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Top 25 Best Assassin Books

The Best Assassin / Rogue / Thief Novels

There are a lot of different choices when it comes to fantasy. Sprawling epics, fairy tale adaptations, urban, the list goes on. 

However, sometimes you're just in the mood for some good old fashioned killing, and the Fantasy Assassin genre fits this craving perfectly. 

Assasin Fantasy is a broad term that often covers various underworld activities such as thievery, spying, and other 'outlawed' occupations. So don't think every book we cover is about a shadowy assassin -- thieves are part of the mix too.

Loveable rogues are on the rise, and though these characters certainly aren't lovable, there are few things more awesome than a magic-infused dagger.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to find those stories among the huge volume of books, with the vast amount of 'assassin fantasy' often of dubious quality. 

So we've honed our own literary blades and curated a list of some of the best assassin/rogue fantasy around so you can skip straight to the best.

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The Farseer Trilogy

(Robin Hobb)
(The Farseer)
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Award Nominations:1997 LocusF

The protagonists in fantasy assassin books are often hard, rugged and experienced. Fitz is none of those things. In The Farseer Trilogy, Hobb presents a character that is not just nuanced and magically gifted, but majorly flawed. Fitz is a royal bastard with little other than his sorcerous link with animals. He isn't perfect, and he doesn't want to be. As the protagonist grows into his role a killer, it's fraught with the failures, hardships, and awkwardness you expect for a character so young. It's not the typical hero's journey, yet Fitz manages to stay likable and intelligent throughout.

This depth led the first book to a nomination in 1997 for the British Fantasy Award for best Novel, and the others are equally impressive. The world is a traditional medieval setting, complete with political intrigue and a rich, detailed world. Despite this, Hobb manages to subvert the genre in a way that provides a far deeper, lasting meaning.

Read if you like: Traditional fantasy settings, non-human connections, and characters that will keep you thinking all day long.

Books in The Farseer Series (3)

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The Lies of Locke Lamora

(Scott Lynch)

(Gentleman Bastards)

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Award Nominations:2007 BFS, 2007 WFA
There's so much about this wonderful series that's right. From a thrilling Robin Hood caper story (think a magical Oceans 11), compelling and complex characters, deep and expansive world-building, fascinating mythology and lore, and a gripping tale. This is epic fantasy meets underworld fantasy, with the stakes the fate of the world and the heroes a band of brilliant thieves.With four books out now and some of the books uneven (the first couple books are the best), Lynch has managed to weave together a compelling tale that starts off rather straightforward with a  band of thieves in a single city with a single, yete simple goal, but becomes complex and empire spanning a few books in.The strength though is in the brilliant prose, the strong characters, and compelling characterization. And of course, the over-the-top robberies the characters inflict upon those who deserve it.Look, if you haven't read this series yet, do it. It's not only one of the best assassin/rogue / thieve tales in the genre, it's one of the best fantasy stories/books in the entire genre. We are all still waiting for the release of the 4th book in the series, which has been delayed for at least a year and a half.

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The Acts of Caine is another series that takes traditional fantasy and turns it upside down. The books take us away from boring clichs and blends sci-fi, dystopia, and fantasy in a way that actually works. A futuristic earth pairs with the fantastical, parallel 'Overworld' to create a combined setting that is entirely dark and unique.

It's a story of rage, gore, and justice that leaves you questioning morality. Caine is a calculated killing machine that tears through anything in his way. His journey is from a piece of entertainment to caste breaking hero seeking to save the woman he loves. The covers really don't do justice to the incredible depth of character, world, and plot found in this story. It manages to touch on issues still relevant in society today. Part of this is an imitation of the very thing it's trying to disparage the obsession with violent entertainment.

Read if you like: Westworld, Dark fantasy, badass characters, sci-fi.

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With a Martin-esque plot and Jim Butcher pace, The Axe and the Throne is a definite "must read" for even the pickiest fantasy fans.

In his stunning debut, Ireman has built the type of world so vivid and engrossing that leaving it at the end is agony. In spite of leaning toward grimdark, where authors often enshroud every scene in depressing darkness, there is no lack of cheerful moments or brilliant scenery. Yet the pangs of near-instant nostalgia that come after you put down a book like this have less to do with the inspired setting, and far more to do with those who inhabit it. 

