ALLIES AND ASSASSINS BY JUSTIN SOMPER
Prince Anders, the ruler of Archenfield, has been murdered, leaving his younger brother, Jared, to ascend the throne. Sixteen-year-old Jared feels unprepared to rule the kingdom and its powerful and dangerous court, yet he knows he can rely on the twelve officers of the court to advise him. He also knows he can just as easily be at their mercy-especially when it appears that one of them may be responsible for his brother’s death. Unable to trust anyone, Jared takes it upon himself to hunt down his brother’s killer-but the killer may be hunting him, as well. Murder, betrayal, and intrigue abound in Justin Somper’s thrilling YA series debut. Exploring the political machinations of the medieval court and the lives that hang in the balance, Allies & Assassins is a gripping tale of a teen torn between duty and revenge.
Allies and Assassins by Justin Somper
I received a copy of this book through a Library Thing giveaway. All opinions are my own. Thank you to Hachette Book Group.
This is a difficult review for me due to my conflicting feelings regarding this book as a whole. I think, for sake of my sanity, that I will split it into two parts, starting with my comments on the story.
Allies and Assassins is carefully plotted. The characters, though many, each have a specific duty to the kingdom as well as the storyline. Let’s start with the prince and the twelve, who serve at advisors to the prince, and correlate to the bell tolls in Archenfield. I’m not going to comment on all of them because that’s too much, but a few were memorable characters.
The Prince: Jared
Prince Jared becomes Prince of All Archenfield after his older brother, Prince Anders, is murdered. At sixteen, Jared knows that he is young and far too inexperienced to fill his late brother’s shoes. I think out of everyone, Jared is my favorite character. I found his struggles relatable and realistic. He’s a teenage boy thrown into a situation he doesn’t fully comprehend, who often makes adult decisions and has childish reactions. I empathized with him as he struggled to become a leader over the twelve, who seem to run the kingdom without much input (or interest) from the prince. As the story unfolded, Jared grew into a prince, learning how to be authoritative when the situation warranted, though he never lost his open-mindedness. Politically, he always had someone whispering in his ear. While I found some of his decisions frustrating, I understood the internal battle to make the right choices while giving the impression that he knew what he was doing.
The Beekeeper: Emelie
Emelie is a bit of an enigma to me. She has a scathing attitude though I don’t fully understand why. I’m hoping that, as the story was left open-ended, we will learn more of her story in upcoming novels.
The Bodyguard: Hal
The story sets the reader up to distrust Hal, who serves as bodyguard of the prince. In the opening scenes, we see Hal conspiring with Axel to murder the princes. I get the impression that Hal is a bit simple-minded, a “do what you’re told” kind of man. Though I knew I should distrust him, by the end of the story, I found myself warring between liking and disliking him as a character. He is very obedient to Jared and we never see him conspire with Axel again.
The Captain of the Guard: Axel
Axel is a well thought out character. As captain, Axel has access to the inner workings of the kingdom. He conducts all the investigations into the murders, and as I stated with Hal, we see him plotting early on to kill Jared. No matter what happened, I distrusted Axel, even when he had his redeeming moments. We know all along that he wants to be prince and is power hungry, no matter the consequences. I kept expecting him to make his move.
The Cook: Vera
Vera was not an exceptionally important character to the story. I didn’t get a good feeling for her guilt/innocence as it relates to twelve. She could go either way, I think.
The Executioner: Morgan
Morgan is an interesting character. As executioner, he’s a bit macabre. However, he has a close relationship with Jared’s mother, the queen. I get the impression that he is an honorable man, however his relationship with Elin (the queen) makes me question his loyalties.
The Falconer: Nova
The story starts with Nova. I found her mysterious and suspicious. She has strong opinions and for a while, I didn’t understand why. I enjoyed the imagery of her in the mews with her falcons. I hope to see more of her in future novels. There is one point I didn’t like regarding Nova, and that was her fast recovery. It felt too convenient.
The Groom: Lucas
The Huntsman: Kai
The Physician: Elias
The Priest: Father Simeon
The Poet: Logan
Early on, I found Logan untrustworthy. He seemed too smooth, too calculating, and he knew far too much. He had his hands in everyone’s business and constantly “advised” Jared as to what decisions to make. It frustrated me that he was a know it all, even when he seemed informed and conscientious.
The Woodsman: Jonas
I don’t remember Jonas. Not even a little.
The last character I want to talk about is Asta, who is the physician’s apprentice. She’s a fiery girl from the country who doesn’t know how to act appropriate at court. I found her endearing and feisty. Whenever there was a disaster (or a murder) Asta was all about it. She seemed to be a catalyst for a lot of the murders, even if she wasn’t directly involved. She left a trail of unintentional destruction with her inquiries into everyone’s lives.
I particularly enjoyed Asta’s relationship with Jared, as they were on the same level emotionally, even though their statuses are markedly different. They worked well as a team, and I think Asta kept Jared on the level when the princedom threatened to ruin his unjaded personality.
The storytelling was intricate and detailed, woven together in ways I didn’t always expect. With so many characters that were fairly easy to keep straight, I think Somper did an excellent job of making everyone memorable with some degree of importance to the plot. Obviously, not all of the twelve were fully developed, and I hope there will be a sequel.
The mystery of who killed Prince Anders kept the story moving along. There wasn’t much fluff or detours from important information. There’s enough room to suspect everyone as guilty, and still enough of an open ending for me to STILL suspect some of the characters, despite the Clue-like ending. (It’s Miss Scarlet in the conservatory with the candlestick!) The ending was satisfying without being obvious, even if the execution was a bit forced.
I liked the shifting points of view, but at times felt there were too many and the story should’ve only been told from Jared and Asta’s points of view.
I’m left curious about Jared’s mother, the queen. She seems a bit shady, especially where Axel, Morgan, Silva, and Jared’s family history are involved. I want to know more about Morgan, Kai, Koel (cool name, by the way!), and the Priest. Also, we never find out HOW the murderer actually gets the poison to kill the prince.
The story is what’s getting this book 3.5 stars. It could’ve been 4 or even 4.5 if not for what’s below.
I almost quit reading Allies and Assassins within the first ten pages. I am by no means and expert, but I think the editor might’ve let down the author on several points. The first 50 or so pages contain so much passive voice that I spent most of my time editing them as I read. There were enough “could feel” “could see” and “could hears” to fill an entire notebook. Far too much telling and not enough showing. The extra words were annoying to get through, especially when clear, concise writing is so lauded these days. The passive voice made Jared seem disconnected from his body and distracted me. The story, at the beginning, wasn’t strong enough for me to overlook the writing, and had I not agreed to review this book, I would’ve put it down and never picked it back up. Had I done that, I would’ve missed out on Somper’s enjoyable storytelling.
In addition to the distracting passive voice, Somper used several “cliché” and modern phrases that didn’t fit his time period. “Plan A” “Precious cargo” “Automaton” “Brain cells” “Running on empty” “Jury’s out on that” just to name a few. These pulled me right out of the story and should’ve been flagged by an editor.
So really, I’m of two minds with Allies and Assassins. After the story caught my interest, it became easier for me to ignore the passive voice, and I think it tapered off farther into the story. However, it’s hard for me to recommend something, even when the storytelling is great, when the writing (mostly the editing) was subpar.
Bottom line? I will read the sequel if there is one, but I hope more care is taken to give Somper’s story the editing it deserves.