Kings and Assassins: The prose kept me going

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsLane Robins Maledicte Kings and AssassinsKings and Assassins by Lane Robins

I wasn’t sure I’d like this one. Janus Ixion as the protagonist? I hated Janus in Maledicte. I started reading Kings and Assassins with that loathing firmly in place, and in the early pages of the book, he didn’t do much to make me like him any better. I didn’t like the other characters either. I didn’t care about Janus, I didn’t care that he missed Maledicte, I didn’t care about his wife or about their endless quarrels, and I couldn’t have cared less who ended up regent for Prince Adiran after King Aris’s assassination. What kept me going was Lane Robins’ prose, which I enjoyed as much as ever.

Imagine my surprise when, halfway through the book, I found myself thinking that Antyre was in deep trouble if Janus lost his bid for the regency.

Oh, he didn’t become a nice guy or anything, have no fear. But I did realize that neither Maledicte nor Gilly saw him clearly. Maledicte idealized him too much until the very end; Gilly vilified him too much. He’s complicated. He’s violent, ambitious, ruthless, but also intelligent and keenly interested in the welfare of Antyre, even when his concern is based on selfish motives. He’s also the only noble in the kingdom who has any idea what life is like for Antyre’s poor. He’s a bit like a George R.R. Martin character in some ways. Every time I started hating him, he’d do something admirable, often for all the wrong reasons. Every time I started liking him, he’d do something so horribly unethical that I wondered what I’d been thinking.

Kings and Assassins follows Janus as he tries to scheme his way through the Antyrrian court and prevent the country from being taken over by neighboring Itarus in the aftermath of Aris’s death. It’s not easy; he is opposed at every turn by snobbish Antyrrian nobles, a grasping Itarusine prince, angry working-class mobs, and his own wife, Psyke, who is convinced Janus had Aris killed. Not to even mention the gods: Black-Winged Ani is still on the scene, and now Haith, the god of death, has awakened as well.

I didn’t read this quite as compulsively as I read Maledicte, but I enjoyed reading it once I got past the initial “I hate all the characters” stage. Recommended if you like political fantasies and don’t mind gore and characters with skewed moral compasses!

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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