From savage, unremorseful heroes, to deep, introspective villains, the cast of this story is comprised of believable characters capable of unthinkable actions. And it is these characters -- the ones you wish you could share a drink with or end up wanting to kill -- that forge the connection between fantasy and reality. Keethro, Titon, Ethel, Annora. These are names you will never forget, and each belongs to a man or woman as unique as they are memorable. 

No book would be complete without a its fair share of intrigue, however, and there is no lack of it here. Each chapter leaves you wanting more, and Ireman's masterful use of misdirection leads to an abundance of "oh shit" moments. Do not be fooled (or do -- perhaps that's part of the fun) by storylines that may appear trope-ish at first. This is no fairytale. 

Available on Amazon & Audible, Barns & Noble, iTunes, Google, and Kobo.

Comments (0)
Award Nominations:2010 BFS

Joe Abercrombie is one of the biggest names in grim fantasy, and his First Law trilogy stands out as a brilliant example of his talents. Best Served Cold is a standalone that sits in the same world but features an entirely different storyline. It follows famous mercenary Monza Murcatto as she looks to murder seven men at any cost.

By now, fans of Abercrombie will come with certain expectations. Bleak worlds, dark humor, and a close examination of gray areas. Best Served Cold has all of those things and more. A fast, suspense-filled plot carries you along effortlessly, bloody action scenes keep the entertainment, and beautiful description and dialogue build on an already nuanced world. The characters aren't likable, but they often get what they deserve and rarely do what you expect.

Now, while the character is NOT necessarily an assassin or a rogue, she's a seriously pissed off mercenary leader that's hell bent on getting revenge on the men who betrayed and tried to murder her. This one is all about revenge, but a cold, calculated revenge; and the heroine, a brilliant military leader has the means to do achieve her revenge.

The result is an excellent fantasy novel about the all-consuming desire for revenge and murder that deserves a place on this list. This one ain't no fluffy, whimsical fairytale novel about an impossible-to-kill rogue wearing a cape. 

This one's gritty, realistic, and bloody as hell. It's one of the best revenge tales in the genre.

Read if you like: Great battle scenes, grim fantasy, unredeemable characters

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The Night Angel Trilogy

(Brent Weeks)
(Night Angel)

The Night Angel trilogy is one of those series that instantly sucks you in. While some fantasy assassin books focus on character, Weeks has a perfect blend of elements. An extremely detailed, well-written world, with the perfect balance of emotion, setting, and plot. Despite this, the books are some of the darkest in the genre and don't shy away from difficult topics like rape, abuse, and massacre.

While that may not be everyone's cup of tea, it makes for some incredible characters. There's the full range: from cold killers, to rivals, to tutors, to magicians. It describes how an orphan boy, despite being in a hard profession, can rise up with cold determination and still make friends. The plot is chock full of twists, turns and thoughtful details, the cast staying with you for weeks after you're done.

There's a lot of grittiness in this one and every other character is a bit 'over-the-top' and overpowered, but on a whole, this is one of the better pure fantasy tales about a magical assassin character.

Read if you like:  Coming of age stories, gritty worlds, intense reads.

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The Death of the Necromancer

(Martha Wells)
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Award Nominations:1998 NEBULA

Martha Wells is best known for her Books of Raksura series, but this nebula nominated book is one of her best by far. Despite its publication in the late nineties, Wells' writing has a classic feel to it, and not least because of the Victorian-esque setting. It has elements of old detective novels, though admittedly it's a lot darker.

The story follows Nicholas Valiarde, adopted son of a necromancy-convicted noble. On the outside he's your typical noble, but his second life is as the master thief Donatien. Needlessly to say, he's not happy about his father's fate, not least because it was a setup. Angered, Valiarde seeks revenge while staying one step ahead of a legendary detective.

Wells' story is augmented with incredible attention to detail, which extends to the characters. Traits and back stories are revealed naturally, and romance isn't overdone. It also throws in magic, necromancy, and Fey to create a suspense-filled tale that doesn't hold back on gore.

Read if you like: Sherlock Holmes, Victorian settings, revenge stories.

