicity to the writing that is incredibly effective. it's not a book that I would say comes across as simple, it's a book that comes across as clear, concise and easy to enjoy. There's nothing that seems superfluous, rather it flows eloquently and the story is fast and fun too.

There is definitely magic in this world and we see it in the form of some of our characters and also the great Mounts - antlered beasts much bigger than horses with fangs, claws and lizard-like skin and fur. They are quite a mash-up but gentle at heart and the main one we meet, Zeus, I definitely enjoyed reading about.

This story felt like it had a real compelling sense of character and also an excitable and fun story. it wasn't totally different to everything I've seen before, but it was well composed and I just found it super fun to read. I definitely plan to continue the story, and I think it's well worth recommending to you too :) 4.5*s
Profile Image for Emma.
2,507 reviews855 followers
December 12, 2017
I really enjoyed this. I found the relationship between Girton and his Master quite touching. There was action at the beginning and the end but for the main part, it was more about life and investigation within the castle and the dynamics and loyalties of its dwellers. I don’t know if this book is categorised as YA or not, but it many ways it is. In this world, sorcery is a source of destruction and feared by most others. It seems a largely medieval fantasy world, the most interesting part of which was the warmounts and Xus in particular.
Profile Image for Deborah Obida.
679 reviews619 followers
March 21, 2021
The best I've read in a while, this book is unlike any book I've ever read though it has some similarities with Assassin's Apprentice in the sense that the story is told by the apprentice who is now an adult.

The book is set in the tired lands where magic is reviled because some sorcerers bled the land so plants barely grow, anyone suspected of having magic is caught and bled to death, their blood is to help make the land more fertile.

The writing and world building is above average though it could use some improvement, I love the world and the way the author depicted the fight scenes. I love the magic though I don't know how it works exactly, I'm hoping it's best explained in book 2.

The portrayal of friendship, politics and relationship is so accurate, I love it.

Girton the assassin's apprentice was fifteen years throughout this book, the book is written with some interludes, the interludes took place some years before when Girton was a child.

Girton has a clubbed foot and is small for his age which makes him an oddity, it also makes it easier for him to be underestimated. Girton is extremely smart and clever.His master Merela is the best, I love their relationship, how she listens to him and trust him.
Girton's friendship with Rufra is one my highlights of this book, Aydor the heir and his Mother queen Adran are the worst people ever, never have I seen people so unfit to rule.

The plot centres around Girton and his Master Merela, they are hired and blackmailed by the queen to find out who wants to kill her son the heir, she gave them disguises and fake names to enable them investigate in the castle without alarming the nobles(called blessed) that someone wants the heir dead. During their investigation they found more than they bargained for.
Author 1 book360 followers
November 22, 2017

Age of Assassins takes Fantasy to a whole new level.

Girton Club-Foot is an apprentice to the world's greatest assassin, Merela Karn. At the age of fifteen he's already great at taking lives, but his latest mission comes in contrast with anything he has learned so far: Instead of killing someone, he's called to protect him. Prince Aydor is the heir to the throne, but someone is set to assassinate him. Girton and Merela are the only ones who can prevent that, and therefore they have to infiltrate the castle under false pretenses and uncover not only the Assassin, but the man who hired him as well.

"There was only one thing my master valued highly enough to betray everything she had live and trained for. I did not see it then, but now I am older I see it as clearly as the nails on my fingers. Me. It was me. Merela Karn, the greatest assassin I ever knew, gave up everything for me. Dead gods help me. I should have run. For both of us. I should have run."

Starting Age of Assassins I was fairly soon disappointed, not by the book's faults, but by my own expectations. The book was branded as Night Angel/Assassin's Creed kind of epic, and therefore I was expecting similar traits to these franchises. Soon enough I realized that this wasn't the case, and I tried to set aside my expectations and see where the story would lead me. Finishing the book, I can say with certainty that although Age of Assassins has nothing to do with the famous video-game or with Brent Week's debut, it's equally good and entertaining.

