Girton is a trainee assassin, devoted to his master Merala, sent on a mission to weed out the prospective murderer of the heir to the Maniyadoc throne. His role forces him to go undercover as a squire amongst a group of dangerous, ambitious young men, vying for favour and fortune in the training arena as well as the court. Girton must hide his abilities, side-step bullies and attempts on his own life, all to help his master find their target.
Barker has done a great job of realising a traditional medieval world with an overlay of sorcery, portraying the magical element as a destructive, life-sucking force that has done irreparable damage to the land. In some senses, this is medieval post-apocalyptic fiction, creating an atmosphere of tension that bleeds into the more conventional aspects of the novel.
In places, it can feel heavy and a little slow, given the lengths Barker has gone to describe battle sequences and the matters of court. It doesn’t quite have the grip of Game of Thrones, but there is plenty to keep the reader interested, including a host of characters all with plenty of motivation to eliminate the heir. The book emerges as a combination of swords-and-sorcery fantasy, Assassin’s Creed, and an Agatha Christie murder mystery. This is well worth a go for fans of the genre, and it’s clear that there’s plenty more in Barker’s universe for readers to explore as he adds more to the series.