Book Reviews: ‘Allies & Assassins’ by Justin Somper
Allies & Assassins
by Justin Somper Series: Allies & Assassins #1 Published by Atom
on 19 September 2013 Format:
They killed his brother. Now they're coming for him. . .
As the second prince of Archenfield, Jared never asked to be more than the spare. But behind the walls of the castle is a dark and dangerous court where murder and intrigue are never far below the surface. Now his older brother is dead. The kingdom is his. And the target is on his back.
Can he find the assassin before the assassin finds him?
Star rating: * * * * * 5 out of 5
My first encounter with Justin Somper’s Allies & Assassins was the publisher’s blurb, telling me to ‘think Game of Thrones for teens’.
I understand this positioning, because Allies & Assassins has the fantasy epic feel, the political machinations and the morally ambiguous characters of George R R Martin’s series. But this kind of piggyback publicity implies Allies & Assassins is in some way derivative. Which it absolutely is not. This is a fantastically original tale of secrets, betrayal and murders in a royal court.
Somper establishes the tone immediately. The first chapters reveal Prince Anders, ruler of Archenfield, has been murdered, leaving his sixteen-year-old brother, Jared, to reluctantly take the crown and preside over the Twelve Officers of the Court – one of whom is responsible for his brother’s murder.
First impressions count, and Somper skillfully sets up Prince Jared’s personality in his first scene when the young prince finds himself under pressure to kill a ‘fine and noble’ stag. We see Jared’s sensitivity and open-mindedness when he encounters his father’s ghost, and we appreciate his inability to harm an innocent creature when his arrow hits the tree instead.
Ominously, those surrounding Prince Jared don’t share his scruples and the Chief Huntsman’s arrow immediately plunges into the stag’s neck.
Allies & Assassins contains a complex web of characters, each with their own hidden motivations – some of which push the book above our 9–12 (Middle Grade) audience, into YA territory. Having said that, Somper’s style is clear and compelling and his subject matter is presented with subtlety. As a result, younger readers, like Dylan, can get a huge amount from the book, albeit (Dylan’s new favourite word) by skimming the adult themes of jealousy and adultery, and focusing on Prince Jared’s adventures and the ‘whodunit?’ plot – which is outlined cleverly and allows you to ‘solve’ the mystery along with Prince Jared and his feisty female companion (this is YA after all) - physician’s niece, Asta Peck.
All in all, this is an exciting and enjoyable read, which I can’t recommend highly enough for a teenage audience. I’ll be following the series and I’m intrigued to discover which members of this impressive cast of characters will play a part in the climax.
DYLAN, AGE 9, REVIEWS…
Star rating: * * * * 4 out of 5
Here are 9 things I want to say about Allies and Assassins:
1) It has a cool cover. That makes it look like an exciting book and makes you look like an exciting person for reading it. Sort of.
2) My age, 9, might be too young for this book because I had to ask my mum to explain some things, like why the Prince had a wife AND a girlfriend at the same time.
3) BUT I liked the book a lot. It had hunting and mysteries and investigations and *ahem* FALCONS. I particularly like falcons because I held one once and my sister was too scared to hold it!
4) The book has some hard words I had to look up (such as ‘albeit’). But I don’t mind because I like learning new words. A good phrase in the book is ‘run amok’. I will be doing more of that!
5) I liked Prince Jared from the start because he says ‘he hadn’t wanted to be dragged out of bed’ to go outside and kill animals. I often don’t want to do things so I know how he feels. And people should STOP KILLING ANIMALS.
6) I think the girls in this book are smarter than the boys in this book. My mum says this is a sign of an excellent book. That’s because my mum is a girl.
7) Prince Jared showed that a sixteen-year old can be a very good leader. Although I’m not sure all kids would be good leaders. For example, I don’t think much would get done in a country if I was in charge.
8) One thing I’d like to say to Mr. Somper – if you include super-helpful diagrams (like the names and titles of the 12 Officers of the Court) in your book, it is good to put them at the BEGINNING so I know they’re there, instead of at the end when they are not helpful any more.
9) I like books about kingdoms and I want to read some more.