If you didn't know that Age of Assassins was Barker's debut then you probably wouldn't guess it. It is crystal clear from the very first pages that he has pureed as many thought to the story as someone else would do in a whole trilogy. Marrying action and mystery without one overshadowing the other isn't an easy feat, but Barker has done so perfectly. The action sequences are told by a distinctive, cold and calculative perspective that is perfectly fitted to the story Barker wants to tell; a story that is laid out to the reader with a straightforward prose through some masterfully intertwined plot-arcs with small snippets of information that you will miss if you blink an eye. World-building, characters and magic system are all weaved into each other, balancing every aspect of the book and resulting in a complex and enthralling story. Finally, the finale gave a satisfying conclusion to the reader, but also a crave for more. All in all, Age of Assassins is one of the greatest debuts of this year, and R.J. Barker is an author to look out for.
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,470 reviews1,005 followers
August 3, 2017
Age of Assassins is pure energy on the page – a banging brilliant fantasy novel in a year where there are a fair few banging fantasy novels coming out, this one stands out.

I couldn’t put this damn book down once I picked it up – Girton Club-Foot, apprentice assassin, does not allow for such a thing as he and his mentor hunt for an, erm assassin. In a cleverly developed and endlessly intriguing plot the pair of them sneak around in plain sight, trying to save the heir to the throne in a land that is on the edge of all sorts of disasters, meeting new friends and enemies along the way and basically dragging you, the reader, on an adventure of epic proportions.

I’m a lover of fantasy when it is so very brilliantly character driven, Girton is one of my favourite characters ever in this respect – he’s so beautifully grumpy, wonderfully witty and whilst I’ve seen others refer to him as disabled I never ever saw him that way because he didn’t. His boss and kindly (occasionally) mentor Merela is also hugely engaging and as a pair they were a delight to read about.

The world building is also beautifully done, understanding coming to you via plot developments and character dialogue for the most part rather than endlessly complicated description – another thing I love because you just absorb it along the way. The political landscape is clearly divisive, setting our main protagonists up for all sorts of ups and downs that you just live right along with them. The writing style is a bit rock and roll, Age of Assassins is a heady mix of mystery, thrills and pure classic fantasy, forget your Game of Thrones for a bit, pick up this instead.

There is so much to love in Age of Assassins, I’m not even going to spoil one second of it for you. Just go get it and throw yourself in there, its a rich, rollicking, rush of a read that will make your head spin. Bring on book 2. I stand ready.

Highly Recommended.
Profile Image for Nasom.
195 reviews141 followers
November 9, 2018
Full Review

Everything about this book was vanilla and unremarkable. That would have been fine if it was a stand-alone and not a series. I won't be continuing.

- Usually with a book with quite a number of characters, there is always at-least one of them you get attached to but in this, there wasn’t any tbh. I liked the main character, a club-footed assassin because although he could kill you in seconds, he’s also very childish (he’s 15 I think) and wants to fit in and have friends but I didn’t really care much about him

- The plot in this is that two assassins, the MC and his master, are employed by the queen to find the assassin who is planning to kill her son, and also find the person who employed the assassin. The son is a lazy, spiteful bully so I was not rooting for his assassin to be found, I kinda wanted him dead! So I was not invested in the success of the plan.

- The relationships in this were also bland. I didn’t care for the friendships or the romance. Also, the MC was hated alot because of his club-foot which I felt was so dramatic. Like people were wanting to kill him and stuff bc of his disability?? I would understand if they shunned him or bullied him a little but the hatred sometimes seemed a little too much.

- The writing was another thing I didn’t like. It was awkward and the dialogues seemed unnatural. When I read a book, I want to have the experience of actually being in the world and I didn’t experience that with this book

- I did enjoy the mystery aspect in this. Like not knowing who to trust (although I guessed one of the plot twists)

When I finished reading this, I didn’t feel the need to continue bc like I said, I didn’t care enough about the plot or characters!
Profile Image for Gavin.
883 reviews397 followers
December 29, 2017
This was an old school traditional coming of age fantasy tale. The world building was adequate without being anything special but R.J. Barker had an engaging enough writing style to suck me into his story and both the plot and characters were good.

