Published: March 6th, 2018 by Talos Press
Genre: High Fantasy
First, let me start off by saying thank you to Skyhorse Publishing/Talos Press for sending me this early copy! I have been wanting to dive back into the world of fantasy for some time now, and this month I’ve definitely done that!
Master Assassins is the story of Kandri Hinjuman and his half-brother Mektu. They are both soldiers in the New Orthodox Revelation Army, led by “a madwoman-Prophet” and are fighting in a horrific war that neither one of them truly believes in. In a rather unlucky string of circumstances (or maybe luck had nothing to do with it), the two brothers are accused of being assassins, and are immediately marked as enemies of the Prophet. They flee into the desert, and the rest of the novel is spent following them and their crew as they try and reach somewhere safe.
I started out just a bit slowly with this story. Redick has created such a complex, fully realized world, and it can be a little tough to get your bearings right away. But this is the case with many epic fantasy novels, and once you get your feet under you, the reward can be great. You feel so fully immersed in the world that at times you forget it was dreamed up in someone’s imagination — at least that’s what a good fantasy novel does for me.
And this one certainly did that. By the end, the characters and their world have taken on a life of their own in my head, and I forget that before I started, I’d never heard of a world called Urrath or Eternity Camp or the Stolen Sea. A good fantasy novel has to have a balance of world-building, characters, and plot, and I thought that Redick did a good job with all three.
Once I hit about fifty pages in, I was completely hooked and had trouble putting it down. There’s a lot of detail in this novel, a lot of politics and religion of this imagined world. But there is also a lot of action, as Kandri and Mektu face soldiers and giant vultures and the harsh desert landscape, as well as flashbacks that give you insight into the characters’ past and helps you better understand their relationships and motivation. I had absolutely no idea where the story was going–how things were going to turn out. As I said, it is the first in a series, and after that ending, satisfying and a cliffhanger at the same time, I will be anxiously awaiting book two.
Now, all that being said, I do have something else I’d like to discuss that gave me some trouble with this story from the beginning… and that is the culture of violence against women. Especially in the beginning of this novel, which takes place in a war camp, we are shown a culture that thinks very little of women (despite their leader, The Prophet, being a woman.)
I am making this critique with the knowledge that this book was written by a man, is primarily about a male character, and is probably mostly targeted to a male audience. I also know that this culture is very common within this genre (Game of Thrones, for example…) I don’t want to suggest that I think the author himself is advocating for that type of culture. On the contrary, there are multiple women characters in this novel who are powerful and hold important roles in the story, and the main character Kandri offers some criticism himself of this violent mindset and rape culture. We see characters grow in their views of women, and we see women who are smart and powerful and who “save the day.”
However, I was still bothered by it. A male audience might not have so much trouble reading the descriptions of the horrors The Prophet went through as a young girl, or of the way one of the central characters, Eshett, was kidnapped and forced into working as a prostitute. They might not be so unable to like Mektu as a character, even at his best, because of his attitude and treatment towards women.
I’ve had a lot of trouble trying to put my thoughts together on this subject. They’re still kind of a jumble. Because I know that historically, in the times that probably served as some inspiration for this novel, that view of woman was very much reality. But I wish we didn’t have to use it as a plot device (I feel this way about other genres too, especially mystery/thrillers). I wish this culture wasn’t so common (both in reality and in fiction). I’d like to avoid seeing violence or assault of women used as a tool to further the plot, or as a chance to let a man swoop in and save them. I’d like to see women powerful in their own right, not because they’ve had to endure and overcome sexual violence. In this book specifically, I also just really wanted to like Mektu, his eccentric, goofy character, who clearly cares so much for his brother, without having his image be tarnished by the knowledge that he has very little respect for women. (And I know, this is an aspect of his character that has room for growth. But was it absolutely necessary that this be the way we gauge his maturity?)
You might have noticed that I have not given this book a star rating. That is because I’ve waffled back and forth for several days now, trying to settle on one, and I just can’t seem to do it. I really did like this book and I’m very much looking forward to its sequel. I think it is well written and exciting and I very much enjoyed reading it. I will also probably seek out other work by this author. But I was also frustrated by this culture of violence, especially when we see this in other books and forms of media and entertainment so often. So I’ve decided not to give it a star rating. I think I’ve rambled on long enough here (if you’ve made it this far) to have a pretty good idea of how I felt about it.
All in all, this is a book I’d recommend to my high fantasy loving friends. If that’s you, you can find it on the shelves on March 6th! I will probably enjoy rereading it someday to prepare for the release of its sequel. But I’ll still be bothered by those elements, and I’ll definitely be discussing them whenever I talk about this book.