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Think Oceans 11, but the fantasy version where the characters have magical abilities and you have some idea what Leigh Bardugo's fantasy trilogy is about. 

A band of thieves teams up to rob the mother of all vaults in an impenetrable fortress controlled by a very bad wizard. The series is surprisingly complex (the description comes off as a light YA fantasy tale) with a detailed magic system, compelling and complex characters, and thrilling tale that will grip you from start to finish. It's also a gritty fantasy tale with flawed characters who suffer and have suffered.

One of the better rogue/thief fantasy stories in the genre and certainly an enjoyable tale that will pull you along to the end. The author has found mega success with this series and I feel the success is very well deserved.

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If smartass characters are your thing, then Vlad Taltos by Steven Brust should be at the top of your list. The book is unoriginally named after the protagonist, but in this case, he deserves the praise. Brust introduces one of wittiest characters around, a second-class human with witch-like powers and a mental bond with a dragon-like creature. Using that magic, Vlad takes on an assassination contract that could start a war.

The tale from there is a blend of sci-fi, detective, fantasy, and action. It spans a total of fourteen books in non-chronological order, with more on the way. That extreme number means it covers everything you want in a fantasy assassin series. There's heists, twists, intricate plots, romance, teleportation, floating castles, and more. This intelligent blend of traditional fantasy elements and other genres makes it one of the best in its category.

Read if you like: Witty characters, fantasy creatures, detective novels.

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It's not often you get a likable murderer, but in his Tales of the Kin series Douglas Hulick manages to do just that. Drothe lives in a world of snitches, killers, and thieves, and he's perfectly suited to that world. He's not an incredibly powerful magician, instead relying on supernatural night vision and good fighting skills to keep him alive.

Drothe's forte is information brokering, not killing, but he doesn't shy away from murder if will get him what he wants. When his line of work leads him to a valuable artefact, he becomes the target of entire empires and has to fight tooth and nail to stay alive.

Other than the incredible character building, Hulick brings years of expertise to the sub-genre. The man has an MA in medieval history and is a martial arts and 17th-century rapier expert. That shines through heavily in this book, with a Byzantine-inspired setting and incredible action scenes.

If you're tired of drawn-out, unrealistic swordfights, it's safe to say this book is for you. Drothe is not immune to injury and often survives through dumb luck. This combines with some truly satisfying moments as the puzzle pieces form a cohesive bigger picture. The result is a gritty, fast-paced series that keeps you entertained the whole way through.

Read if you like: The Lies of Locke Lamora, dark fantasy, first-person perspective.

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Poison Study is another novel that toes the line between young adult and mature. It opens with an incredible hook and drags you all the way through the story on a wave of suspense and fascination. The story starts with Yelena on the chopping block, where she is offered a choice. She can either test the crown's food for poison or die. She makes the obvious choice and ends up beholden to her employer via a poison that needs an antidote every day.

You know the sub-genre, so I'll let you connect the dots from there. Let's just say that Yelena's latent magical powers can be used for more sinister means, as can her first-hand knowledge of poisons. There's just one small problem: magic is punishable by death.

In some ways, the Study series is a coming of age story. There's training montages, a progression from broken to badass, and even a bit of romance. It's a story where the main character slowly recovers from trauma and learns more about herself along the way.

However, Snyder manages to push it past clich with concise prose, interesting characters, and fantastic world building. She pays particular attention to the detailed political system, a factor instrumental in fantasy assassin novels but often overlooked. In all, it's an addictive read, with a good blend of new and traditional elements.

Read if you like: Strong female characters, fast pacing, training montages.

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Brandon Sanderson is a name that most avid fantasy readers have heard, and the internationally best-selling Mistborn was one of his breakout successes. It's not a traditional assassin tale, in that there's just one main target. Not a nobleman, not a politician, but the god-like ruler himself. Sanderson builds an incredible world in which magic is fuelled by ingesting twelve metals, with very few 'Mistborns' that can use all of them. One such rarity is Vin, a young girl who grew up with abuse on the streets. The series detail Vin's struggle to protect the people she loves without being used a killing tool.

The ever-evolving plot brilliantly details a band of rogues as they set their ambitions far higher than anyone expected. It's a perfect blend of swordplay, character, intrigue and environment. The world is so rich and detailed that it almost hurts to leave it behind.

