Quick Review: THE BREAK LINE by James Brabazon (Berkley/Penguin)

brabazonj-mm1-breaklineushcAn assassin sent into the field with limited information, confronted by a bizarre, deadly mystery in the jungle

British intelligence operative and hardened assassin, Max McLean, battles a nightmarish enemy in this stunning debut thriller from an award winning war correspondent.

When it comes to killing terrorists British intelligence has always had one man they could rely on, Max McLean. As an assassin, he’s never missed, but Max has made one miscalculation and now he has to pay the price.

His handlers send him to Sierra Leone on a seemingly one-way mission. What he finds is a horror from beyond his nightmares. Rebel forces are loose in the jungle and someone or something is slaughtering innocent villagers. It’s his job to root out the monster behind these abominations, but he soon discovers that London may consider him the most disposable piece in this operation.

I’m so used to reading thrillers and spy novels starring American protagonists — be they independent contractors, CIA or FBI agents. It was therefore quite refreshing to read James Brabazon’s debut novel. It is, at times, wonderfully British in idiom and style and it left me a little homesick. It should definitely still appeal to an international readership, however (as a Brit living overseas, however, there were things that struck a chord of nostalgia). Overall, I enjoyed this quite a bit. A promising start to a new series. Continue reading

Quick Reviews: ORDER TO KILL and ENEMY OF THE STATE by Kyle Mills (Atria/Emily Bestler)

Flynn&Mills-MitchRapp15&16-1

The latest two novels featuring Mitch Rapp, the CIA super-spy and assassin created by Vince Flynn. I’ve read all of the books in the series, and it remains one of my favourites. These are Mills’s second and third instalments, following The Survivor (which he finished following Flynn’s passing). Both novels show the author becoming ever-more comfortable with the character, developing him, his colleagues, and returning antagonists brilliantly. The series is in very safe hands. I really enjoyed both of these novels.

Continue reading

Interview with RJ BARKER

BarkerRJ-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is RJ Barker?

Oh gosh, that’s a big question isn’t it? Who am I? People have written whole books on that, well, not on me personally, on that question in general, but I suppose if I did write a book about it that might be a little bit of overkill. I’ll stick with the general perception of people who know me and say RJ (no dots, for dots are the enemy of mankind[1]) is friendly and a bit eccentric. And has big hair.

Your debut novel, Age of Assassins, will be published by Orbit in August. It looks rather interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

It is part of a series but it’s written so each book stands alone. You’ll get more out of it if you read all three (Age of Assassins, Blood of Assassins and King of Assassins) but you don’t need to do that to get a complete story. The tagline of book one probably says it best: “To catch an assassin, use an assassin.” Our hero, Girton Club-Foot, is an assassin put into a position where he has to become a detective and stop a killer to save his, and his master’s, skin. It’s exciting and full of action but at heart it’s a murder mystery. It also revolves around the central relationship between Girton and his master who are very much characters (I hope) you will really like. Girton especially is someone driven to do the right thing. And there’s magic, and they ride around on beasts with massive antlers which, to be honest, I would read a book for that alone. I do like antlers. Continue reading

Review: THE KILLING KIND by Chris Holm (Mulholland)

holmc-h1-killingkindukpbAn entertaining thriller introduces us to an interesting new anti-hero

Michael Hendricks kills people for money. That aside, he’s not so bad a guy.

Once a covert operative for a false-flag unit of the US military, Hendricks was presumed dead after a mission in Afghanistan went sideways. He left behind his old life — and beloved fiancée — and set out on a path of redemption…or perhaps one of willful self-destruction.

Now Hendricks makes his living as a hitman entrepreneur of sorts: he only hits other hitmen. For ten times the price on your head, he’ll make sure whoever’s coming to kill you winds up in the ground instead. Not a bad way for a guy with his skill-set to make a living — but a great way to make himself a target.

It took me altogether too long to get around tor reading this series. I thought it sounded great when it was first announced; and, now that I’ve read it, I’m glad to report that it didn’t disappoint. This is an interesting, fast-paced first instalment of a cool new series. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE APPROACH by Chris Holm (Mulholland)

HolmC-H0-ApproachA great introduction to Michael Hendricks

When a strip-club mogul puts out a hit on a dancer who won’t give him off-the-clock attention, Hendricks takes a detour to Las Vegas to stop the job in its tracks. With tech genius Lester in his ear and a fake identity as cover, Hendricks has only one problem: he has no idea what the target looks like. Against the scorching heat of the city’s desert outskirts, a case of mistaken identity nearly turns fatal, but our principled hitman has a few tricks of his own up his sleeve.

