Hired throughout the other eight realms, their use of powerful magic to complete assignments makes them a valuable commodity.
When a regional trade negotiation is scheduled in their capital city of Lymos, the demand for the skills of the assassins is sure to change the dynamic of the meetings.
Caught in the maelstrom of political intrigue is young Kero, the ward of the assassin lord.
He’s joined by Darlee, a girl from Sechland with her own magical powers, and Prince Brumaine of Morica, as each of them struggle to navigate the affair in their own way.
Will old animosities prevail? Or can new alliances alter the path toward all-out war?
The Assassins of Riaz is a rather good standalone fantasy told in third person. Meaty, but not so packed with lore as to bore folks who don’t want it. Plenty of fodder for future installments, but no cliffhangers.
One of the things I liked about the story is that it feels bigger than it is. Feels like part of a greater story, even though it wraps up nicely in one volume. I got the impression of a greater world, an important aspect in any epic fantasy. If the author ever decides to tell more stories in the world, he has a great foundation. In this one, he gives just enough detail, lore, and culture to bring the world to life, but not enough to distract or devolve into something tedious for the intermittent fantasy reader.
Kero, Darlee, and Brumaine, as the main characters, are well-developed and likeable, each on a path of growth and coming of age. None of them are too perfect or powerful, though there are intriguing glimmers of such in their future. As for the side characters, I enjoyed them just as much. They are just as well-developed as the mains, and some, like Savan, seem to be almost as prominent. I thought Savan was one until later in the book when I realized none of the chapters took his perspective.
On that note, I did find some trouble in keeping up with who was whom in some of the scenes. Part of this was that the third person point of view sometimes forgot whose perspective was being used for a particular scene or chapter. Another thing that I’d liked to have seen was a more solid handle on dialog punctuation. For the most part, it was fine, but speeches that spanned paragraph breaks weren’t punctuated correctly. It’s not a very obvious grammar rule until it isn’t applied correctly, and then it makes it difficult to keep track of who’s talking.
Overall, I really enjoyed Assassins of Riaz. I’d recommend it to folks who dig epic fantasy, but not the typical commitment the multi-book epic series demand.
Kero slipped quietly from behind one stack of wooden crates to another, keeping an eye on the men on the pier to ensure none spotted him.
They were too busy moving cargo halfway down the dock toward a ship he knew to be flying the colors of Morica. At such a late time, at least five or six hands after sundown, they toiled in near darkness as the moon already had made its pass for the night and no torches lighted their work. Smugglers. He was sure of it. What contraband lay in those crates was definitely something the men didn’t want the harbormaster to see.
Where was the night patrol, and why were all the lanterns out? He scanned the dock, a wooden structure fifteen paces across stretching over one hundred paces out into the bay, parallel to the shore on his left. He spotted the two constables in Riaz colors of gold and silver standing somewhat away from the others. Their constant furtive glances told him all he needed to know. They were paid off. Boats were not allowed to tie up to the pier at night. No loading was permitted after dark. An alarm should have been raised.
The tip he’d learned that afternoon proved true. Ordered to investigate, he’d hidden amongst the crates of Riaz red wine awaiting shipment. Careful not to jostle the wine, it had taken all his willpower to stay awake.
The telltale sparks of flint and the sudden glow of an oil lamp illuminated the captain of the ship. He halted the men at the base of the gangplank leading aboard his vessel. “Let’s see the stuff. I’ll not sail with it first and discover later I’ve been misled.”
There were four cases in all, each four hands by eight, and eight again long. The men carrying them pried open the lids for the captain to see in. At the first, he reached in and pulled out a stick the length of Kero’s forearm. Short roots extended from the base and its overall configuration looked somewhat warped and twisted. From each of the other containers he withdrew more of the same. For Kero, it was easy to recognize the stuff. Grape vines. More than likely, the four varieties exclusive to the island state of Riaz. Serious contraband, indeed. His master was not going to be pleased.
He knew what he was supposed to do should he find such a serious violation. Making sure of a clear line of sight to the top of the hill behind him, he waved his arm in a planned pattern. Some thirty or forty paces up there in the darkness, his master waited. At such a distance in the dark, there was no way Kero could see his master, but there remained no doubt his signal had been seen. Now, it was only a matter of time.
No matter how many occasions he witnessed the arrival of his master’s creations, they still gave him chills. From the hill and down the lane they came. Dark huge manlike things, half again as tall as a man, comprised of mud, sticks, and rocks. Golems—six in total.
They moved silently, occasionally leaving small parts of themselves in their wake—a twig here, a pebble there, a small clump of clay staining the cobblestones. During the day, whenever villagers found such tailings, much muttering amongst the people would occur for they knew his lord had once again been working his dark magic. By their reaction, the first to see the golems were the two guards. Rather than warn the others, they took off running in the opposite direction and dove into the bay, making a swim for the shore. There was little other choice. No other way from the docks existed than the road the golems walked.