We followed apprentice assassin Girton Club-foot as he, and his master, were hired to do an unusual job for a pair of assassins. They were hired to save the life of a prince who everyone seems to want dead! Their task was to root out and stop other assassins.

The story was actually quite good. Girton was an easy to root for lead character and the story was engaging enough. We got a nice mix of action and intrigue. What I really liked was Girton's relationship with his master.

The world building could have been a bit better. This seemed a pretty interesting world and plenty of stuff about the lands and magic were hinted at but most of what we learned in this first book was a little vague for my liking. The other real flaw of the story was Barker's choice to have this tale set up as a Name of the Wind style flashback. I'd have enjoyed this more if the only time frame the story was set in was the time when Girton was an apprentice assassin. Though I was fine with the small short flashbacks to his childhood.

All in all I felt like this was a good and engaging fantasy story that fell just short of being worth a 5 star rating. I'll definitely be reading the next book in the series!

Rating: 4 stars.

Audio Note: I think Joe Jameson did a good job with the audio. I've heard him narrate a few different books and he is always dependably good.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,900 reviews535 followers
January 14, 2019
Fifteen year old Girton Club-foot has been apprenticed to the assassin Merela Karn since he was 6. Most people do not realize that the country's best assassin is a woman. Her former friend Queen Adran summons her to track down the assassin who plans to murder her son (and heir to the throne of the dying king) Prince Aydor, a deeply disliked pig of a boy. They agree to stay at Maniyadoc Castle to investigate the conspiracy. Girton poses as a squire and must pretend to be awkward and inept as he undergoes combat training, while Merela poses as a jester who has accompanied him to the castle. A lot of magic, political conspiracy, murders, battles and revolution all take place in this single castle. I didn't get much sense of the world beyond the castle. What little impression I got was from some well-handled flashbacks to Girton's life with Merela. Perhaps the world will be more fleshed out in later books. The relationship between apprentice and master was very engaging.

Although this is the first book of this fantasy trilogy, it gives a complete story and doesn't end in a cliffhanger. I appreciated that, as well as the fact that it wasn't 800 pages long. Already the author has me on his side and I will definitely read the next book.
Profile Image for Lukasz.
1,382 reviews223 followers
January 5, 2018
I listen to podcasts while driving my car. During last trip, I played Grimtidings podcast featuring RJ Barker. Upon arriving at the hotel, I bought his book. This guy sounds like a nice and positive person. Also, at the end of the podcast, he reads one of Age of Assassins chapters. He does it well. And it’s a strong chapter.

It’s excellent book, guys. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad. Poetic in places. To the point in others.

Queen Adran is a psycho. Her son is an incompetent, dull and aggressive bully but also an heir to the throne. Adran is afraid someone may attempt to kill him and in order to keep her sweet boy safe from assassins, she employs assassins. Or rather – possibly the best assassin alive – Merela Barn. The two have a history that’s hinted as we follow the story.

Merela has an apprentice – Girton. That’s our protagonist and the story is told, mostly, from his first-person perspective. In order to prevent the prince’s murder, they need to put on masks. Girton pretends to be a clumsy and inexperienced squire, Merela is a disguised as traveling jester. Their investigation proves that quite a lot of people has a reason to want Prince gone for good. Some people close to the throne have dangerous pasts, some are involved in complicated politics. The list of suspects grows. Girton and his master need to untangle this web of lies and deceit.

While trying to integrate in castle live Girton Clubfoot discovers things new to him: friendship, first love, feeling of betrayal and being utterly lost. Up to this moment, his interactions with other people were limited (mostly to killing them) and due to job’s character he traveled a lot 
Some blood is spilled in the book. People die. There’s violence and abuse. But it’s not really a grimdark book. It’s full of hope and our deadly assassisns have heart and it’s easy to root for them and relate to them.

