Age of Assassins is part mystery and part coming-of-age, wrapped in the trappings of a fantasy novel. The bulk of the story is told in first-person, exclusively through the eyes of Girtan, a young man rescued as a child from slavery and trained as an assassin’s apprentice. From that earlier age, he has had almost no friends or close acquaintances save his master, so when he has to assume the rule of a young noble and join a group of other boys in knightly training, it forces him to acknowledge some of what has been missing from his life.
Complicating matters further is Girtan’s meeting and growing affection for a stable-hand. As Girtan grows to value these friendships it becomes harder for him to be objective about his true purpose; finding the assassin intent on killing the prince. It isn’t made any easier by the prince’s nature; arrogant, cruel, bullying and, having already been shamed by Girtan once, intent to taking any form of revenge he can. Given that he could easily kill most of the other boys, he is often forced to choose between maintaining his cover and the reactions his adolescent hormones demand.
It turns out there are almost as many plots and secrets scattered around the castle as there are people looking to turn the unexpected arrival of a new member of the court to their advantage. While some of these schemes are only tangential to Girtan’s mission, they do act as distractions as he tries to puzzle his way through, and are effectively tied together at the climax, including one which hits a little too close to home for Girtan’s comfort.
One of the advantages the 1st person narrative has is that the reader discovers clues and information at the same time Girtan does, ensuring that the mystery remains foremost. The downside is that is can dilute some of the sense of jeopardy that Girtan faces. But obviously the same does not apply to anyone else and Girtan’s fear for his new friends comes across sharply.
Keeping the action confined to the castle and it’s immediate surrounds also helps amplify the claustrophobic nature of the story as many of the characters, not just Girtan are essentially trapped there. The combat, when it happens, is well handled and the description of Girtan’s fighting style is unique, as he moves in and out of conscious thought, letting his training take over.
Age of Assassins is a very good read and I plan on returning to the Wounded Kingdom in the future.
4.5 out of 5 antlered war mounts.