Imperial Assassin is the sequel to the bestseller Imperial Spy, and due for release in November 2006.
Longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2008.
Declared outlaws by the Emperor, the Guild of Assassins strikes back hard. The Emperor must act fast. He needs someone to infiltrate the Guild. All attempts to locate the assassins’ headquarters have failed and Femke is already known to the assassins. So Reynik, the young legionnaire, must penetrate their inner circle to discover the Guild’s secrets. But secrets kept hidden for over five centuries command a high price. Is Reynik ready to risk his life for the mission?
Imperial Assassin: Excerpt
Those members of the Legion participating in today’s exercise marched out in ten groups of sixty to the huge training grounds at the edge of the tented area. The rest of the men were all on duty around the city. A File Leader led each group of sixty, and there was a drummer at the front of every second group beating out the cadence of the marching pace.
It felt strange for Reynik to be marching to the training grounds again. After the extended period away from the Legion it felt good to be back. When they reached the training grounds, the File Leaders each briefed their group on the schedule of training for the morning. Reynik’s group was ordered to start with individual weapons practice, then move to the drill area for manoeuvre training.
Reynik gritted his teeth when he was paired with Nelek. The veteran was an excellent swordsman, but he had never been friendly towards Reynik. The man appeared to enjoy inflicting pain on the younger members of the Legion.
Reynik knew the next half hour would be hard work. He was under no illusions as to who was the superior swordsman. Nelek moved with incredible speed and grace. He also had the instincts of a killer. The veteran had survived several battles during his career, despite having been in the thick of the fighting for hours. When Reynik had first joined the Legion, one of the more friendly veterans had recounted a tale of Nelek in the grip of battle fury. The man had claimed to have witnessed Nelek carve his way through a mass of fighters as if they were so many dead trees to be chopped down. Whether the story was true, or exaggerated, made little difference. The fact remained that he was a truly talented fighter. What Reynik needed to know right now was his weaknesses, not his strengths.
‘You and me then, Nelek,’ Reynik said brightly, hoping to spark some sort of response.
Nelek grunted, grabbing two training swords from the pile and tossing one to Reynik. They moved into a suitable space and faced one another.
‘How would you like to warm up?’ Reynik asked, rolling his shoulders to limber them in preparation for the punishment he anticipated ahead.
Nelek gave no answer. Instead he attacked. He gave no warning. He just launched straight into a barrage of hard, fast strikes with his wooden blade. Instinct and lightning fast reactions were all that saved Reynik from a mass of bruises in the first few seconds. The veteran was hitting with full force.
Leaping away from Nelek in an effort to regain some poise and balance, Reynik found he was instantly pursued. Nelek was not giving him space to think. The barrage of strokes continued and started to get past Reynik’s guard. He took a sharp rap to the ribs and a second on the arm, but there was no let up. Nelek showed no external signs of spite or anger. If he had, then Reynik would have yelled the yield call that would have forced the man to stop his attack. But Reynik was not ready to yield.
It occurred to Reynik that Nelek was trying to prove something. But what? It did not matter. If this had been a real fight with proper blades, Reynik would already have been severely wounded, perhaps mortally. But it was a training bout. There were rules. Nelek had already broken one by neglecting to salute. Would he break more? Reynik decided to find out.
Leaping backwards again in apparent retreat, Reynik anticipated that Nelek would continue his relentless pursuit. This time, though, rather than looking for breathing space, Reynik used the momentary disengagement to change his stance and deliberately leave his head vulnerable to attack. Nelek took the bait and swung at the side of Reynik’s head. Reynik blocked the stroke and then executed his premeditated plan. He had deliberately landed such that his weight was forward. As the wooden swords met, he spun under and inside Nelek’s guard to drive the elbow of his left arm up into the man’s solar plexus.
It was a trick that one of the Thrandorian Guards had played on him during a practice bout at the Royal Palace in Mantor. It proved as successful for Reynik as it had for the Thrandorian. Nelek doubled over, only to have his face meet the back of Reynik’s fist, which rapped the bridge of his nose firmly enough to bring more pain. Nelek staggered back. Before he had a chance to recover, Reynik had disarmed him and placed his practice blade against the veteran’s throat.
‘That’s quite enough of that,’ a stern voice interjected.
Reynik backed away from Nelek and saluted before turning to face the File Leader. Sidis was looking on with a face like thunder. ‘Nothing new there,’ Reynik thought grimly.
‘What exactly do you think you’re playing at, Reynik?’ Sidis asked, his voice filled with outrage and fury. ‘This is a training ground. We do not deliberately attempt to inflict injuries on our training partners here. You are a Legionnaire, not a back street brawler. You deliberately struck Nelek in the face. Blows to the head are strictly forbidden for good reason, Reynik. If you think you are above the rules because of your recent mission, then think again. You are hereby placed on restrictions for seven days. Additionally, you are designated to jacks duty for the same period. Maybe a week of digging toilet trenches will grind some sense of reality into you. If I see you do anything like that again, I’ll not hesitate to have you transferred out of the Legion. We harbour no snakes here.’
Reynik said nothing. He looked the File Leader in the eye and saluted him, but he did so in the most perfunctory manner. Sidis turned and stalked off.
Inside, Reynik was seething, but there was nothing he could do. He knew Sidis well enough to know that the man already disliked him. Protesting would only make matters worse. The fact that Nelek had struck at his head with a training sword mere seconds before was irrelevant. All he could do was to accept the punishment and try to avoid further altercations.
‘Amazing!’ he thought, sick to the stomach. ‘I’ve been back little more than an hour and already I’m in a whole mess of trouble!’
‘Ready for another bout, boy?’ Nelek sneered.
Reviews of Imperial Assassin
Mark Robson creates an interesting world for the Assassin’s Guild, leaving lots of unanswered questions of their origins. The action scenes are well choreographed and smoothly written, hence I found those the most interesting. I eagerly await the next instalment. 9/10.
Read the full review at: Fantasybookspot
Once again, Mark Robson has created a fast paced tale of adventure, wit and cunning. The reader will be entertained by this enjoyable story, a couple of interesting twists, a big surprise, the well-orchestrated fight scenes and the thoughtful conjecture of what a secret conclave of killers might be like.
Read the full review at: Chronicles Network
Reader Patrick Mahon also had this to say:
In 330 pages, Mark Robson produces more incidents and plot twists than some of us have had hot dinners. This is a great read, which pulls you on from chapter to chapter, and never lets go.
You can read his full review on the same Chronicles thread as the above.