If you look for a book in which assassins fly from one rooftop to the other and eviscerate people in creative ways leaving a trail of blood and despair behind them, look elsewhere. If however, you’re in the mood for nicely written book about assassins who solve the deadly mystery using their brain and skills, you’ll be hooked. As the book is told from Girton perspective, it’s quite emotional places. He’s a young boy who was sold by slavers to his master years ago and now he’s coming of age. The events presented in AoA make him question many things.

The bond between Girton and Merela is touching. She’s his master and probably the best assassin alive. She’s an efficient and cold killer and yet it seems she loves Girton deeply and watching this is really heart warming. She encourages him to see past his disability (Girton has club-foot) and she’s there for him when needed. Girton is a bit naïve but he’s also intelligent and good at heart. At times his overwhelmed with self-doubt but it was really easy to care for him. Apart from this Girton is a talented assassin and when he’s in the state of flow, he moves flawlessly through iterations (dance-like movements used by assassins) destroying his opponents in seconds. He’s not superhuman though. His muscles get sore. He can be defeated.

Most side-characters were done remarkably well – they felt complex and fully fleshed. I love Girton for who he is, but I must Say it’s Merela Karn (his master) that I’m fascinated by. Apart from being a motherlike figure for him, she has some impressive deduction skills that allow her to make the final reveal. Also, this reveal is quite surprising.

World-building is done well and we learn quite a lot about the world, it’s religion and history in a way that doesn’t slow down the plot. It’s integrated into the story almost seamlessly. There’s magic in this world and it comes at a price. When a sorcerer uses it, it’s drawn from life around. A history knows examples of sorcerers who scorched the land and killed hundreds of people in a single burst of power. Magic is not a force to be toyed with. It’s considered an abomination.

The writing style feels a bit unusual. Sometimes the writing is almost poetic, sometimes phrasing feels a bit off but upon rereading of a sentence makes sense and adds color to the story. It has a really nice flow to it. It has to be noted, though, that some missing letters and misspellings are present in the book.

I’m desperately hoping that this book sells well enough to ensure that full series is published according to plan, without a single day of delay. Books 2&3 are supposed to be published in 2018. I need more stories in this world and with these heroes. After reading it, I’m confident the book will be recognized and celebrated for what it is. I eagerly anticipate the further adventures of Girton and his Master.

TL;DR - buy this book.
Profile Image for Audrey.
87 reviews38 followers
October 17, 2019
I picked this book up on a whim but as they used to say surprise always wait for us where don’t expected.
First of all you must know my ever favorite saga of all times is the royal assassin and when I started to read this book I had the feeling that Girton club foot was the little brother of my Fitz. Age of assassin is more than a book of killing the author wrote a tale about love, loyalty and friendship. No many succeeded this kind of feat and RJ Barker did it without a blink. I can’t wait to read the sequel.
Profile Image for Mike Everest Evans.
88 reviews186 followers
July 5, 2017
The Good: Loveable first person POV, worldbuilding that weaves into the plot and the systems within the story, plenty of twists to keep you guessing, a grand reveal in the finale, and an intriguing combat style that in the hands of another would probably have fallen flat but RJ makes it dance like everyone’s watching.

The Bad: Despite being tagged as 'to catch an assassin, use an assassin' there are no fancies & flips assassin vs assassin face offs. To me, this isn't a bad thing as the book was phenomenal, but if you're expecting Assassin's Creed type of duels, leaping from rooftops and planting double footed kicks and hidden blade strikes, then you won't find that here.

The Ugly Truth: Age Of Assassins (AoA) is an Assassins' poison-store of fantasy and murder-mystery, with a touch of tainted coming of age. I definitely agree with the 'For fans of Brent Weeks and Robin Hobb', but Girton Clubfoot stands proud on his own two feet, club foot or not.

I like Assassins. Assassins are badass. Girton is an assassin. But is he badass? No.

He’s more than that.

And I love Girton Clubfoot for all that he is.

Think assassin and fantasy, and you think Brent Weeks' Night Angel series, Robin Hobb's works, Kalam from the Malazan books, and the assassins from the infamous Assassins Creed. Think assassin and history, and you think John Wilkes Booth, (et tu) Brutus, and the eponymous Hashshashins (sometimes written as Hassassins).

