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.
￼Well, here we are again. At the end of another truly badass fantasy trilogy. Admittedly, it took me wayyyy too long to finally read RJ Barker’s conclusion to his Wounded Kingdom trilogy, but now that it’s done…oof…this is a really fucking special series, and King of Assassins turned out to be my favorite of the three!
(Probably you shouldn’t read this review if you haven’t read both Age of Assassins & Blood of Assassins)
This installment picks up fifteen years after the events of Blood of Assassins, with (I believe) Girton Club-Foot in his mid-thirties at this point. It’s clear almost from the get-go that this is a much different Girton from the sometimes brash (and sometimes nearly petulant) Girton from Blood of Assassins. He’s calmer, steadier, more comfortable in his own skin.
His relationship with Rufra has always been one of the biggest aspects of this series, and here we find the two of them quite distant. The role of King has worn Rufra down, and the flashes of love & brotherhood between Rufra & Girton are lessened as a result. But Girton is still fiercely loyal & holds the friendship close to his heart.
The only real issue I had with Blood of Assassins was the lack of Merela!! I absolutely fell in love with her in the first book, and to me, the relationship between Girton & Merela is the beating heart of this trilogy. Not only do we see a lot more of Merela in King of Assassins, we get these sort of interlude-type chapters that slowly reveal so much about her backstory. These are spread throughout the whole novel, and they are fucking beautiful & dark & heartbreaking & uplifting…Barker packs a TON of emotion into this part of the book, and it had me looking at a character I already loved in a whole new light.
The story centers around Rufra’s bid for the high king’s throne, left vacant as a result of a devastating plague. This brings his entire court, Girton included, to the city of Ceadoc. It’s a strange place, full of secrets, and there’s just something generally off about it. Murder & mayhem ensue (of course they do), and it’s up to Girton to track down another assassin who threatens everything & everyone Girton holds dear. Barker also introduces us to a great new character, Tinia Speaks-Not, an assassin who cannot speak. Her scenes with Girton are some of my favorites in this book, and I’m sure many people (myself included) appreciate the disability representation in this whole trilogy.
This is the longest book of the three, but the pacing is brisk. Also, in terms of the writing, it’s just fucking beautiful. You really get the sense of how hard Barker pushed himself over the course of writing this trilogy…like as much as I loved Age of Assassins, this just feels so much more epic in scope. There are some brilliantly hilarious scenes as well, usually provided by Girton & Aydor’s unlikely friendship.
I just loved this totally self-assured version of Girton Club-Foot so goddamn much. There are scenes where someone is threatening Girton, saying they’re going to slice him to bits or whatever, and Girton just calmly replies “You could not.” And as a result of his fully realized character development, these moments don’t come off in any way smug or arrogant. It’s a statement of fact, and he’s really trying to defuse a situation.
I’m struggling to get this one into words, but suffice it to say, The Wounded Kingdom is a fucking dazzling fantasy trilogy. It has incredibly heartfelt character moments, an utterly unique & lovable main character, ridiculously cool action scenes, secondary characters that could carry their own book, and it also has Xus. I’m calling it now, Xus is my favorite fictional animal OF EVER!!! Giant antlered moose-like beast, temperamental & moody af, but also loyal & empathetic. I just love Xus so fucking much!!
King of Assassins is an absolutely masterful end to an incredible trilogy. If The Wounded Kingdom isn’t on your radar, it really ought to be!
Huge thank you to Orbit Books for sending me this another lifetime ago! Apologies for the delay.