Read if you like: Anything Sanderson, great magic systems, religion in fantasy

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A fantasy assassin list would not be complete without a mention of David Dalglish's Shadowdance series. Through the course of the novels, we get the viewpoint of not one, but two trained killers. Aaron Felhom (a.k.a Haern) is the son of renowned assassin Thren Felhom, head of Spider guild and general badass. He's been trained since birth to kill, but that doesn't mean he's happy with his father's ambitions.

Throughout the course of several books, Dalglish drags you through a story of growth, political intrigue, and action. It's fast, deadly, and home to interesting and developed characters. Some of these make an appearance in the Half-Orc series, and those tie-ins give the reader a more detailed impression of the author's dark and brilliant world.

Of course, the series also features magic, and this is another place the books shine. Haern doesn't have any powers of his own, giving a refreshing viewpoint and opening the plot up to some more great characters. Unlike some fantasy, magic isn't used to get the hero out of any sticky situation. Instead, the protagonist has to rely on wits, skill, and brutality. As you can imagine, it doesn't always play out well, and Dalglish creates a GRRM-like world where characters can die at any moment.

Read if you like: Game of Thrones, Brent Weeks, Grimdark fantasy

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Shadow Saga

(Jon Sprunk)
(Shadow )

There's a tendency in fantasy to build extremely complex, D&D-like worlds, and in many cases, that's just what readers are after. However, there's also something to be said for books that are just effortless to read, and Sprunk's Shadow Saga is definitely that.

Caim lives in Othir: a crime-ridden, corrupt holy city that perfectly suits his profession. Augmented by dark magic and a ghostly familiar, he becomes involved in a plot far bigger than himself. It's not a complex plot, nor is it a particularly original one. However, Sprunk's simple execution brings new twists to familiar tropes and creates a series that's an absolute joy to read.

Part of that is due to the excellent pacing of the books, with short chapters that end with you turning the page to the next every time. You get the impression that everything in this novel is carefully and conservatively crafted. There isn't unnecessary exposition, yet the reader still gets a good sense of the world. Action scenes are perfectly placed to keep interest, while good character building provides plenty of entertainment in the downtimes.

Though there's plenty to love about the series, it's this simplicity that makes it so exceptional. Sprunk hasn't fallen into the trap of telling rather than showing. Instead, he's a perfect example that, with finesse, thousands of pages aren't required for a great fantasy novel.

Read if you like: Quick reads, page turners, dark magic.

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Though Graceling is marketed as YA, it leans further towards adult than others. The book accurately explores both teenage life and the moral struggle of a born killer. Katsa develops a magically enhanced ability to kill, her first victim slain in an accident at the age of eight. The story follows her in Cashore's beautifully crafted world as she fights not just her King's enemies but her own desire to do the right thing.

Though its starts slow,  the great hook, fluid prose, and fully-realized characters make it an absolute joy to read. As with many YA books, there is an element of romance, but it plays out in a more realistic and non-intrusive way. This creates an excellent addition to the fantasy assassin genre that's suitable for a range of ages.

Read if you like: The Hunger Games, strong female characters, tales of self-discovery.

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The Riyria Chronicles

(Michael J Sullivan)

Michael J. Sullivan's Ryria series is one of the highest rated in fantasy, and for good reason. His books have sold over one million copies in English and thousands more across their fourteen languages. Part of that success is thanks to  Sullivan's ability to craft a world that follows common tropes (elves, dwarves, goblins) yet presents them in an original way. There's plenty to love here for fans of Tolkien, and just as much for those who aren't.

Sullivan's world is set a thousand years after the fall of an empire, with magic all but gone and clashes between religion, race, and philosophies. However, the true marvel is Sullivan's incredible characterization. Riyria tells the story of the warrior Hadrian and assassin Royce, their adventures together and how they came to meet.

Over the course of the six book series, Hadrian and Royce become one of the most iconic pairs in fantasy, with a depth and growth rarely seen in any genre. Together, the two infiltrate fortresses, carry out assassinations, and flee with an entire kingdom at their back. It's an astounding series made even better by its humble roots in self-publishing.