But Girton Clubfoot from Age Of Assassins? He's different. And no, I'm not referring to the fact that he is disabled as being different. In the author's own words: ‘He is not his disability; it is only a part of him. He does not let it stop or define him.' Girton is different because he has a whole lotta heart, hope, and with these goes hurt, hand in hand.

Girton is the apprentice to Master Merela Khan, an assassin who saves him at a young age and raises him as an assassin. But rather than raise him in hardship and in harm’s way, Merela has raised him with love and care. And this can be felt throughout the story.

We join Girton and Merela as they sneak into a castle upon invite - yes, sneak in, upon invite. Assassins aren't overly welcome in the Tired Lands, and their host wants their presence to remain unknown. No sooner than they arrive, they find themselves trapped, taken captive, and tested, before their real task begins - to catch an assassin who has been hired to kill the heir.

And so, the tag line comes into play - to catch an assassin, use an assassin.

The story plays out as, again, in the author’s own words: ‘a whodunnit with a bit of swordfighting and magic in it.’ But there's a lot more to it than that. I've said it once I'll say it again, there's a whole lot of heart in this book. And whilst by no means is it YA or epic fantasy of the noblebright, it is neither grimdark. It's a coming of age story told from the first person POV, that person being an old head on a young man’s body. It deals with such themes as acceptance, bullying, the ‘isms’ of diversity, love (both romantic and familial), friendship and growing up.

It’s both this mix of old wisdom/youthful wonder, and the fact that Girton is a professional guised as an amateur that makes this so intriguing. In disguise, Girton has to pretend that he is a clumsy, unskilled cripple, when in fact he is a trained assassin, who can more than handle himself (and others).

That brings me nicely to the fight scenes, which harks back to the ‘swordfighting’ above. Anyone who has read enough fantasy will recognise the comparative draw between swordfighting and dance in fantasy books, or ‘names’ for certain moves e.g. the Eagle Stance. AoA draws these two together, the dance and the ‘moves’, and combines them to create the Assassin’s ‘iterations’ – a repertoire of drilled-into-you- until-they’re-instinctive dodges, grapples, defences and attacks. Something like this can either work or fail (big time), but I’m glad to report than the author introduces and interweaves then in such a way that reading and recognising them becomes instinctive, and because of that, the combat is more alive for it.

And to tie-up the other aforementioned loose end – magic! When a sorcerer uses it, she/he/they draw upon the life around them to wield their power. This ties into the world building AND the plot, which brings the whole world to reality, rather than just a ‘oh, I need magic, here have a spell book’.

I’d like to highlight the tag line again, but this time to dispel any determinations. AoA is not an assassin story of leaping from roof tops, hidden blades in gauntlets, garrotte wires in throats, and cold-blooded murder. And if that’s what you came looking for, you’ll be disappointed. But if you came looking for something more…then welcome to team Girton!

CONCLUSION: Before I close out, I’d like to say one last thing about Age Of Assassins and its author, the wonderful RJ Barker. When I read a book, I like to look for the little bit of the author left behind. The best books, or so I believe, are the ones that the author puts themselves into. AoA is one of those books. Whilst I won’t labour the point, because RJ said it himself (‘He is not his disability; it is only a part of him. He does not let it stop or define him), I would just like to say that RJ Barker might just be one of my new favourite human beings – he IS different, in that he is eccentric, witty, fun, and full of life. Reading AoA, you can pick up on the hurt, but as I said above, it goes hand in hand with heart and hope.

I’m delighted to say that each of the 2017 debuts I’ve read this year have been as equally awesome as they are diverse. Looking to the future, and after THAT epilogue, I’m even more delighted to say that the future of fantasy is looking bright – and I for one am excited to see where Girton, and RJ, takes us next.
Profile Image for Antigone.
516 reviews750 followers
November 3, 2022
"...there is great joy in seeing something you love done well."

