Thursday, 14 May 2009

‘Kings and Assassins’ – Lane Robins (Del Rey)

‘Swashbuckling’ is one of my favourite words. Not only is it a great word to say (try it!) but it conjures images of a dashing hero either making fools of the Palace Guard or swinging through the rigging whilst fighting off hordes of pirates. As far as I’m concerned there can’t ever be too much swashbuckling in fantasy fiction (sci-fi as well come to think of it...)
When I saw the magic word on the back of ‘Kings and Assassins’ that was more than enough for me to pick the book up for a read even though it was ‘Maledicte’ (prequel to ‘Kings and Assassins’) that it was describing. After all... same characters and setting must surely mean that I’m in for another swashbuckler? Well, kind of but this didn’t stop ‘Kings and Assassins’ being a very good read...

The kingdom of Antyre sits uncomfortably between a treaty robbing it of its independence and a ruling aristocracy that doesn’t care so long as their status quo isn’t interrupted. Only one man can reverse the kingdom’s decline and that is Janus Ixion, the new Earl of Last. Janus is full of ambition and this is backed up by his skills with a blade. It may not be enough though. Not only are the noble houses united against his illegitimacy but a scheming foreign prince has plans of his own for Antyre. The greatest threat, however, might just come from Janus’ own wife who has been given dangerous gifts by a forgotten god...

A self contained plot (with references made to ‘Maledicte’) means that ‘Kings and Assassins’ can be read as a stand alone piece if you haven’t already read ‘Maledicte’. Beware though, these references hint at a world that promises more richness of the kind that you will find in these pages. I’m going to be looking for a copy of ‘Maledicte’ to sit alongside this book on my shelf.

‘Kings and Assassins’ is a slow read that’s difficult to get into (at first) for this very reason. Things do happen (including a rather gruesome murder right at the start) but these take second place to an emphasis on a slow and steady build up to the plot. This really bugged me at first; after all, who cares about nobles politicking when murder most foul has been committed? I stuck with it though and I’m glad that I did as the resulting plot was crammed full of intrigue, double crossing and backstabbing. It all fitted together perfectly and the way it was gradually presented to the reader had me in mind of a thousand piece jigsaw slowly being completed to show an intricate and extremely well defined picture. ‘Kings and Assassins’ may take it’s time but it’s for the best of reasons, a well told story that’s a joy to read.

This book suffers a similar problem with its characters. None of them are remotely likeable and even Janus’ more commendable traits are tempered by arrogance and obsession. This is also a man who is more than willing to sink to some pretty despicable acts to take the throne... I found it pretty hard to get into the book as there wasn’t a redeeming quality, in any of the characters for me to focus on. Again however, sticking with it really pays off in dividends (I found) as these negative traits heighten the suspense of a tale that can head off in any direction due to someone’s scheming or even just a whim.
The characters may not be likeable but they are all drawn in a great deal of depth and this becomes more apparent as the book progresses. This was where I finally found my hook, there is a lot to find out and it’s dealt out in such a way that there is always a little bit more to look forward to.

The action, when it does come, contrasts well with the scheming for power that makes up the rest of the book. There’s only so much politicking to be had before it all kicks off and when things spark off it’s done in style! This is where the ‘swashbuckling’ comes in, lots of flashing blades and witty banter at knife point...

‘Kings and Assassins’ is a tough one to get into but the effort really pays off in the long run. You know that feeling you get when you discover a new author that you want to read more of? Well, that’s the feeling I’ve got right now.

Nine out of Ten


Kristen said...

Great review Graeme! I really enjoyed this book as well as Maledicte (which did contain more swashbuckling than this novel). Most of the characters in the previous novel were not particularly likable, either, but there was one very likable character. I'm looking forward to reading what you think of Maledicte!

ediFanoB said...

A nine from you. That means this book is not that bad. Have to think about it.

hwm said...

Hm. I couldn't bring myself to read "Kings and Assassins". Finishing "Maledicte" nearly did me in. It was supposed to be a tale about deep emotions, about vengeance and passion, but the author didn't manage to get them across. Since they were the sole motivation of the main character, she felt flat to me. I usually don't care if the main character is likeable or not, but he/she has to be fascinating and the motivations have to be persuasive. Maledicte is neither.
The setting felt like cardboard as well.

In my opinion "Maledicte" was released too early. I would have liked to read the story after Robins had time to polish her skills.

Btw, did you know that "The Patriot Witch" is available as a free download on the author's homepage?

Graeme Flory said...

I didn't know about the free download of 'The Patriot Witch'. I know there are differing opinions on it so I guess it's a good way to check the book out without parting with any cash :o)