The consecutive splashes were enough noise to make the smugglers and the ship captain look around. Like the two sentries, the four smugglers dropped their parcels and made for the end of the dock and the waters beyond. Kero didn’t know for sure, but a rumor existed the golems could not survive in water. More than likely, the men would rather chance drowning in the bay than being caught by his master’s minions.
As they ran, the ship captain held his ground and called for them to come back. When such a return became unlikely, he called up to his ship for his crew to come help load the containers. Men holding lamps crowded at the rail, but none ventured down the ramp.
The captain drew his sword and pointed it at the nearest four men. “Get down here and pick up these crates, or I’ll have you keelhauled on the way home.”
The four moved, albeit slowly. Kero glanced to his left and the passing golems then back at the sailors. They’d better hurry or they’re going to get caught.
He was right. The sailors had barely hoisted the cases when the first of the golems set upon them. The creatures carried no weapons but relied on their hands to do damage. In place of fingertips, they sported stones sharp enough to cut the flesh from any man. Despite the stabbing thrusts of the captain into the midst of the things, they lacerated one man badly while the others dropped everything and dashed back up the gangplank. The foolish captain was wasting his time. The creatures had no internal organs. His efforts were useless.
The fool was obviously determined not to go home empty-handed and dragged one of the crates toward the plank while trying to fend off the golems with his sword. When one of them managed to rake the captain’s face, he howled in pain and dropped his load to scramble up and join his shipmates.
The golems ascended the plank. The sailors tried in vain to dislodge the board, but the weight of the creatures must have been too much for them to move it. From the far side of the ship, Kero could hear splashes as the crew must be abandoning ship.
In a swirl of black cloak and robes, his master entered the dock area. In the language reserved for his creations, something filled with a lot of hisses and growls, he called out to the golems who stopped their climb and returned the way they’d come.
It took a while for the docks to be cleared of the creatures, but, eventually, only his master remained near the four discarded cases and the dropped oil lamp. Seizing the thing, he poured its contents over the four cases then touched the lit wick to them. Flames erupted, consuming the crates and what they contained. His master passed his hand over the blaze, and the intensity of the fire multiplied tenfold. In a matter of moments, everything was reduced to ash.
His master looked up toward the ship and the retreating gangplank. “Begone from this port before I decide to sink your vessel. I have no qualms of treating thieves like you without mercy.”
As if on cue, the boat, untied from the dock, drifted away. The captain, holding a cloth to his ravaged face, stood at the rail. “We’re going. Spare us your wrath.”
Only when the boat was beyond arrow shot did Kero venture forth and study his master. “You let them go.”
His master turned on a heel and walked away. “Politics. The merchant’s guild has asked for a measure of tranquility in the days to come. They have something big in the works. As much as I wanted to, the destruction of that ship would have soured their event considerably. I’ve been asked not to disrupt things. For this time, I relented.”
Before attempting to catch up, Kero glanced at the fallen man on the dock. Sprinting, he caught a handful of his master’s cloak and gave a gentle tug. “Master…the sailor.”
His liege stopped and looked back. “What of him?”
Moments like this always caused Kero some trepidation. Should he ask? What if it made his lord angry? It wouldn’t be the first time, and memory of the cuff he’d once received gave him pause. “Should you leave him to die?”
His lord sighed. “Do not test me, Kero. The man wrought his own demise. I have no pity for fools.”
He let go of the cloak, clasped his hands before him, and bowed his head in an attempt to look submissive. “Then…with your permission…may I try?”
“You are still young—barely fifteen. Your mana has yet to fully blossom. I do not believe you would be successful.”
He’d expected such a retort. Although his master had begun training him early when traditionally such schooling did not occur until after a youth reached sixteen, the age of ascension, he knew his skills were still limited as, like puberty, his mana growth was yet incomplete. “Perhaps, but it would be good practice. You can evaluate my progress.” It was his hope wording the request the way he did would grant him some leniency.
His master gripped his shoulders then, as he stood several hands taller than the average man, crouched to level the black eyes in his gray, rocky face with Kero’s own. “There is much you need to understand of the ways of men. Pity and mercy will lead only to trouble. Such is their darkness where they would abuse those things. Do not fall prey to their wiles. Leave him be.”
Mercy was not a quality his liege tolerated. His master straightened and continued his exodus from the area.
Kero turned once more to look back at the fallen man. Too dark to see much at that distance, he conjured a small ball of light and directed it to float over the wounded sailor. The unconscious man’s breath, visible in the cool night air, was shallow and short, with each perceptibly slower than the previous. It didn’t take much longer. The cessation of white mists from the sailor’s mouth informed Kero what he knew to be true. The man had died. I might have saved him.
From the direction of the top of the hill, his master’s voice carried to him. “Come Kero. We must dally here no longer. There is nothing left to be done. Do not try my patience.”
He released his hold on the light orb, and it winked out of existence. Turning, he hastened to catch up with his lord. He knew better than to anger the leader of the guild of assassins.