Read if you like: High-fantasy, bromance, rogues.

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Waylander & Waylander II

(David Gemmell)
(The Drenai)

David Gemmell's Drenai Saga burst onto the heroic fantasy scene in 1984 and bears no relation to the Draenei from World of Warcraft. His lasting impact on the fantasy world led to the post-humorous creation of the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy, with awards going to some of the authors on this list.

It's no surprise then, that Gemmell's' legacy includes some of the best assassin fantasy around. Eleven years after the Drenai Saga's first book, the author wrote Waylander, marking the third in the series but first chronologically.

Like Gemmell's previous books, Waylander is an exploration of what makes a hero and if there can be true redemption. As you can imagine, there's plenty of evil to go around, and plenty of gray areas too. The title of the book is synonymous with its main character, a famous assassin who is betrayed after a particularly notorious contract.

Waylander is in many ways an anti-hero, but that doesn't stop him from feeling real. Gemmell's characterization carries the story, both through the protagonist and the rich supporting cast. It's a grimdark novel once more, but one that pioneered the genre rather than emulating it. It's filled with fast pacing, concise writing, and vivid imagery. Though they hinge on existing series, the Waylander books are accessible and brilliant enough to enjoy standalone.

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The Left Hand of God

(Paul Hoffman)
(Left Hand of God)

Paul Hoffman's The Left Hand of God caused a major buzz upon its release in 2010. It succeeded almost unheard of hype, with trailers, apps, and 'best-seller' labels right off the bat. Admittedly, the quality tails off by the end of the series, but it's easy to see why it garnered so much interest.

Hoffman writes a fourteen-year-old character who grows up in order of monks that worship pain. Understandably, this can warp a boy, and Cale is cold, vicious, and complex. Despite this, he still has a sense of justice, and it's this that leads to the assassination of the Lord Redeemer Picarbo and a subsequent escape from the twisted monastery.

Despite some strange contradictions along the way, the characterization and pacing of the novels make it just good enough to deserve a place on the list. It's a page turner, toeing the line between fantasy and horror, with many diverse characters. Some readers will hate it, and others will love it, but it's definitely a breath of fresh air.

Read if you like: Unique reads, young characters, building plots.

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Robin LaFever's Grave Mercy drags you into the trilogy with a great hook and only gets better from there. It's set in an alternate 14th century Brittany, where fourteen-year-old Ismae escapes an abusive arranged marriage to a convent, where her unique abilities make her the perfect assassin protg.

Though she takes to the profession as a better alternative, there's still plenty of conflict here. Part of the story is Ishmae's coming of age, from delicate child to a questioner of the convent's morals. There's a lot of depth to be found in the character, but the rest of the series presents the viewpoint of refreshing new characters.

It's in these latter books that LaFevers really begins to find her strength. The second book details the story of Sybella, who trained at the same convent as Ishmae. However, where Ishmae is hesitant and inexperienced, Sybella is trained and deadly. LaFevers manages to create a harrowing, emotional story whilst still developing the other characters in the story. The third book follows in a similar vein, with the viewpoint of another previously introduced character.

In all, LaFever's series is a great combination of history, subverted fantasy tropes, and YA It has romance, vengeance, and strong female characters. The changing perspectives mean that even if one protagonist isn't to your fancy, there's another to try out. On top of that, the author manages to encourage real attachment to the characters and great entertainment without constant action scenes.

Best of all, the series isn't yet over. After a four-year hiatus, LaFever will return to the series next year, with a second book following in 2019.

Read if you like: Strong female characters, historical fiction, Graceling

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Pyramids (Discworld #7)

(Terry Pratchett)
(Discworld )

Pratchett's huge volume of work makes adding him to the list feel like cheating, but at the same time, it wouldn't be complete without him. For the uninitiated, Pratchett's world consists of a large disc that rests on the backs on four large elephants, which in turn stand on a turtle as it swims through space.

It's a bizarre concept, matching the strange yet hilarious tone of Sir Terry's work. In some ways, his world echoes earth, and you can guess which period Pyramids is influenced by. Teppic is the prince of that small realm and is in training at the Assassins Guild. His time there is cut short when his father dies, and Teppic must return home to build his Pyramid and take on the politics of the throne.

