Quick Review: KING OF ASSASSINS by RJ Barker (Orbit)

BarkerRJ-3-KingOfAssassinsThe brutal, engrossing, twisty finale to the Wounded Kingdom trilogy

Assassin Girton Club-Foot has lived in relative peace for many years, but now his king, Rufra ap Vthyr, eyes the vacant High-King’s throne and will take his court to the capital. In a viper’s nest of intrigue, the endgame of twenty years of politics and murder will be played out in the bid to become the King of all Kings.

Friends become enemies, enemies become friends, and the god of death stands closer than ever, casting his shadow over everyone Girton holds dear.

And so the Wounded Kingdom trilogy comes to a close… It’s been a fantastic journey, to follow these characters from their youth to the ultimately tragic end of King of Assassins. Easily one of my favourite recent fantasy series, this finale did not disappoint.

Just as the second novel Blood of Assassins jumped the story of the Wounded Kingdom ahead by a handful of years, so too does King of Assassins. Quite a few years have passed, actually, and the characters have all really grown up. Some have drawn closer together, while others have seen widening gulfs appear between them. In this novel, King Rufra makes his push to become the king of kings. It is a goal that requires Rufra and his court to mingle with the corrupt, sometimes-deviant denizens of the capital, and navigate its twisty and twisted politics. A plague has devastated the population, and it is time for new leadership. Along for the ride, of course, is Girton Clubfoot: assassin, confidante, and man who always seems to find himself in the middle of the action.

Girton is still King Rufra’s “heartblade”, but their relationship has become very strained since last we spent time with them. Barker does a great job of showing us this distance — Girton is clearly hurting that his friend has pulled away, grown colder towards him. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, however, and unfortunately Girton is not allowed to help carry any of that weight.

“I still hoped, almost every day, that I would see my friend emerge from beneath the shell of royalty he closed around himself.”

On the other hand, Girton has grown ever-closer with Aydor, his tormentor in Age of Assassins. They engage in plenty of good, light-hearted and affectionate banter, but also have each others’ backs at all times. It’s been nice to see how their friendship has developed over the series. Aydor is one of the most well-rounded characters in the series, with many hidden, surprise layers that he reveals at interesting moments. In fact, Barker has done a great job in general of allowing his characters to grow: the Girton of book three is by no means the same as the character we met in the first book, and the same is true for all of the recurring characters. Boros’s story deserves a special mention, too, but I won’t spoil anything: his is an interesting journey, and through his experiences we get us an excellent, if deeply disturbing look at the politics and psychologies at work in the city.

The satisfying ending was also quite wrenching. In fact, there are quite a few punches to the gut as we near the end, and the final chapters are especially tragic. A long game is brought a close. Personal tragedies shatter lives. It was a lot to happen so quickly, but Barker handles it brilliantly.

If you are a fan of fantasy, then I would highly recommend this series. It has a bit of everything. It is filled with interesting, well-drawn characters. Barker’s writing is excellent, as is his ability to let a story unfold at just the right pace. I can’t wait to see what Barker writes next!


RJ Barker’s King of Assassins is out now, published by Orbit Books in North America and in the UK.

Also on CR: Interview with RJ Barker (2017); Reviews of Age of Assassins and Blood of Assassins

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

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