We are now somewhere in the middle of the fantasy shrapnel cloud that exploded some time around the release of the Harry Potter novels and Lord of the Rings films. As pieces whiz by with greater frequency, the titles have become meaningless blurs—The Dragon’s Sword, A Warrior’s Oath, and Shield & Throne are titles I just invented but could easily be on the market somewhere. Fantasy’s covers have stretched further and further apart—like a waistline after pasta and beer—as writers worldbuild ad nauseum. Its clichés and stereotypes have been constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed to the point subversion is almost meaningless. Its low roads have been ridden hard, and its high roads occasionally explored. It has been integrated with every other genre out there—romance, noir, mystery, horror, etc.—in attempts to be fresh and innovative. And with self-publishing an option, it seems everybody and their brother is writing an epic fantasy trilogy. How then to distinguish the good from the bad, the worthwhile from the useless? Trial and error, unfortunately. With R.J. Barker’s Age of Assassins (2017), first in The Wounded Land trilogy, I can report the former more than the latter.
Given almost all fantasy book blurbs these days blend together into an empty nothingness, I’m tempted not to offer a plot summary of Age of Assassins. So, short and simple: Girton is apprentice to the master assassin Merela in Castle Meriyanoc, and together they work to find the person who is trying to assassinate Aidor, heir to the throne. Requiring Girton to go undercover among the kingdom’s knights-in-training, he learns the Castle is home to a lot more enmity than he ever imagined, and it will require all of his wits to stay alive, let alone catch the culprit.