The premise is simple, but Pyramids brings something rare to the sub-genre: humor. Pratchett has a hilarious variety of characters, from the High Priest Dios to a camel literally named 'You Bastard'. At 321 pages, it's a short yet incredibly amusing read, with nothing too complex in terms of plot. Despite this, Pratchett's brilliant writing and metaphors bring it to life. So much so that it won the British Science Fiction Association Award in 1989.

Read if you like: Humor in fantasy, strong characters, social commentary

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The Anvil Of The World

(Kage Baker)
(lord Ermenwyr)

Sci-fi fans may know Kage Baker for her popular series, The Company. It's a blend of fictional world and humor, and her debut fantasy series is no different. The Anvil of the World describes the assassin Smith as he tries to leave his old life behind and become a simple caravan master.

Of course, things are never that easy, and Smith is set upon by a myriad of demons, magic, and other kinds of trouble. Like Pratchett, Baker uses humor to provide a great critique of society and its flaws. However, her unique blend of humor surpasses even him at points with subtle jokes and great dialogue.

Simultaneously, Baker manages to use that dialogue to grow her characters. Lord Ermenwyris one of the most unique personalities in fantasy, and not just because he's half demon. He somehow manages to be a coward yet strong, selfish yet loyal and annoying but oddly likable. Through all these contradictions Baker somehow makes him feel real, alongside the rest of the odd cast.

However, the book is more like a series of novellas than a full novel. It's split into three distinct parts, the first being quite slow, the second housing incredible description and dialogue, and the third ending on a more serious note. In its entirety, it covers assassination, magic, friendship, and the environment. It takes all of the annoying fantasy tropes and subverts them, leaving the reader grinning and refreshed.

Read if you like: Terry Pratchett, humor in fantasy, unique reads.

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If you're a YA fan, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better assassin fantasy book than Throne of Glass. As the novel opens, Celaena is given a chance to end her servitude in the mines of Endovier and her life as a slave behind. There's only one catch. First, she must win a tournament and become the King's assassin.

The story plays out in a beautifully crafted world where the Fae have been overthrown and magic is banned. A human ruler sits on the throne, and he isn't afraid to use Celaena to kill at a whim. The series has plenty of everything, including a love triangle, action, humor and great antagonists. Though the predictable romance may not call out to older readers, a simplistic, page-turning plot and plenty of fun twists make it perfect for its market. As the series progresses, it only gets better, with Celaena finally coming into her role and characters building a real connection with the reader.

Read if you like: Love triangles, Fae, great world building.

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Tales of the Otori

(Lian Hearn)
(Tales of the Otori)

When your focus is character and action, it's easy to just settle for generic medieval fantasy and be done with it. However, at some point, you start craving something new, and that's when series like Tales of the Otori really shine.

Though Hearn stays with the medieval era, she opts for a region that isn't often explored in fantasy. There's no outright statement, but it's clear that the world has a heavy Japanese influence. It's complete with a complex feudal system, samurai-like clans, and shoguns.

That rich setting underlies an even richer story of love, politics, and betrayal. Society is made up of complex social classes, religions, and clans, but Hearn introduces them slowly and with finesse. His descriptions are similar; colorful but not unnecessarily wordy, making it an enjoyable read.

The series follows two viewpoints. In first-person, there is Takeo, the adopted son of a noble with the ability to create illusions. Then there is Kaede, a teenage girl and political prison written in the third person. It's an unusual mix of perspective, yet Hearn manages to pull it off flawlessly. The blend gives distinct views while still creating a feeling of depth for both, pulling you into the fast-paced narrative. That excellent combination continues through the series, creating a masterpiece of death, love, and tragedy.

Read if you like: Japan-inspired fantasy, vivid description, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

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Despite the similarity in name, there's little to connect Tales of Pawan Kor and our previous list item. This world is very clearly high fantasy, with beautifully detailed creatures, religions, and magic. It's very much 'sword and sorcery', but with a flair Persia, India, and China that brings a refreshing environment. The world building is simply incredible, with plenty of detail that will please fans of epics.

Equally impressive is Hayden's magic system, rooted in spirit stones of a dead race. The limited nature creates real concern for the well-being of the characters, with no ability to simply magic a way out of situations. And those tough scenarios make an appearance quite frequently.

