This is a review of “Master Assassins” by Robert V. S. Redick, the first book of the Fire Sacraments.
Kandri and Mektu are the closest of brothers. Village boys drafted into the army of a madwoman-Prophet, facing war and death, they struggle to hide their crumbling faith. Mektu is at the breaking point, convinced that a murderous spirit is stalking the camp, and that he may be its next target. But a night of violence leaves the brothers with holy blood on their hands. Mistaken for professional killers, they have just one path of escape: into a sprawling desert where the landscape is as deadly as the men and monsters it contains. On their heads is an irresistible bounty. Hot on their heels are the Prophet’s death squads, and a terrible servant in the form of a demonic child. And ahead lies a reckoning with their own family’s darkest secret – a secret that tears their world apart.
The world of this book is fascinating, deep and well-built. It is especially interesting since it has a very Middle-Eastern feel when it comes to culture and traditions, with a hint of Indian thrown in for flavour. With war and magic, betrayal and desert thieves it is an incredible place to read about. And the characters that inhabit this world are varied.
Kandri is the main character of them all, and it is his point of view we follow. His struggle with losing his faith and trying to keep his brother from saying something that will get them both killed, is well described. Mektu – said crazy brother – is fascinating to read about since it is unclear exactly what is wrong with him, and Uncle Chindilan is a loving, protective man. Eschett and Talupéké are incredibly strong women who whip them all along when needed.
The Prophet is, perhaps, the most fascinating of them all. She is a strong, terrifying woman. As a character she is very well-developed. It is clear that she fought her way to the top in a world where women are supposed to be submissive, and she is delightfully mad and crazy. It makes her stand out, makes her fascinating. Her special guard force ride enormous sabre-toothed cats and wield magical gloves, and her White Child is a horror all on its own.
The most incredible part of the story was the flight across the Stolen Sea. The description of the salt-encrusted landscape was fascinating. The same with the giant vultures, and they were cleverly used in the plot. The thieves and nomads making the Stolen Sea their home were also very well imagined and adapted to their surroundings.
Unfortunately the good stuff is overwhelmed by the bad.
Kandri and Mektu aren’t very likeable as characters. Kandri especially is far too wishy-washy, going back and forth about a various amount of things. It could be because he is struggling with his changing world view, but it was far too much and boggled the story down. The first 150 pages or so were full of this, and that nearly made me stop reading. And Mektu himself is just annoying and sometimes impossible to understand. Even if one accepts the fact that he might be possessed by a demon or just struggling with a mental disability of some sort, the rest of the writing doesn’t support it so he ends up being kind of just annoying.
There are constant flashbacks to help understand the choices of the various characters, how things evolved into what they are, but it just drags the story on. Some of the flashbacks don’t seem to be important to the tale at all, and could have been omitted or just summarised into a single paragraph.
Kandri’s constant moaning and mooning over Ariqina just made her seem annoying, because he was so annoying about it. And the mystery surrounding the brother’s father wasn’t enough to keep the interest up. Especially since the mystery was waylaid by everything else, and when some revelations came along, it was far too late to salvage it all. I simply didn’t care about it.
The biggest problem is that when the story reaches a moment where things happen rapidly – for example a battle – the writing becomes choppy and the sentences short. It is probably to show the speed and the confusion of battle, but it simply ends up being too much and makes the story itself confusing.
Overall the book isn’t outright bad, but I will not be continuing with the second one.
I don’t really recommend this book.