To celebrate the release of Red Right Hand, the second novel featuring Michael Hendricks, Chris Holm has written a short story that serves as an excellent introduction or prequel to both the series as a whole, as well as the main character. It’s quickly-paced, has a good twist, and is very well written. We are given a good sense of what drives Hendricks, as well as his methods and skills.

I very much enjoyed this, and fully intend to read the novels ASAP. If you’ve been on the fence about trying the series, then The Approach should definitely convince you to give them a read. Definitely recommended.

Both novels — The Killing Kind and Red Right Hand — are out now, published in the US and UK by Mulholland Books.

Also on CR: Interview with Chris Holm (2012); Excerpt from The Wrong Goodbye

Review: THE TARGET by David Baldacci (Macmillan/Grand Central)

Baldacci-WR3-TargetUKThe third Will Robie thriller sets him and Jessica Reel on a collision courts with the Hermit Kingdom…

The President knows it’s a perilous, high-risk assignment. If he gives the order, he has the opportunity to take down a global menace, once and for all. If the mission fails, he would face certain impeachment, and the threats against the nation would multiply. So the president turns to the one team that can pull off the impossible: Will Robie and his partner, Jessica Reel.

Together, Robie and Reel’s talents as assassins are unmatched. But there are some in power who don’t trust the pair. They doubt their willingness to follow orders. And they will do anything to see that the two assassins succeed, but that they do not survive.

As they prepare for their mission, Reel faces a personal crisis that could well lead old enemies right to her doorstep, resurrecting the ghosts of her earlier life and bringing stark danger to all those close to her. And all the while, Robie and Reel are stalked by a new adversary: an unknown and unlikely assassin, a woman who has trained her entire life to kill, and who has her own list of targets – a list that includes Will Robie and Jessica Reel.

The Target is another great addition to this relatively-new series from Baldacci. Taking the popular central character of government assassin, the author has managed to forge a somewhat original path. The novel is gripping, excellently-paced, and well-researched. As has become the norm with Baldacci’s novels, I really enjoyed reading this. Continue reading

“The Last Man” by Vince Flynn (Simon & Schuster / Atria Books)

Flynn-LastManUKThe final Mitch Rapp novel

An invaluable CIA asset has gone missing, and with him, secrets that in the wrong hands could prove disastrous. The only question is: Can Mitch Rapp find him first?

Joe Rickman, head of CIA clandestine operations in Afghanistan, has been kidnapped and his four bodyguards executed in cold blood. But Mitch Rapp’s experience and nose for the truth make him wonder if something even more sinister isn’t afoot. Irene Kennedy, director of the CIA, has dispatched him to Afghanistan to find Rickman at all costs.

Rapp, however, isn’t the only one looking for Rickman. The FBI is too, and it quickly becomes apparent that they’re less concerned with finding Rickman than placing the blame on Rapp.

With CIA operations in crisis, Rapp must be as ruthless and deceitful as his enemies if he has any hope of finding Rickman and completing his mission. But with elements within his own government working against both him and American interests, will Rapp be stopped dead before he can succeed?

The Mitch Rapp series is in many ways the one that kick-started my passion for international and espionage thrillers. After reading Transfer of Power, the novel that introduced Rapp as the man who takes back the White House from terrorists, I quickly caught up with the rest of the series, and have read every one since. The Last Man is, sadly, the last novel. Flynn passed away last year, after a long battle with cancer. It’s an awkward ending, however. Thankfully, though, while the novel began shakily, it ended strongly. Long-time fans of the series and characters won’t be disappointed, as this is another fast-paced, gripping international thriller, featuring all of the key series characters.

One of the first things to jump out at me was just how aggressive Rapp is at the start of the novel. True, he’s a CIA assassin, who has had a decades-long career killing people all over the world, so how cuddly could he ever be, really? Nevertheless, he came across as far more aggressive and even downright mean when dealing with others. It felt like a real departure from how I remembered the character. The previous two novels Flynn wrote focused on Rapp’s early career, taking us to his first missions working for the CIA. This can, perhaps, account for the apparent shift in character – it’s been years since I read a novel when the ‘present day’ Rapp was at the centre of the story (a couple before the early ear novels focused more on one-time Rapp protégé Mike Nash). I’d accept, therefore, that I just forgot how the character was from before. At the same time (just to add yet more qualifiers), it definitely felt like he was just more aggressive and confrontational by default, rather than as a result of what’s going on around him. Maybe the novel’s naysayers have a point, that Rapp’s special status has made him more arrogant and given him a sense of invincibility (physical and political). He came across as though he was acting more macho and dick-swinging, rather than just being the Most Badass in Any Room.