Though Jaska is of a knightly order, his activities are far from savory. He carries out every command, including assassinations. However, one particular task turns out too much. The request to kill a priestess reveals his master's real ambitions and pits him against the empire he once worked for.

It's an intricate, weaving plot, with several pieces that fall into place at just the right time. Believable characters exist on both sides of the spectrum, forcing the reader to question black and white assertions of good and evil. All the while, the story maintains the fast pace, action, and entertainment that we have come to expect from fantasy assassin stories.

Read if you like: David Gemmell, sword and sorcery, middle-eastern settings.

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Villains by Necessity

(Eve Forward)

The examination of morality is a common theme in assassin novels, but none do it quite like Eve Forward's Villains by Necessity. The author takes the concept and turns it on its head, asking what would happen if good is completely dominant.

The answer is nothing positive. The world is out of balance, and it might cease to exist entirely if nobody intervenes. Thus, an assassin, thief, druid and knight have to step in and bring some evil back. It's a straightforward plot made great by likable characters, humor, and good pacing. Forward manages to keep a light tone, yet force the reader to see things from a different perspective.

It's this unique exploration that lands the book a place on the list. Though there's nothing exceptional, it's hard to deny that Villains of Necessity is a whole lot of fun. Read if you like: Parody, D&D.

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The subject of McCullough's Fallen Blade series is fairly obvious from the title, yet the series has more depth than you may expect. The opening sucks the reader into the mind of an assassin without his order. With no solid job, Aral has fallen into a cycle of drinking, thievery, and smuggling. He wants this old life back, and when a delivery job goes sour he gets just that.

From there, it's full of action, strong characters, death, and magic. It takes on the form of a mystery, stringing the reader along on a number of clues and forcing them to piece them together. Though there are natural lulls in the story, they're augmented by character building of Aral and his dragon familiar, Triss.

This understanding is only heightened as McCullough continues his six book series, exploring both the relationship of Triss and Aral and the magic system that underlies them. You can't help but urge the protagonist along as he pulls himself out of depression and back into the role of a fighter.

Read if you like: Strong characterization, interesting magic systems, mystery.

Books in Fallen Blade Series (6)

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In the Lion of Cairo

(Scott Oden)

History and fantasy nuts should find an amazing middle ground with The Lion of Cairo. It's set between the Second and Third Crusade, and it's clear Oden has done his research. Assad is a trained assassin, sent by his master to Cairo not to kill, but to protect a young ruler. Unfortunately, there's a necromancer in his way, and he has his own group of assassins.

The entire book takes place over the course of a few days, and it feels like it. There's an incredibly fast pace, with little room to breathe amid the fighting and politics. Somehow, Oden manages to keep the quality high despite this. a number of perspectives, you care about each character and their personal journey. Fight scenes are realistic and quick, descriptions vivid and beautiful. The book is an excellent ode to greats like Robert E. Howard and Michael Chabon.

Read if you like: Historical fiction, Robert E. Howard, sword and sorcery.

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The Tower & Knife Trilogy

(Mazarkis Williams)

(Tower and Knife)

This story from Mazarkis Williams is another that reaches outside the realm of traditional fantasy. A magical geometric disease is spreading throughout the Cerani Empire with very few to oppose it. The king is the only one holding things together, and, unbeknownst to the public, he's sick too.

What follows is a mad scramble to keep this secret, and for the heirless throne. It falls to an assassin, a sorcerer prince, and his foreign bride to keep the empire steady. Williams' world has some influence from the Ottoman Empire, though it's also littered with a well-explained magic system and plenty of court intrigue.

Fans of steady pacing may not be at home here, as Williams' tends to ebb and flow as the drama picks up, some things happening all at once, and others very slowly. However, readers who enjoy minimal hand-holding will take to this style, which makes you join up many of the dots yourself. This also lends itself to the story, which has you second guessing characters and sitting open-mouthed at its twists. The polish gets significantly stronger as you progress through the trilogy, with an elegant conclusion and a feeling of real character depth.

Read if you like: Interesting magic systems, high fantasy, epic fantasy.

Books in Tower and Knife Series (3)

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