“There is a sadness that is more than a harsh life here…”
First off, we had the great pleasure of being part of an interview with RJ Barker via the Book Geeks Uncompromised podcast so definitely check that out for more insight into Age of Assassins!
How to describe this book…
So it is a coming of age story with a disabled protaganist and a whodunnit mystery plot…only add in assassins and stabbing and the story getting quite dark at times.
Just listing out its qualities though doesn’t really do it justice. All these elements are blended in really well so it is more than the sum of its parts.
Age of Assassins centers around an assassin’s apprentice, Girton Clubfoot.
Queen Adran suspects a plot to murder her son, Prince Aydor, and hires Girton’s master to catch the hired assassin and whoever has hired them.
“To catch an assassin, use an assassin…”
This is where the mystery side of the story comes in. In addition to the plot to murder the prince, a few other people around the castle find themselves being murdered as well but their deaths don’t quite fit with what is suspected.
The mystery is mixed well with a pretty heavy dose of castle intrigue and background between Merela and Queen Adran. There are a lot of suspects, suspicious behavior, and baffling clues true to whodunnit fashion. The conclusion to the mystery part of the story is done in the classic style of the investigators and suspects in a room together and the investigator making a big dramatic reveal. By definition, this might be exposition-y but it really didn’t read that way. The reveals themselves and the way they were presented felt very fitting to the story.
As mentioned, Girton is disabled as he was born with a clubfoot. However, this physical impairment never seems to stop him. He has trained as an assassin for the past 9 years and so has found ways to work with his disability rather than letting it hinder him and never complains about it in the book.
While this was certainly an aspect of Girton’s character and it effected to some extent how he interacted with Aydor and the other squires, it really was never focused on beyond that. Girton had this problem but he only ever found solutions for it without wallowing in self-pity about his condition.
Because Girton is a teen, 15 years old, and because he has lived a rather secluded life in his assassin training, there was a little bit of a coming of age aspect to this book that brought a little bit of “feel good” to this assassin story. Girton’s friendship with Rufra was particularly warming as they are neither of them a part of either of the “cliques” that have formed but end up relying on each other.
For some reason, I struggled at first to connect with Girton. It took a little while to get a sense of his character beyond his relationship with his master, Merela. As he interacted more with the squires, the other boys in the castle/keep area, his character was filled in nicely though and I did get very invested in him and really appreciated him as a character.
Some reviews that I have seen refer to Girton and his master, Merela’s, relationship as one of the highlights of the book. It certainly was a well-built relationship, although I have the same feelings about it as I do about Girton’s character in general in that it took a little bit for it to begin to feel fleshed out. But Girton and Rufra’s relationship was honestly the bigger highlight for me as I just was really able to feel their connection easily and that friendship’s ups and downs were one of the parts of the book that I enjoyed reading the most.
This story itself could stand on its own without being a part of the series. It is left very open-ended but really does not require sequels. I am interested in how future books will go, if they will also be centered around a mystery or if they will simply follow the political conclusions of this first installment.
I am always a fan of a story when it focuses on great characters. I think that age of assassins does that and exceeds it. Look at Girtin, he is a, all intensive purposes, good guy. And is an assassin. That combo shouldn’t work but it does. With his interaction with other well done characters, the author does a great job at making me care about these characters. The story is fine nothing groundbreaking in my opinion. But I think the main plot is telling the story of these characters.