Tag: Fantasy

“Age of Assassins” by R.J. Barker Review

Age of Assasins

Age of Assassins

Author:  R.J. Barker

Released:  2017

This was the fifth book I received as part of my Briliant Book of the Month Club. There has been a nice variety of genres so far, with dystopian, historical, general, and science fiction all represented, and this book is a fantasy novel. Age of Assassins by R.J. Barker takes place in a feudal fantasy setting where there are Kings and Queens and the most technologically advanced weapon is probably the crossbolt. The society is a magic fearing world where there are classes of people (Blessed or not Blessed), as well as professions with secrets, traditions. and skills such as Jesters, Priests and of course Assassins.

Here, Girton is the main character, a teenage apprentice assassin who is roped into a seemingly impossible mission of finding out (along with his master) who is trying to have the heir to the throne killed. The trouble being that the queen and the heir are both terrible people that right away the assassins figure out are likely to be wanted dead by everybody in the kingdom for various reasons. Girton poses as a squire, playing up the character by pretending to be helpless with a blade. Girton’s defining physical trait is a clubfoot which causes others to underestimate him (and during flashbacks for him to underestimate himself), however his master has trained him to be as deadly an assassin as exists anywhere in the land.

Throughout the investigation, Girton discovers two rival factions for the throne, a pretty stable girl who seems to be interested in Girton, a friend that appears unremarkable but who is wanted dead by those in high places, a king that is being poisoned and several high ranking officials in the government that all have secrets that must be discovered. The story format tends to be Girton spending a day doing his part and then meeting with his master at the end of the day to share what he has learned (his master typically doesn’t share much beyond “don’t rule him out,” or “find out what his angle is.”). Interspersed are several flashbacks to Girton’s purchase out of servitude and his beginning training as an assassin.

I read just about every genre, fantasy included. I tend to prefer science fiction though, because the tropes of fantasy while fun often end up feeling formulaic and predictable. Although I didn’t see any elves or swords of destiny in this book, there were still several elements that felt overly familiar that took away from my enjoyment. **Spoilers follow** The society that hates and fears magic is pretty standard, but having the protagonist possess secret magic powers that go far beyond anything her master has seen before felt like a revelation that didn’t add anything to this book in terms of the plot. Also pretty much every character that was introduced ended up playing into the conspiracy revealed at the end of the book; the lack of red herrings seemed to cheapen the overall mystery. **End of spoilers** At just under 400 pages, the plot moves along quickly enough, however the end reveal and climactic battle seemed particularly rushed, with a two page epilogue on the end that felt out of place and did nothing to interest me in reading more in the series.

Despite those complaints, the book did several things very well. There was a nice balance of male and female characters in different roles that I think any reader can find somebody they either identify with or find interesting enough to read more about. (Barker also does a nice job of making random character the opposite genre than what you would probably expect). The “mounts” that the soldiers ride are also an interesting creation, such that I was picturing a cross between an elk and a griffon. The end result was a pleasant enough but ultimately very forgettable adventure.

3-star

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“Shadows of the Flame” by Lydia C. Golden Review

Shadow of the FlameShadows of the Flame

Author – Lydia C. Golden

Published – 2008

I picked this book up last month at the Raleigh Super Con. Down in the artist alley section they had a ton of tables set up with independent comic artists and writers, as well as several prose authors. The author was selling books and gave me a pitch about a girl who is training with an assassin and it may have regrets about what she signed up for. That was good enough for me, and I picked up a copy and put it near the top of my reading list. Imagine my surprise at adding it on Goodreads and seeing the book was published in 2008 and (as of this writing) only had three readers. I got the impression she was doing ok selling books at the convention so hopefully the number of copies in circulation starts going up and some additional scores and reviews accompany them.

Shadows of the Flame feels like two separate books, and also feels like the first book in a series that would require at least three books at the current pacing to wrap up the story. Fauna is a young child and the last survivor of a village massacre and decides to pledge herself to the assassin Sarrak until she is 15, doing whatever he requires of her in exchange for learning the skills that will allow her to get vengeance. The first half of the book mainly follows these two characters and tells a very engrossing story that has the reader hopeful that Fauna will develop into a fantasy heroine under Sarrak’s expert tutelage, but also cautious that Sarrak will destroy who Fauna is in the process. The first time the cast increases it brings in a female mentor for Fauna, but likely not in the manner the reader will expect.

The familiar tropes of the fantasy genre are all present, including the use of magic, prejudiced villagers, and mysterious other races. Despite the tropes, the plot was not predictable, which ends up being its greatest attribute and Achilles heel all wrapped into one. As a stand alone book, the story takes turns that don’t follow the course set out by the initial action, and the end of the book is nowhere near the end of several characters stories. Around the halfway point, the plot gets away from Sarrak and Fauna, and instead follows several different characters. There’s a former prison guard, whose life is ruined after the death of a loved one. There’s the handmaiden and her soldier boyfriend who get wrapped up in palace intrigue. There’s the three palace guards who get wrapped up into another story, and then split off. There’s the stable boy who works in the town. There’s the traveling salesman who is looking for love. One of the characters is possibly a murderer.

That’s enough side action for an 800 page novel or for a book series. With this being a stand alone book at 444 pages, the result is that some of the plots gets shelved or incomplete resolutions at the end. While I loved the first half of the book, the second half was enjoyable but also frustrating. The side stories ranged in quality, none of them as interesting as Sarrak and Fauna. The culmination of Thomas and Jocelyn’s story was as exciting as anything in the book and serves as the actual climax. On the opposite side was a plot about a character taking over a smuggling ring that did not pull me in with its central character who was never developed enough to feel credible as a worthy or deadly protagonist.

Overall I’d give the first half of the book Five stars and the second half 3 stars, so I’ve averaged it out here to a four. I think I would appreciate this book more if I knew a sequel was being released because the unfinished story lines certainly detract from my enthusiasm for rereading or recommending to others. The writing here is good. Golden does a great job of building suspense and creating atmosphere without wasting words on excessive description. With any independent book I tend to be critical of editing/publication. I only caught one typo reading this (a wrong instance of you’re vs your), and the font was easy enough to read. The cover did suffer from the frequent self published flaws of becoming easily bent while reading (and could probably use a sprucing up in the graphic design department). I just hope that if Ms. Golden does write a sequel to this (or additional fantasy) that I find out about it so I can read further in the series.

4-star