Given just how much of an asshole he can be, this was one of the first times in the whole series when Flynn wasn’t able to always keep me on Rapp’s side, even when we know he’s pushing the envelope and bending rules just that little bit too far. Despite belabouring this impression, what I’ve come to consider the Rapp normalcy did reassert itself after I passed the 25% mark(ish).

Around this 25%-mark, Rapp is seriously injured, too. It allowed the author and character to take a look at Rapp’s life and SOP with a bit more depth. His memories are all screwed up, many of them missing, thanks to the head injury he sustains. We see him navigating the slow return of memories – both good and bad – and the way he processes them made him a more interesting and nuanced character. The presence of Louie Gould, too, added an extra level of tension (I won’t remind fans who he is, nor will I spoil it for new readers).

His injury is just one of a couple of factors that make Rapp more interesting as the novel progresses. True, he is still preternaturally gifted at his job, but he is kept grounded by mistakes and miscalculations (the cause of his injury, for example, is the result of a rash – though effective – last-minute tactical move). This humanising of Rapp, something that was not always as evident in the earlier novels, I thought was a welcome development – he’s not a super-human, faultless killing machine, anymore.

Flynn-LastManAs the novel continues, we learn of a larger conspiracy, which ended up being pretty well-told. There are the usual forces foreign and domestic working against Rapp, his comrades and CIA Director Irene Kennedy (who is always excellent). The final quarter of the novel is a fast-paced resolution that I could not put down, and I turned the final page at 2am. Flynn’s gift for constructing engaging, briskly-paced thrillers really was superb, and few authors writing in the same sub-genre could match him (David Baldacci and Kyle Mills are perhaps the only two I consider better).

There were a couple of moments when Flynn’s own politics and obvious affection and support for the clandestine and more force-oriented US governmental institutions shines through, coupled with less-than-positive portrayals of diplomatic actors. This doesn’t take up much of the novel, which also means he doesn’t offer the normal balance that I’ve always liked in his novels. The author was known for courting the conservative press in order to promote his novels – fair enough, as a conservative himself, why shouldn’t he? – but the fact that he didn’t lampoon liberals or Rapp’s opponents unnecessarily, always saved his novels from becoming ham-fisted anti-liberal screeds. Villains, foreign and domestic, were appropriately diabolical or (more likely) petty politicians, but were not limited to the Democratic Party. In The Last Man, however, it is far more about the investigation than the political forces at play behind the scenes – which is a pity, as Flynn really was very good at writing that part, too.

In all, then, a very good final novel, if not an excellent one. Nevertheless, I will seriously miss my annual fix of new fiction from Vince Flynn. The quality of his novels will allow them to persevere and, I’m sure, remain in print for many years to come. If you are a fan of international espionage thrillers, then I highly recommend Flynn’s work.

R.I.P. Vince Flynn, 1966-2013

Novel Chronology: American Assassin, Kill Shot, Term Limits,* Transfer of Power, The Third Option, Separation of Power, Executive Power, Memorial Day, Consent to Kill, Act of Treason, Protect and Defend, Extreme Measures, Pursuit of Honor, The Last Man

* This is not actually a Mitch Rapp novel, but a couple of the characters within feature throughout the main series. It’s an excellent novel, too.

An Interview with ANNA KASHINA

AnnaKashina-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Anna Kashina?

I am a biomedical scientist and a writer, not necessarily in that order. My day job is being a professor at a major US university. Writing is reserved for the rest of my time. More recently, I am also a mother of two, which taps seriously into all the other occupations.

Your novel, Blades of the Old Empire, is due to be published in February by Angry Robot Books. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader? Is it part of a series?

I hope readers would see it as an adventure fantasy in the best traditions of the genre, which also includes some elements of romance. It does not push the boundaries or create new concepts, it is intended as a fun, fast-paced read. It is book one of the Majat Code series, with book two, Guild of Assassins, coming out this August. I do have plans for other books in the series and hope to see them forthcoming later on.

KashinaA-MC1-BladesOfTheOldEmpire

What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

As it turns out, these are two separate questions. Generally, my inspiration for writing comes from a desire to get some unresolved emotions out on paper. I can only do it in the form of fantasy, ideally set in a world that does not exist in real life. But a lot of ideas for these stories also come from my dreams. In a big sense, it almost seems as if these worlds do exist somewhere and find their way out into my books.

