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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Master Assassins by Robert V.S. Reddick review

 


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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Robert von Stein Redick is an American author of epic fantasy and mainstream fiction. He was born on December 4, 1967 in Charlottesville, Virginia and grew up in Virginia and Iowa City, Iowa.

FORMAT/INFO: Master Assassins published March 6th 2018 with Talos. Length - 504 p. Cover art by Lauren Saint-Ange. Cover design by Shawn T. King.

OVERVIEW: The title suggests we’ll be dealing with true masters of the art of assassination. Unstoppable killers who defy the laws of physics to get the job done. This is not the case. The title is ironic and you’ll understand why when you read the book.

The story follows two brothers, Kandri and Mektu, who serve in the Army of Revelation ruled by a prophet-madwoman whose preferred management tools are terror and violence. When one of them “accidentally” commits an unspeakable crime, they must flee the Prophetess’ wrath. Elite forces and bloodthirsty monsters chase them through barren fields of devastation, towards the great desert called “The Land That Eats Men.”

To make matters more interesting, Armageddon is an option.

I’m not surprised that readers enjoy this book as it has plenty to offer. I’ll start where everyone starts. With the prose. Redick’s writing style is immersive. His rich vocabulary conveys all sorts of emotions the characters are experiencing. Breathtaking descriptions paint imaginative and harsh landscapes and terrifying creatures. Most of the story is told in third person present tense, which is rarely seen in fantasy. This makes the reader feel like they are right there following the characters on their adventure. Because it’s done well, it’s easy to care and fear for the characters’ lives as the story unfolds. Flashbacks and elements similar to a stream of consciousness are also used to good effect.

Reddick created memorable characters. Kandri Hinjuman was never meant to be a soldier. His brother, Mektu, was never meant for this world. Kandri is good at fitting in, but Mektu is impulsive, unpredictable, and wild. Plus, he believes a demon is stalking him.

Kandri and Mektu are half-brothers, and they share a complex bond of rivalry and love. Their brotherly love is clouded by distrust, contempt, and old wounds related to their mutual fascination with a woman who has vanished. It was fascinating to watch them teeter on the brink of disaster in a harsh world filled with religious fears, with imminent danger on their heels. They struggle to survive while clinging to memories of love.

The secondary characters were also colorful and intriguing. The brothers escape with three outcasts (some by choice, some forced). Uncle Chindilan, Master Smith, is on the run because he helped the brothers in their time of need. Now he is a wanted man. Eshett has been captured by human traffickers, and all she wants is to return home. Then there’s Talupeke - crazy young warrior prone to berserker rages. She’s skilled with knives. 

The worldbuilding is pretty rich. The story takes place in a non-European setting, somewhat reminiscent of Asya. We learn about the world through scattered morsels. There’s a bit of info-dumping, but not too much. Enough to learn more about the lore without killing the momentum.

The pacing is uneven. Sometimes I felt glued to the pages, but other times I was tired and bored with the story and some of the repetition. The middle part of the story felt too slow for me. I had to push through parts of the book and it diminished my enjoyment of the story as a whole.

One could argue that the uneven pacing of the book forces the reader to readjust their attention on each page and that this isn’t such a bad thing. Perhaps. But my preference is different. I like a strong and consistent pace.

Overall, it’s a solid read. It’s not perfect. It won’t be my favorite book of the month, but it’s well structured and memorable. I’m interested in reading the sequel.

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