I feel I can now fully appreciate that hashtag.
For those of you who have stumbled into this review and aren’t aware, Blood of Assassins is RJ Barker’s tortuous (in a good way) follow-up to his debut Age of Assassins (are you picking up the theme?)
The assassin Girton Club-Foot and his master have returned to Maniyadoc in hope of finding sanctuary, but death, as always, dogs Girton’s heels. War rages across Maniyadoc, with three kings claiming the same crown – and one of them is Girton’s old friend Rufra. With threats on every side, Girton hurries to his friend’s aid – though his greatest enemy of all remains closer than ever.
Blood of Assassins had a very different feel to its predecessor, but at no point did this feel accidental. Gone is the fresh faced Girton I fell in maternal love with; his gently sarcastic rapport with his Master, his obedient yet questing mind. We are presented this time with a Girton who is growing, who has been changed since last we saw him but who clearly has a lot of growing still to do!
RJ has taken such a big risk with this book; for me, it paid off, but I think knowing he was purposefully taking a risk helped a great deal with that. Girton is quite frankly a pain in the arse in this book; he is possibly the most accurate depiction of a teenage boy I have ever read. You cannot deny that RJ is quite clearly a master of nuanced character portrayal. Girton is jealous, utterly focused on his own hardships, whiny – it felt like it was no secret, as the other characters picked up on it, berated or made fun of him for it, so it was lovely that I didn’t feel alone. This blinkered self obsession constantly got in his own way (hence the sighing of “oh, Girton…“) and endangered those around him; hormonal assassins are dangerous. Every now and again, RJ would feed you some hope,
“She was more scared of me than she was of the Nonmen, and I felt small and cruel.”
So, aside of already being aware this was leading up to something, I felt there were hints in the story that redemption was possible. That this was merely a painful and frustrating phrase. Where it got exciting, of course, was that we were running out of time for Girton to get his act together.
As I said, it was risky, but absolutely worth it. I felt invested in this book in a way I hadn’t with Age of Assassins. This is a character I’m seeing grow up before me and he’s dragged me through hell. My heart bled for him last time, and because of him this time. I feel like my emotions have been manipulated and toyed with by the most expertly devious of cats imaginable.
[Highlight for spoiler: The moment Girton learned to be self-aware, to accept not only what he was but what he would never be, I broke down: “he was a good man in a way I was not sure I could ever be.”]
I really ought to make you aware of the fact that there is a great deal more to this book than just Girton: The Teenage Years. There is a new mystery to solve, and just as with the first book I struggled to unravel it because of the innocence of our first person narrator; again, the prejudices and suspicions of our narrator muddied the waters for me here. Am I suspicious of this character, or is Girton? Or are we both? Am I supposed to be? Or am I supposed to be judging Girton here for his inability to let go? Or is that just what RJ wants me to think? It was a merry dance that I jigged right to the very end (Reader, I gasped aloud like some offended Edwardian housewife).
Justice was quite a major theme throughout this book, and although it never felt like moralising in any way, I did enjoy the commentary on social hierarchies and the difficulties facing those who desperately want to make a change. The fear of the outsider raised its ugly head, the fear of progression and change, and religious diversity. Whenever this series is discussed, it’s always in terms of its (incredibly strong) protagonist (or antlers of course); but know this is backed up by an exciting plot, a pace which builds and builds, very well depicted battles and an increasingly dark and sinister magic system. Oh! And why has no-one mentioned the fact Girton invents forensics??
Blood of Assassins ticked so many boxes. RJ is going from strength to strength and I’m frankly a little scared of what King of Assassins is going to put me through.