With Blades of the Old Empire, it was somewhat different. I wanted to write a traditional fantasy. And then, as I sat down to write it, the story just emerged. Once it got going, all I had to do was write it down. So, in this sense, I had an even stronger feeling that not only the world, but this particular story existed somewhere, and just found its way out through me. The feeling was very special, one I still miss.

How were you introduced to reading and genre fiction?

Tolkien-LOTR-1-TheFellowshipOfTheRingI grew up in the former Soviet Union. Back then, reading was pretty much the only form of entertainment available (we had no TV, and people did not go out much). I was reading ever since I can remember; everything I could lay my hands on, but my favorites were always fairy tales and myths, and this probably started my early interest in fantasy. The first true fantasy I read was The Lord of the Rings, and after that I was hooked on the genre.

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

Now that I have a publisher, I love it. It means I can focus only on my writing and somebody else will do the rest. Of course, I used to see it differently before I found a publisher and an agent.

I write for enjoyment, and I do have a demanding day job; so, unlike many authors, I don’t have a routine in which I must sit down and write something every day. If I need to write something, I just sit down and write it, whenever I can. But the most rewarding times are when I feel inspired, and then keeping from writing becomes a torture and I literally use every available moment to write. This yields some of my best work.

I usually do research as I write, on an “as-needed” basis. If I feel very inspired, I leave blanks for the parts that need researching, sometimes with a note of what needs to be in there, and then fill these blanks later.

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

My first was a self-illustrated “novel” written when I was six years old, which ended with the words “and they sailed to the east, where the sun sets.” When my father politely pointed out to me that the sun actually sets in the west, I was so ashamed that I destroyed that “book”. I am sure it was for the best.

AnnaKashina&VladimirKeilisBorok-NovelMy first novel that I look back fondly on was written when I was in high school, co-authored with my grandfather, Vladimir Keilis-Borok. It is a historical novel about the pirates and Queen Elizabeth of England, written in Russian under pen names. I still think it is very good (probably for young adults) and maybe some day I will translate it into English.

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

This is difficult to tell. Personally, I really enjoy traditional fantasy that explores the familiar concepts well. I believe there are not enough such books out there – partly because the professionals in the industry, who have literally seen it all, tend to be attracted to new things they have not seen before. As a reader, I still like the old, and I hope we get more books published in the “good old” style. I hope my book would appeal to readers like myself, those who like to have fun with a book and don’t care about anything else.

My books also tend to have lots of romance (which is even more true about the upcoming Guild of Assassins), and I don’t think there are enough books out there that blend fantasy with elements of romance (usually these two genres are somewhat separate). I hope my books will appeal to the readers who are not straight romance fans, but enjoy good romance elements in their adventure story.

What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

The Guild of Assassins is the next in the pipeline. It is a sequel to Blades of the Old Empire, even though each of these books can be read as a stand-alone. I am working on book three in the series.

RabyA-H&T1-AssassinsGambitWhat are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

At the moment I am reading Amy Raby’s Hearts and Thrones series: a great example of traditional adventure fantasy with elements of romance. I am enjoying it very much. I mostly read non-fiction at work, so even though I do have several historical reference books on my shelf, they are on hold for the moment.

What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

I hope, that English is not my first language…? (Unless, of course, my name already gave it away.)

I grew up in Russia and came to America as an adult, so for the first few years I was really conscious about my limitations in the English language. At that time, I felt that if I could make one wish, it would be to know English as well as I know Russian. I feel that in the past decade I have achieved that state, and possibly switched to English as the dominant one.

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

Well, I am both anticipating and dreading the release of my books. I hope readers will like them, and sitting around and waiting is just so unnerving. I am sure many authors can relate to this feeling, of pouring out your soul, defeating impossible odds, putting your work out there, and waiting for the reaction it would cause… All in all, fingers crossed!

***

Blades of the Old Empire is published by Angry Robot Books in the UK on March 6th and in the US and eBook format today.

