TLDR: This easy to read trilogy contains classic fantasy tropes, but with an approach to character that feels fresh and fun, even if the overall story itself is quite forlorn. It follows Girton, who is a boy assassin in the first book, as he follows his master, Merela, to a strange new assignment. The books are set in a place called the Tired Lands, which is an apt naming for a setting that is severe and unfriendly, a simple enough backdrop and thus easily digestable.
Series: The Wounded Kingdom Trilogy by R. J. Barker
Books: Age of Assassins, Blood of Assassins, King of Assassins
Synopsis: Girton Club-Foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But his latest mission tasks Girton and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.
In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire land.
Publisher: Little, Brown
(Reading time: 3 mins)
The first book of this series, Age of Assassins, is a great introduction, and written well enough to entice you to the rest. The main character is Girton, an apprentice assassin, who is called along with Merela to the Kingdom of Maniyadoc to work for its queen. There, he is supposed to help uncover a treacherous plot, which he works to do alongside making friends for the first time, exploring his skills and having adolescent crises.
There is something about these books that feels fresh when reading, even if overall they contain most of the common fantasy tropes. Most of it is just a lack of misogyny, to be quite frank. One of the standout points of the series, in fact, is the complexity of the characters. Each book has a slightly different setting, which I was sceptical of at first, but I found it is a great way to both read more about the world the author has created here, as well as see character development. Girton isn’t a child for the whole three series, which I enjoyed reading. Instead, he’s a person allowed to make his own choices, mistakes, sacrifices. I didn’t feel overly attached to any of the characters (apart from Merela), but this isn’t deterimental, because it allows you to truly appreciate how they change in each book.
My main gripe for this series would be that the world building is just slightly off. By which I mean it is stuck between being simple enough just to be a setting, and being complicated enough that it becomes confusing. Many details thrown out here and there didn’t seem to do anything to further on the plot, but enough time was spent developing them that it felt they should.
For example, the magic in the book is banned throughout the Tired Lands. Sorcerers are killed because they cause ‘sourings’ to the land, essentially killing it and making farming there impossible. This is a great detail that also builds into the narrative of the land being poor and hungry. But, what can magic do? Apart from kill the land? Honestly, I’m still not entirely sure, and even though the aura of ‘mystery’ surrounding this banned thing may make sense from an in-world point of pov, it does make for an annoying read.
The other negative point I have of the series is the final book. Surprisingly, no middle book curse here. In fact, that is the one I think I enjoyed most! It puts Girton into a new setting while still retaining enough of who he is, and the characters we know, to be familiar. The third, however, veers off into being a ‘royal court’ setting, supposedly about political maneouvring etc.
I did enjoy the book at first, but for the final in the series, there are far too many new concepts and characters thrown in. And although many questions are answered, it also creates just as many that are not. It also felt very repetitive. There is a particular sequence of events: Girton fighting/winning/suddenly losing/suddenly winning again etc., that is repeated far too many times. I understand it’s meant to build suspense but not so much when the same thing keeps happening!
The author describes this series as a tragedy, and although a lot of it is depicted as desolately as ‘the Tired Lands’ implies, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s tragic. Although the hero’s story being stoppered by his own faults certainly does exist, there is also a lot of hope and happy ending. If I wouldn’t say it’s a sad book, I wouldn’t call it happy either – not one you should go to for cheer! Despite that, a good read.
Is it worth the read? It’s easy to get drawn into the world here, and a nice series you can read all at once.
Similar to: It reminded me a lot of Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb for the first book.
I haven’t written a review in ages, but this series review was a fun one to get out. I did enjoy reading the books, but I have to say, I think I expected more.
Have you read this series? Do you plan to? Let me know!