King of Assassins – RJ Barker

Synopsis: THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING . . .

Many years of peace have passed in Maniyadoc, years of relative calm for the assassin Girton Club-Foot. Even the Forgetting Plague, which ravaged the rest of the kingdoms, seemed to pass them by. But now Rufra ap Vthyr eyes the vacant High-King’s throne and will take his court to the capital, a rat’s nest of intrigue and murder, where every enemy he has ever made will gather and the endgame of twenty years of politics and murder will be played out in his bid to become the King of all Kings.

Friends become enemies, enemies become friends and the god of death, Xus the Unseen, stands closer than ever – casting his shadow over everything most dear to Girton.

“Pain like he has never known, the junctures of bone and joints being twisted in ways they were never meant to twist. The sharp edge of the blade digging through his skin and something else, something darker and older and more terrifying. Something that moves along the veins of his body and pours through his blood in a tide of razors. There was nothing like this in the school. It is nothing like the drownings, the brands, the beatings or the hunger. It is worse than anything he has ever imagined.”

I’m really good at beginning a series, but not so great at finishing them. I read the sequel over a year ago. WHAT TOOK ME SO LONG TO GET TO THIS?!? I’m wicked thankful for my friends Nils & Cait for urging me to buddy read this with them. Without a doubt, King of Assassins ending up being my favorite of the series!

If you have not read the previous two books, you have been warned! Try as I might to avoid spoilers, it becomes that much more difficult when reviewing the final book in a series. AVERT YOUR EYE HOLES!!

The Wounded Kingdom series jumps through decades. Each installment is a separate story. You *could* read them as individual standalones if you wanted, but why do that? WHY?!? This series is so bloody good. It’s best to read them one by one & see the way these glorious characters progress. It’s truly quite something!

King of Assassins takes place 15 years after the events in Blood of Assassins. Girton Club-Foot is now 35 years old & is Death’s Jester. A plague has ravaged much of the kingdom, leaving a vacant high throne, which King Rufra ap Vthyr is after. Girton is still Rufra’s heartblade, but during the time that has passed, they have gone from being the best of friends to having a strained relationship. However, Girton has grown close to Aydor over time.

Girton is searching for an assassin (I MEAN.. HELLO, TITLE!) The suspects begin to pile up, since there are many guilty parties in this world! There is a whirlwind of action among the quieter moments. The last 100 pages or so were especially brutal & I loved every second!

The interludes that weave in & out of the main narrative are gut-punchy, to put it lightly. We finally discover Merela’s tragic origin story, which is so intensely emotional. It made me love her that much more as realization dawned on me what it all meant. Puzzle pieces began falling into place. Barker did a fantastic job slowly unraveling the details in such an organic way. Oof.

As I previously mentioned, Barker’s characterizations are wonderful. Girton, Merela, Aydor, Rufra, Voniss, Arketh, Marrel, Tinia, Gusteffa, Feorwic, Adran, XUS.. these are all complex, fully-realized individuals. Each character had an important role in telling this story. I’ve loved the badass Merela since the start, but it was Aydor that I came to absolutely adore by the end of this. Which is surprising, considering the type of person he was in the first book! Trust me.. his character arc is E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G!!

I can’t discuss genius characterization without mentioning our protagonist Girton. It was incredible watching him grow as a character. We first met him as a teenager that is struggling with his disability, who then becomes a young (sullen) man & now he has grown into this self-assured assassin with an apprentice of his own. Girton is a flawed, multilayered, extraordinary character!

“Once I would have been insulted to have someone discount me so offhandedly, but time had worn down my spikier edges and age had brought with it the gift of knowing my own strengths.”

Political intrigue, murder, mystery, espionage, beautifully executed battle scenes, diverse characters. King of Assassins is about revenge & loyalty; love & family; self-discovery & redemption. RJ Barker’s prose is unique & fascinating & just.. it’s great. Really. But above all, the relationship between Merela & Girton is the beating heart of this series. Their bond will forever be my favorite part of these novels. Gut-punchy, difficult, raw & genuine.. it’s gorgeous to experience!

The twists were twisty & the turns didn’t stop until the last page. My heart was racing once I was done. I felt drained & yet energized. I was a sobbing mess! Saying goodbye to these characters was hard. I AM NOT OKAY, DAMNIT!! Between finishing this & then watching The Battle of Winterfell a few short hours after, I needed a fucking hug & some whiskey. Talk about an emotional day!

I just loved this book so stupid much! It’s a thrilling & poignant ending to such a rewarding series.

ALL THE BLOOD-SOAKED STARS!!

-Holly

(Massive thanks to Orbit Books for sending me a copy ages ago! Sorry for the delay!)

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