So, uh, This Really Doesn’t Sound Any Good…

Colfer-W1-ReluctantAssassin

While on Goodreads last night, I stumbled across this upcoming book, the first in Artemis Fowl-author Eoin Colfer’s new series: THE RELUCTANT ASSASSIN (W.A.R.P. #1). The novel will be published by Puffin in UK, and Disney Hyperion in US. Its synopsis is one of the most underwhelming I have ever read…

Riley, a teen orphan boy living in Victorian London, has had the misfortune of being apprenticed to Albert Garrick, an illusionist who has fallen on difficult times and now uses his unique conjuring skills to gain access to victims’ dwellings. On one such escapade, Garrick brings his reluctant apprentice along and urges him to commit his first killing. Riley is saved from having to commit the grisly act when the intended victim turns out to be a scientist from the future, part of the FBI’s Witness Anonymous Relocation Program (WARP) Riley is unwittingly transported via wormhole to modern day London, followed closely by Garrick.

In modern London, Riley is helped by Chevron Savano, a seventeen-year-old FBI agent sent to London as punishment after a disastrous undercover, anti-terrorist operation in Los Angeles. Together Riley and Chevie must evade Garrick, who has been fundamentally altered by his trip through the wormhole. Garrick is now not only evil, but he also possesses all of the scientist’s knowledge. He is determined to track Riley down and use the timekey in Chevie’s possession to make his way back to Victorian London where he can literally change the world.

Never before have I read a synopsis for a published novel that was this problematic. First of all, I’m not sure about the trend (or, at least, the beginnings of a trend) in YA novels featuring protagonists that are assassins is a particularly inspired one.

Next up: The FBI are operating in London? Really? They’re the department in charge of domestic US law enforcement! At the very least, Colfer could have picked the CIA, which would have been at least a little bit believable… The clunkiest attempt I’ve seen to keep a novel set in the UK “American accessible/friendly”. And a 17-year-old FBI agent? Sorry, no.

Finally: that steampunk-esque cover on the right isn’t going to fool anyone… The inclusion of Victorian-era characters does not a Steampunk novel make.

If I read this on submission, from a would-be-debut author, I would reject it out of hand. Given the author, I can only hope this is a case of “Someone Doesn’t Know How to Write Synopses”, but if I’m honest I still don’t care.

DNF: “Assassin’s Apprentice” by Robin Hobb (Voyager)

Hobb-1-AssasinsApprenticeUKA genre classic. A very disappointed first-time reader.

Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman. He is treated like an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz’s blood runs the magic Skill – and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.

I bought Assassin’s Apprentice for my Kindle quite a while ago. But, whenever I’ve thought about reading the first book in Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, I have been distracted by some newer, shinier book. After reading the first chapter at work last year (I was allowed! It was for work!), I finally got on with it, and started reading it properly. What I found left me cold and unimpressed. In the end, after a particularly bad chapter, I had to quit. In the end, I only managed to read the first 20% of the novel.

If I didn’t finish the book, how can I justify reviewing it? Well, think of this more as a disappointed grumble, or a sad lament, rather than a scathing review. While Hobb’s prose is really good to begin with – I thought the first chapter was sometimes quite lyrical, actually, and really grabbed my attention – things just got rapidly worse the more I read. I never found myself gripped or enthralled by the story, and the only character that elicited even a modicum of emotion was a puppy. Whose part in the novel is not lengthy…

Perhaps because I have read so many novels by authors who cite Hobb as an inspiration, Assassin’s Apprentice felt derivative and slightly boring: A bastard son, delivered to the royal seat. Nobody knows what to do with him. He grows up with the “common folk”. He’s a little odd, with some strange and forbidden talents. He goes through a training montage. Then the King takes notice of him. He gets better rooms. He’s to be trained as a member of the slightly-less-common-folk. Truncated training/settling in montage. Oh, but then, he is to become an assassin! How exciting. Then there’s some Drama. And then I stopped reading.

Perhaps the early mention of a “Lord and Lady of Withywoods” should have been my first indication that this may not exactly be my cup of tea. It was rather twee, I thought, but decided to press on nevertheless. But the whole novel is on the twee side. Yes, Hobb’s prose is precise and well-crafted throughout, but this may be one of the first novels that could not be saved by being well-written. The naming convention is simplistic and just grated. There is a slightly archaic detachment to the style, as well as the language (though, nothing compared to the silliness I found in a Katherine Kerr novel I dipped in to last year). It made it difficult to really get stuck into the story.

