Monday, May 1, 2017

Tough Travelling - Beginnings

Welcome back to Tough Travels! On the first day of every month, Fantasy-Faction leads us on a tour of the fantasy genre. From high to low, from classics to new releases, from epic to urban; each month, with the assistance of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, they guide us in search of a different trope, theme or cliché.

Last month, we looked at BEGINNINGS. This month, it’s ASSASSINS.
Assassins are ubiquitous throughout fantasyland. Sharp-eyed readers (or even dull-eyed ones) will notice that their hooded forms often adorn book covers, and that they frequently appear – rather improbably – not to mind being the sole focus of our attention. Whether they’re spotlight hogs or camera-shy and brooding, most assassins will have trained for years and are very, VERY good at their job (i.e. killing people for money).

If we're going to talk assassins, then we have to begin with Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen and Cotillion (The Rope), companion of Shadowthrone and the Patron God of Assassins. Hooded and dressed in black, his weapons of choice include the rope (naturally) and a dagger. The series abounds with assassins, including the crossbow-wielding Rallick Nom, former Claw member Kalam Mekhar, and the young fishergirl possessed by Cotillion at the start of the saga, Sorry/Apsalar.

Next, drawing upon recent reading experiences, we have to talk Skullsworn by Brian Staveley and those assassins who kill in service to the God of Death. Ostensibly the story of Pyrre, who we met previously in Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, it is also the story of Kossal and Ela, priest and priestess of Ananshael, who serve as witnesses to Pyrre's final trial. Forget what you think you know about assassins, because three more different killers you will never find.

Digging deep into the stacks, one of the first assassins to make an impression on me was Artemis Entreri, who first appeared in The Icewind Dale Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore, and later went on to take the spotlight in The Sellswords. A cold, cunning killer, he lives a life devoid of all comforts and pleasures, is armed with a jeweled dagger that drains the life of his victims, and later weilds Charon's Claw, a sentient sword as evil as he is. 

Another favorite assassin of mine, this time on the more heroic side, is Achmed the Snake, companion to Rhapsody in The Symphony of Ages by Elizabeth Haydon. Sarcastic and cynical, he is very much an anti-hero, one who deliberately provokes those around him, but whose loyalty is unquestioned. Due to his magical sensitivities, he dresses entirely in black, with a hood over his head, and wrappings covering his face. His weapon of choice is the cwellan, a crossbow-like weapon he created.

Finally, no list of assassins would be complete without the works of Robin HobbThe Farseer Trilogy, The Tawny Man Trilogy, and The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy. The books center around FitzChivalry Farseer, a royal bastard of Buckkeep Castle, who trains under the Royal Assassin, Chade Fallstar. Both men are what you'd call classic assassins, men of poison and daggers, secret killers striking from the shadows. Not surprisingly for one of the deepest, more morally complex sagas in epic fantasy, these are stories that examine the moral and political implications of assassination.

Got a favorite line of your own? Share it below.


  1. I did love Skullsworn - the characters and the setting were so good, I could barely put it down.
    I still haven't read the Erikson books - I did buy the first one but I think I'm a bit daunted by the number of books in the series - there are so many.
    Lynn :D

    1. It is a big series of big books, no question. I tried tackling Gardens 3 or 4 times before it finally clicked, but it was worth it.

    2. Same here! I got 200 pages in before going right back to the start. Never looked back since. ^_^

  2. I have only read Garden of the Moon. Was The Rope in that one? If not I must have missed him while figuring out where the murderous puppet was going.

    1. Oh yeah, he's in it all the way - it's in Gardens that he possesses Sorry/Apsalar.

  3. I love how neither of us was content with 'just' mentioning Cotillion. ;)

    Artemis Entreri! I'm a bit of a heathen in that I only know him through the Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance games they made for PS2 back in the day . . . but he was awesome.

    1. Salvatore created some really memorable characters. I just picked up The Sellswords trilogy in paperback, so I'm looking forward to some villainous adventures with Artemis and Jarlaxle.

    2. I haven't read much fantasy since authors like David Eddings, Raymond Feist, Jack Chalker and the like. And of course Steven Brust. Vlad is probably my favorite assassin :)

      Today's fantasy is all angsty YA and Urban. Witches that suffer debilitating pain if they use their powers, Vampires and Werewolves ashamed of their nature, Demons and Angels that just want to fall in love and be mortal. Or its all sex or romance and almost no story plot.

      But a couple of these look interesting. I may give them a try. Assassins and thieves are my favorite characters :)

  4. We have Fitz and Pyrre in common this week. Skullsworn was so fresh on my mind too!

    ~Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum