Ah, assassins and anti-heroes—the delightful darlings of fantasy literature.
What could be more enjoyable than reading about a protagonist who not only has a penchant for ending lives, but also carries the weight of complex moral dilemmas on their shoulders? (Well, perhaps a cup of Earl Grey, but I digress.)
In this post, we’ll plunge into the murky waters of assassin fantasy and ruminate on the deliciously twisted moral landscapes presented therein.
A Stroll Down Murderer’s Row
Let’s be honest, an assassin that’s just a killer who has no qualms about murder will probably make for a boring character.
Which is why they’re often portrayed as conflicted individuals, torn between their duty to kill and their desire for redemption.
They are frequently driven by a tragic past, haunted by the ghosts of their slain victims, or struggling to cling to the last vestiges of their humanity.
Take, for example, our dear friend FitzChivalry Farseer from Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice. (Yes, I’m well away I’ve already made set out my Robin Hobb fan-boy credentials before). (And, yet, there’s a reason why this is still one of my all-time favourite series).
Fitz is a royal bastard who finds himself neck-deep in court intrigue and trained as an assassin for his king.
Despite being a killer, he yearns for a simple life with his loved ones, away from the bloodshed and politics.
His struggle to reconcile his role as a loyal assassin with his longing for a normal life creates a fascinating moral conflict that’s heartbreaking and frustrating in equal measures.
The Ethics of Killing: A Line in the Sand, Perhaps?
Assassin fantasy often presents its protagonists with moral quandaries that would stump even the most pragmatic philosophers.
Is it acceptable to kill an evil tyrant if it saves countless lives?
Does one have a responsibility to spare the innocent, even if it means compromising the mission?
These are the questions that plague the minds of our knife-wielding anti-heroes.
One of the more notable examples is Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, which features several morally ambiguous characters, including the infamous Logen Ninefingers.
A feared barbarian warrior with a penchant for violence, Logen embarks on a journey to find a new life while battling his darker instincts.
His struggle to balance his capacity for violence with his desire for redemption makes for a binge-worthy read.
A Dance with Darkness: The Lure of the Anti-Hero
The appeal of assassin fantasy lies in its exploration of the grey areas of morality.
We are drawn to anti-heroes because they challenge our preconceived notions of right and wrong, of good and evil.
They force us to confront the darker aspects of human nature, all while providing a jolly good tale of intrigue and adventure. (Bonus points if there’s banter and swashbuckling thrown in too. Oh, and dragons. And magic…)
Mark Lawrence‘s Prince of Thorns introduces us to the young and ruthless Jorg Ancrath, who embarks on a blood-soaked quest for vengeance.
Jorg’s brutal actions and callous attitude make him difficult to root for, yet there’s a perverse pleasure in following his journey as he grapples with his own moral compass.
A Toast to the Complexities of Life
So, there you have it, a glimpse into the morally murky realm of assassin fantasy.
As we sip our tea and ponder the complexities of life, let us raise a toast to the anti-heroes and assassins who remind us that morality is rarely black and white, and that even the most hardened killers can teach us a thing or two about the human condition.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a cup of tea and a well-thumbed copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora. Cheers!
If you enjoy assassin fantasy, you can get my novel Birth of Assassins for free as part of the Ravenglass Universe starter library.
When you join my newsletter, you’ll also receive the books Blades of Wolfsbane and The Fool.