Moving on. We are treated (after a whole raft of waffle) to this rather excellent explanation of what Fitz is going to learn from Chade, the King’s current master assassin:

“It’s murder, more or less. Killing people. The fine art of diplomatic assassination. Or blinding, or deafening. Or a weakening of the limbs, or a paralysis or a debilitating cough or impotency. Or early senility, or insanity or… but it doesn’t matter. It’s all been my trade. And it will be yours, if you agree. Just know, from the beginning, that I’m going to be teaching you how to kill people. For your king. Not in the showy way Hod is teaching you, not on the battlefield where others see and cheer you on. No. I’ll be teaching you the nasty, furtive, polite ways to kill people. You’ll either develop a taste for it, or not. That isn’t something I’m in charge of. But I’ll make sure you know how. And I’ll make sure of one other thing, for that was the stipulation I made with King Shrewd: that you know what you are learning, as I never did when I was your age. So. I’m to teach you to be an assassin. Is that all right with you, boy?”

This is followed shortly thereafter by perhaps the most irritating “montage” paragraph of Fitz’s training:

“In spring of that year, I treated the wine cups of a visiting delegation from the Bingtown traders so that they became much more intoxicated than they had intended. Later that same month, I concealed one puppet from a visiting puppeteer’s troupe, so that he had to present the Incidence of the Matching Cups, a light-hearted little folk tale instead of the lengthy historical drama he had planned for the evening. At the High-Summer Feast, I added a certain herb to a serving-girl’s afternoon pot of tea, so that she and three of her friends were stricken with loose bowels and could not wait the tables that night. In the autumn I tied a thread around the fetlock of a visiting noble’s horse, to give the animal a temporary limp that convinced the noble to remain at Buckkeep two days longer than he had planned.”

What delightful whimsy…! It doesn’t take a genius to see that they are all tests, but apparently Fitz was unclear about this.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I then came upon the Melodrama people had mentioned. Some people on Twitter told me that they accepted that “the melodrama doesn’t work for everyone”… When is melodrama ever accepted in a novel that isn’t farce? Anyway, irrespective of that, Fitz’s mood veers from a prim-and-proper detachment (“I grew to look forward to my dark-time encounters with Chade”) to Melodrama.

At one point, Fitz once again exhibits an utter lack of common sense of intelligence. He refuses to lift something from the King’s bedchamber, after ordered to by Chade explains:

“What are you saying, boy? That I’m asking you to betray your king? Don’t be an idiot. This is just a simple little test, my way of measuring you and showing Shrewd himself what you’ve learned, and you balk at it. And try to cover your cowardice by prattling about loyalty. Boy, you shame me. I thought you had more backbone than this, or I’d never have begun teaching you.”

A fine, if stiffly-written response from the teacher, and one that should be obvious to all intelligent would-be-assassins-in-training. Then Chade brusquely dismisses Fitz, and…

“Chade!” I began in horror. His words had left me reeling. He pulled away from me, and I felt my small world rocking around me as his voice went on coldly. … Never had Chade spoken to me so. I could not recall that he had even raised his voice to me. I stared, almost without comprehension, at the thin pock-scarred arm that protruded from the sleeve of his robe, at the long finger that pointed so disdainfully toward the door and the stairs. As I rose, I felt physically sick. I reeled, and had to catch hold of a chair as I passed. But I went, doing as he told me, unable to think of anything else to do. Chade, who had become the central pillar of my world, who had made me believe I was something of value, was taking it all away. Not just his approval, but our time together, my sense that I was going to be something in my lifetime.

True, this is not the most melodramatic moment I’ve ever read, but it did not bode well, and when added to everything else, I just couldn’t go on.

From what I read, and I recognise that it was only the first fifth of the novel (more than 100 pages), I sadly found nothing to make this book stand out, and certainly nothing to explain why it is so beloved of so very many fantasy fans and authors. I’ve read much, much better novels, especially from contemporary fantasy authors – and I’m not talking about the “grimdark” authors, either (which I think I can safely say write more to my tastes): Kate Elliott, Patrick Rothfuss, Helen Lowe, Scott Lynch, Amanda Downum, and even Elspeth Cooper (whose debut was a tad shaky at points)* have all done this sort of fantasy better. And the sub-genre of Fantasy Assassins? Brent Weeks’s superb Night Angel Trilogy and Jon Sprunk’s Shadow trilogy (which I really need to finish) do this so much better. Because, you know, they didn’t feel like they were written in the tone of The Famous Five Muck About In A CastleWith Swords. Hell, I think I’ve read better fantasy from some of Black Library’s lesser writers.

So, tell me: What did I miss with Assassin’s Apprentice? It’s rare that a book that is loved by the fan-base at large falls utterly flat for me. Is it just a nostalgia thing? Should I try to read this again?

* Don’t get me started on Gair’s sudden, miraculous magical proficiency…