The world of this story is unique. Everyone born there has an affinity for an animal that they bond with for life—the animal’s life is bound up with theirs, so shorter-lived animals enjoy an extended lifespan. People’s natures are expressed by the animals they bond with and attributes they share with their bond animal are accentuated. There are cat-kin, bird-kin, snake-kin, even insect-kin. These bonded pairs communicate together and are so close that nothing is more traumatic than to survive the loss of one’s bond-animal.
The story is about an assassin who has no bond-animal. His horrific past has led him to claim that he doesn’t care about anything, least of all whether he lives or dies, which has made his reputation as an assassin because he takes on risky jobs. The law in this land is that the crime of the assassination is against the client who hires the assassin rather than the assassin himself, but that doesn’t make assassins respectable, though they have a guild and some rather rigid ethical restrictions to distinguish them from common murderers. Because assassins are forbidden to kill each other, they obtain status within their guild not by body counts, but by displaying their deadly skills in a “dance of death” that is judged on artistic merit by acclaim of the other assassins. The finest assassin in a city is called the Master of the Dance.
Blade is the Master of the Dance in Jashimara’s capital city. His country has been involved in the Endless War with the Cotti, fierce desert warriors, and the new queen is determined to bring it to an end and has consulted an oracle on how to stop the war. The answer she obtained will demand all her courage to see it through—and she needs someone to carry out the first step—infiltrating the Cotti lands and the Cotti army to kill the Cotti king and kidnap the king’s grown heir, and bring the prince back to her. There is no shortage of gallant and accomplished warriors who volunteer, but don’t return, with or without the prince.
Blade is twenty-eight, the age when most assassins are either dead or ready to retire because their skills are starting to slip, and the queen has offered the tantalizing reward of nobility and a rich estate. Blade persuades the queen to let him try to accomplish the mission, and in doing so, becomes entangled in the political intrigues of both countries—neither of whose political elite are the least bit interested in an unprofitable peace.
I enjoyed the plot, but the thing that made this book—and the series—hard to put down was the character development of Blade as he reclaims his humanity, and despite his claims to the contrary, becomes a true hero.
The series runs for six books, plus two prequels that do not need to be read first. I bought all of them. T. C. Southwell has several other series available, and all the first books are free. I bought two other series, The Demon Lord series and The Cyber Chronicles. I’ve reread all of them, but the Queen’s Blade series is one of the best I’ve read—and re-read—in recent memory.
(review of free book)