I love stories. If I could, I would read nothing but stories. Yet I learned some time ago that a story only comes from a storyteller, and those are a lot harder to find than you'd think. Many writers get caught up in other things. A message. A conflict. A provocation. A competition. Something is imposed upon a tale that arrests the rhythm, that disturbs the proportion, that unsettles the art. This is, at the very heart, a mistrust of the Muse. A story will take itself where it's meant to go as long as you don't interfere with it. There's a lot of interference out there. I know, because I read a lot of authors who push and pull and pluck at a work to meet an underlying need. And that need is not a story.

Age of Assassins follows the classic form of fantasy fiction. An orphan boy in cruel circumstance is auctioned off to a female assassin, who instructs him in her craft. They travel for years as he hones his skill, itinerants in a land ravaged by magic. (A very clever nod to climate change.) When, finally, it is time for him to take a greater part in his fledgling profession, he is thrust into a cadre of warriors-in-training and forced for the first time to deal with others - teenage others - who are both like and unlike himself and with whom he struggles to interact as if he had the slightest clue about what he was doing. It is an amazingly complex little set-piece that is written with the kind of simplicity that actually gets things done. In other words, it's a story.

It's a very, very good story.

First of a trilogy, of course. Worth the read.
Profile Image for Twerking To Beethoven.
391 reviews66 followers
December 2, 2017
RTC. One day. In 2018. Or later. Anyway, I'll be reading the following installments so I guess I liked it.
Profile Image for Nils | nilsreviewsit.
331 reviews507 followers
February 28, 2019
‘He breathes in the words that are drilled into him. “No room for fear.” Breathe out. Breath in. “I am the weapon.” He pushes the curtain aside. He walks from one world to another.’
Age of Assassins by RJ Barker is the first book in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, and I’m really impressed with what a great start this truly was. I mean, I couldn’t put it down, I was literally glued to it!
In short the book is about Merela Karn, an infamous assassin, and her apprentice Girton, who are sent to castle Maniyodoc to uncover a possible threat to assassinate the heir to the throne. However as the mystery starts to unfold the webs of secrets and deceit are coming to surface; their mission becomes a desperate fight for their own survival. Sounds good, right? Well it was awesome!
From the very first page I knew I’d be a huge fan of Barker’s writing style. His prose just flows seamlessly, and eases the reader comfortably into the story; which just made me feel so immersed. The story is mainly told from the first person viewpoint of the main character, Girton. However there are also interlude chapters from Girton, which show his and Merela’s past, and these are told in third person.
Both these narratives of past and present worked brilliantly, as we could really get a clear picture of Girton’s life and become so attached to him and Merela. Girton’s past was heartbreaking, that poor kid went through a lot; but he had such a special bond with Merela and to see how that developed really was touching.
‘That is Merela Karn. Always there at the last minute. Always giving more than expected.’
Through Girton we see his character face much prejudice because of his disability. We see him struggle with bullies, we feel his longing to have friends and even find love; but we also see him make mistakes and grow. Girton is very much just trying to find his place in a world where he doesn’t really fit in, and that is so fucking relatable to many of us.
This wasn’t a fast paced novel, or one that was particularly action packed, but in my opinion it didn’t need to be, because it never felt like the story dragged. There was enough mystery and world building to keep the reader wanting more. No matter how much I tried I couldn’t guess who the actual culprit was, Barker just kept on throwing you in different directions, which I loved!
That isn’t to say there was no action at all. There were quite a few fight scenes which were brilliantly done. I loved reading the thinking process behind every move Girton made when facing an enemy. Although the magic system was only seen briefly in this book, the idea of magic users spoiling the ground and making wastelands wherever their magic was used, was a pretty cool concept, and one I hope to discover more about in the next books.
I would say this is a coming of age story, a mystery and a fantasy book. I adore stories that mix genres like this, and I think Barker nailed it here. I can’t wait to read more.
Profile Image for Marielle.
271 reviews39 followers
April 9, 2019
I can be very short in this review;
loved the characters,
loved the story,
loved the magic,
loved the religion,
loved the world and its history and
I loved the writing,
I could not put it down and already started Blood of Assassin. What can I say... I'm a fan!
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