Kings and Assassins is the sequel to Maledicte, the debut novel by Lane Robins. Since I very much enjoyed Maledicte, I was very eager to read this novel even though my favorite characters from the first book were absent. While it was somewhat different from its predecessor with less focus on relationships between its characters and more on politics and court intrigue, it was still plenty dark with characters who were on the conniving and ruthless side. Kings and Assassins could be read on its own, but I’d recommend those interested in these books start with Maledicte since it does provide some background for this novel and it’s a very compelling story.
Maledicte has disappeared and left behind Janus, the current Earl of Last and the king’s nephew. Ivor, the prince of a foreign country and Janus’s mentor, invites Janus to play cards with him and the foppish Lord Blythe, who ends up losing a lot of money to the far more clever Ivor and Janus. During the game, there is a commotion outside and a bell begins to ring. When the curious Ivor does not leave the game to see what the fuss is about, Janus realizes that whatever is going on, Ivor is behind it. Janus finds King Aris with a gaping hole in his chest, murdered right before the eyes of Lady Last. He’s even more shocked when his wife accuses him of killing the king before all present.
Janus is the king’s closest living relative other than his son, a mentally disabled boy who will never be able to run the kingdom more than in name only. It is said that when people die, Janus profits, and this has been proven true in the deaths of the rest of the Last family. In this case, suspicion could lead to giving Ivor what he wants more than anything – the country of Antyre for himself. Janus must make sure that doesn’t happen while contending with his wife’s recent possession by Haith, the god of death.
Kings and Assassins is a political/court intrigue focused fantasy with battles of wits and the occasional exciting swordfight. The setting is not medieval times as there are pistols and new technology such as cannons is being developed. There is no actual magic other than the occasional curse, and the main fantastic element in this series is the role gods play in the world. In both this book and Maledicte, events are influenced by human possession by a god or goddess.
As with the previous novel, several characters are very flawed, but there a couple of more agreeable ones to balance them out. Janus himself was the most unpleasant character in Maledicte, and although he is still far from angelic, he is more human and likable in this book. I was a little worried that if he had any redeeming qualities at all it would not seem fitting after reading about him in the previous book. However, it did work with the absence of Maledicte since the two of them seemed to be feeding off each other’s more evil tendencies. Janus truly does want what is best for Antyre and that is admirable, but he is also arrogant enough to think his way is always the right way, even if others have more experience than a boy who grew up in the slums. He’s rash, quick to anger, and he has no issues with callously removing those who are in his way. Through the course of the book, Janus does undergo much growth as a character, though.
Janus was my favorite to read about, but I also enjoyed reading about Ivor, Delight and Psyke. Ivor is another cold-hearted politician who will do anything to get his way. Janus probably knows him better than anyone else in court and had this to say when Delight asked if the prince was as terrible as he had heard:
“Ivor? He’s everything charming,” Janus said. “Right up until the moment he steps away from your corpse.”
Delight is one of Janus’s engineers along with his twin brother Chryses and is one of the more sympathetic, kind-hearted characters in the book. Both brothers were removed from court when Delight dressed as a woman and pretended to be Chryses’s date so they could look at the women at an event only open to courtesans and their escorts. Delight’s father disowned him, but Delight has worn women’s clothing ever since to spite his father for doing so.
Although I didn’t find her quite as compelling as the others until later in the book, Psyke is another character who is generally good that one can feel for. Her entire family has been killed and now her king has joined them. When the king died, she was possessed by Haith like one of her ancient ancestors before her and now sees ghosts, including the shade of the woman who killed her relatives. She’s always felt undesirable to her husband, who only had eyes for the controversial courtier Maledicte.
This novel felt a little tighter and more believable than Maledicte, which I loved but thought suffered from an end that wasn’t as good as the strong beginning and middle. Kings and Assassins was equally good from start to finish, but I felt it was not as engaging and fresh as Maledicte and its story of love and vengeance. Maledicte was a more dramatic tale with the court’s reaction to Maledicte and Janus and the conflict between Janus and Gillie (whom I absolutely adored and missed in the sequel). Both novels featured possession by a god/goddess and reading about how this affected Maledicte was more interesting to me than how it affected Psyke. Maledicte is more memorable – it’s been over a year since I read it and I’ve found it has stuck in my memory as one of the more intriguing books I’ve read in the last couple of years in spite of a somewhat weak ending.
Nevertheless, Kings and Assassins is an entertaining fantasy novel that should appeal to fans of darker characters and political maneuvering.
Reviews of other books in this series: