Today I am interviewing RJ Barker, author of the new fantasy novel, Age of Assassins, first book in the Wounded Kingdom series.
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DJ: Hey RJ! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
RJ Barker: Yes! Glad to. I live in Leeds, which is in Yorkshire in the UK. I’m married to Lindy and we have a little boy and a cat called Bertie. The little boy isn’t called Bertie. He’s called Rook. And we live in flat in a very old mansion that we fill with taxidermy and odd art. We surround ourselves with things that make us happy. I advise doing this wherever possible in life.
DJ: What is Age of Assassins about?
RJ: It’s a murder mystery, at its heart. And a story about the relationship between a boy, Girton Club-Foot (our hero and the book’s narrator) and Merela Karn, who has brought him up and trained him. They’re trapped in a castle and forced to find out who wants to murder the heir. It’s a pressure-cooker environment and it forces Girton into a position he’s very uncomfortable with, which makes him examine himself. And of course, as it’s a fantasy book there’s also magic and intrigue and swordfights. All the good stuff.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Age of Assassins and the series?
RJ: I’m a big lover of history and I’d been writing a short play about Margaret of Anjou, so that’s in there, and I’m a HUGE fan of the King Arthur myth as well. From the other side Agatha Christie is in there and there are definite influences from American crime writers like James Lee Burke and Robert Crais. And I’ve always been a bit of an outsider, too, so that feeds into the creation of Girton. He’s very much on the outside of a world looking in.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
RJ: I think something that works well in this book is you get the duality of people. Girton is an assassin and he’s VERY good at it. When he’s allowed to be that he’s cocky, confident and capable. But the book strips him of that and he has to cope with his peers, boys of his own age and that’s totally alien to him and he’s quite lost. Among adults, he knows what he is and how to work, but otherwise he’s not as sure. And we are all familiar with that. You might be really good at your job but if you’re suddenly thrown in at the deep end of something utterly different you become a different person while you try and find your feet. I really enjoyed putting Girton through that.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Wounded Kingdom series like?
RJ: The action takes place in Castle Maniyadoc, which is the centre of Maniyadoc and the Long Tides, a kingdom within the Tired Lands. I think the Tired Lands says it all really. This is a worn-out place, there’s not enough of anything and the way magic works in the book affects the landscape. Magic takes power from the land but the effects are devastating. Places where large magics have been performed are dead, nothing will grow there and they scar the land. It’s a very striated and class-based society, people believe the gods are dead and they cannot change what they are until their gods return. It’s not a happy place. But Girton exists outside of it in many ways so he’s our way in.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Age of Assassins?
RJ: Just writing. I like to write. There’s something hugely satisfying about sitting down and creating something from nothing. You start with a blank page and you end up with people and stories and worlds. It’s magical really, we’re very blasé about what astounding creatures we are. Everyone has this ability to imagine things, we all have a personal narrative going on in our heads and that’s amazing. We’re creating our own story all the time. All we do as authors is refine that skill; we push our narrative into other people and twist it into other forms.
Erm, so yeah, I like to write.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
RJ: I hope Girton, his master and their relationship. You see the entire book from Girton’s point of view and he’s a bit idiosyncratic, his internal monologue won’t be yours so there’ll, hopefully, be a bit of dislocation until you settle. And then you like him, and you experience this bond he has with his master. I hope when you finish it you will feel like you’ve met people you like, that you’d hang around with.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began The Wounded Kingdom series? Age of Assassins is only the first book, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
RJ: Do the right thing. I know the world seems very dark sometimes but the vast majority of people are good. When I read a book I’m not looking for something that’s going to drag me down, I want something that’ll give me hope. Age of Assassins isn’t all sweetness and light, the world is quite grim and sad, but Girton is a hopeful character, he wants to do right and he is very loyal to those he likes.
If he doesn’t like you he’s a bit more stabby.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Age of Assassins that you can share with us?
RJ: I’ve been asked this a few times and I’ve always demurred as Age of Assassins is kind of like a rolling rock, it gathers to itself as you read so something that might seem cool in the book just seems very random out of it. BUT, here is a little bit I think works, though it still needs the scene set. It’s a memory of Girton’s; he’s being taken to the slave market when he is very young and they’ve all been given old sacks to wear.
“They are not mean, the men. They are not deliberately cruel. They do not want to hurt them but they do not want to not hurt them either. They treat the boys as if they are nothing more than sacks of grain, rather than sacks of boy.”
I like the last clause, it has a nice turn. Though the majority of the book is first person so this may be a bit misleading.
DJ: Now that Age of Assassins is released, what is next for you?
RJ: Well, Blood of Assassins is finished and King of Assassins is with my editor. I have a vague idea about ships and maybe pushing myself a bit harder and seeing where it leads. Building a world from the ground up rather than using one that’s built around versions of our own history. Although, knowing me, it could be something totally different
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Age of Assassins and The Wounded Kingdom series that we haven’t talked about yet?
RJ: I think it’s worth saying that although it is part of a trilogy it’s also a standalone book. It tells a story and wraps it up in the novel so you’re not left hanging.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add? (Or add your own question).
RJ: No. You have been very thorough and I have also been staying up FAR TOO LATE and am a bit bleary eyed and tired and likely to ramble off into nonsense.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
RJ: It has been a pleasure, DJ.
1 Although obviously, no such thing as pressure cooker in that world Maybe it should be a ‘huge cauldron environment’. But it’s not as snappy.
2 The lone wolf, the shadow at the edge of your vision, the darkness at the edge of etc…
3 Not sure Girton did. Sorry Girton. And I’ve read the next book, sorry for that too.
4 If you pop over to my blog there’s a detail from a painting called ‘Approaching Maniyadoc’ by Tom Parker, across the top and I think he’s captured the place quite nicely.
5 I find this with a lot of the first person writing I really love. That I have to get used to the feel of this new voice in my head, this voice that definitely isn’t me. And in first person I always think ‘it took a while to click’ is quite a compliment. You’re forcing the reader into a different space.
6 Although, would you know?
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*** Age of Assassins is published by Orbit and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
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IT’S A GAME OF ASSASSIN VERSUS ASSASSIN
Girton Club-foot has no family, a crippled leg, and is apprenticed to the best assassin in the land.
He’s learning the art of taking lives, but his latest mission tasks him with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.
Age of Assassins is the first in an epic new trilogy set in a world ravaged by magic, featuring a cast of assassins, knights, ambitious noblemen, and fools.
Probably more ridiculous than you already believe.