The verdict: 6 of 5 Stars
The King’s Assassin is book 7 of The Outlaw Chronicles
AD1215. England is being bled dry, lead to rack and ruin and to the edge of full-scale civil war – by its King. Following the death of his older brother, King Richard (he of the Lion Heart), John has had a free hand to do pretty much as he pleases. Finances permitting. And when his finances don’t permit? He sends his men to take yours. As Robin and especially Alan, find out. They also find out that, despite fighting in the name of their King in countless battles on foreign soil, their King doesn’t give a hoot, it’s all about the money. And about the re-claiming of his French territories. Which, if you’re with us from the previous book, were lost due to the King’s dithering and downright treachery. So, Robin and Alan are forced to take part in another foreign campaign, hoping to restore both the Kings French possessions and their finances. When this doesn’t quite come off, they begin to look inwards, at England. They subsequently find they’re not the only ones who have had enough of their King’s profligacy with money and other people’s lives. They find themselves caught up in a plot not only to curb the King’s powers – tricky, as these are God-given – but also his life. One of those will happen.
(With all the behind the scenes work Angus has him do here, not to mention the land he owns and the troops he uses to speed the path to Runnymead, we’re all gonna have to take another look at the Magna Carta, see if historians haven missed Robin Hood’s name on there all these years).
The presentation of the story is as it has been since the first book. However, this time, as the Alan doing the remembering, is getting on a bit, the opening, ending and mid-story ‘present-day’ sections are now narrated by a monk at the monastery where old Alan lives. He’s been there some years, it seems – he is now 70, his eyesight is failing and his hands are unable to grip the writing instruments. Luckily for us and Angus, it seems his memory is not suffering too much, so he is able to dictate his memories to this young monk. How he gets to be in the monastery, isn’t clear, though the ending does hint at something. Something I would really, really – and have said so before – like to see developed. I’d like to see books about ‘Old Alan’, post-Robin Alan, as I’ve been consistently awed by the poignancy of Angus’ writing in these sections.
As for ‘Young Alan,’ he’s still an irritating, self-righteous, holier than thou, little shit. Only rescued by his ability to let his sword do the thinking and generally going against the majority of the 10 Commandments, handed down personally by the God he reveres so much. Even Robin’s legendary – in this series anyway – patience, must be sorely tested and it is, by Alan’s foolhardy, short-sighted, impatience. No sooner done, than said. No sooner said, than done. Robin doesn’t always manage to keep a lid on his irritation at pulling Alan’s arse out the fire he himself has started. Actually, it is appropriate – given the series’ premise – that it is Robin’s character has undergone perhaps the most notable change through the books so far. From a mythical-type figure in Outlaw – to national – sometimes international – statesman, state maker and now, King-saver. He’s come in from the forest, in to the palaces.
And here’s where I’ve long thought that if there were a problem with the books, it was that Robin, and the stories, spent so much – too much – time out of Sherwood, our of England and in France. The series might have been touted as a re-imagining of the Robin Hood legend, but I’ll put money on most people imagining, it would re-imagine the legend in England, in Sherwood, in particular. The first book fit the brief, to a T. The second, was set away on the Crusades – as most people have seen the Kevin Costner version, I’d think most went along with that. But when the third and fourth and so on came and went without a hint of Sherwood, Robin a nobleman and living in Yorkshire, for goodness’ sake and nary a sign of the Sheriff of Nottingham – well, even I started to get a bit restless. I had some initial reservations here too, primarily when I read “…Robin Hood and his men are dragged into the war against the French in Flanders” on the inner cover blurb, and I will admit to first thinking ‘O no, here we go again…’ However, I will also admit to being thus totally unprepared for how comprehensively blown away I would be by such a well-plotted, paced and written book. On reflection, apart from all that, I don’t think there’s any surprise in that my enjoyment of this is in direct relation to the amount of time the story spends in England – Nottingham even!
Having read The Iron Castle and a couple of the previous ones, will help you here as well, as characters and themes pop up to add extra spice. This too, was one of the things I enjoyed about the book, the complexity and ambition of the plot seemed to be a level above. In fact, The King’s Assassin might just be the best of the series so far. Full of vivid descriptions, some poignant commentary on the state of England at the time and, of course, Angus’ trademark set piece battle action – you are there. The words come to life, looking at the pages is like watching a film. Better than a film. You are there. You are there. Watching them, feeling their tension, tasting their food, smelling the smells…at Robin’s – and especially Alan’s – side, parrying the sword thrusts, stopping arrows with your shield and staggering away from the bloody battlefield, wondering how you survived. Exciting, tense, gripping and fun, an absolute pleasure to read and muse upon. A wonderful book, really, really wonderful. Can’t say fairer than that.
*You thought I was gonna put their, there, eh?
Buy The King’s Assassin at The Book Depository