REVIEW: Master Assassins by Robert V.S. Redick

Master Assassins by Robert V.S. Redick is desert fantasy par excellence, a grimdark tale of two half-brothers, Kandri and Mektu Hinjuman, on the run after they are implicated in an accidental death. Kandri and Mektu love each other as brothers but are often bitter rivals consumed by jealousy.

Master AssassinsAlthough the novel focuses closely on Kandri and Mektu, the worldbuilding in Master Assassins steals the show. Master Assassins takes place in the vast desert world of Urrath, which is battling against a horrifying pandemic. Kandri and Mektu are soldiers in service of the Prophet, a madwoman who incites religious zealotry and warmongering among her quarantined people. However, Kandri and Mektu have doubts about the Prophet’s divinity, and an unintentional killing sends them fleeing into the vast desert known as The Land That Eats Men, pursued by a band of elite hunters (and worse).

Kandri and Mektu have polar opposite personalities. Kandri is rational in thought and intentional in action. But with his paranoia and possible insanity, Mektu could have easily sprung out of a Fyodor Dostoevsky novel. The interplay between the two brothers is another highlight of the novel, always keeping the reader guessing about what will happen next.

The title and cover art of the book are a bit misleading, in my view. The casual book shopper could easily mistake this as a young adult novel. However, Master Assassins is grimdark to the core, featuring a very dark world riddled with violence, disease, drugs, and prostitution. But what makes Master Assassins most appealing for grimdark fans is Redick’s masterful characterization, featuring plenty of complex gray morality.

Robert V.S. Redick’s prose is literary without losing its accessibility. With its grimdark desert setting, nuanced characterization, and literary style, Master Assassins recalls Anna Smith Spark’s The Court of Broken Knives. The plague aspect of the book and the Middle Eastern-inspired worldbuilding also remind me of the Tower and Knife trilogy by Mazarkis Williams, although Master Assassins is decidedly darker in tone.

Master Assassins is grimdark fantasy of the highest caliber. Readers of Anna Smith Spark and Mazarkis Williams will find much to love in this novel, as will the growing legion of Dune fans. Robert V.S. Redick’s Fire Sacraments trilogy continues with Sidewinders, the second book of the series.

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John Mauro

John Mauro

John Mauro lives in a world of glass amongst the hills of central Pennsylvania. When not indulging in his passion for literature or enjoying time with family, John is training the next generation of materials scientists at Penn State University, where he teaches glass science and materials kinetics. John also loves cooking international cuisine and kayaking the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.

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