Prince Anders, the ruler of Archenfield, has been murdered, leaving his younger brother, Jared, to ascend the throne. Sixteen-year-old Jared feels unprepared to rule the kingdom and its powerful and dangerous court, yet he knows he can rely on the twelve officers of the court to advise him. He also knows he can just as easily be at their mercy-especially when it appears that one of them may be responsible for his brother’s death. Unable to trust anyone, Jared takes it upon himself to hunt down his brother’s killer-but the killer may be hunting him, as well. Murder, betrayal, and intrigue abound in Justin Somper’s thrilling YA series debut. Exploring the political machinations of the medieval court and the lives that hang in the balance, Allies & Assassins is a gripping tale of a teen torn between duty and revenge.
I had high expectations for this book because the summary sounded a little like The False Prince and the Queen’s Thief, both stellar books that I loved. I was….. disappointed. This book was beyond slow, with many repeated phrases and unnecessary additional plot lines.
So basically, the book is over the span of 6 days. It opens with the murder of the Prince of Archenfield (he’s more like a king actually but whatevs). Immediately, his younger brother Jared, is called to take his place. Jared is weak, with basically no idea how to rule and it gets kinda annoying because he congratulates himself on every little thing he does right without his mother’s help. Like why didn’t you just pay attention during councils???? He does basically nothing this whole book. He seems to just agree to stuff his advisers need his royal agreement on and protest when they do something without his agreement but then does nothing about it.
The book is mostly trying to solve the murder. That’s it. A medieval style murder mystery. That somehow takes up 700+ pages……
It MIGHT be because there’s a bajillion characters. So, Jared has this council of twelve advisers, some which I just don’t understand the purpose of. There’s the Cook (an bossy but old lady), the Beekeeper (a girl who has the wrong opinion on everything and is loud about it), the Woodsman (he watches the forest I think??), the Huntsman (the one who actually hunts in the forest), the Bodyguard (kinda like those dopey but super loyal types), the Executioner (who basically just sits in the dungeons all day and read poetry???), the Groom (he kinda just runs around with the Woodsman and the Huntsman and provide horses for everyone), the Priest (barely mentioned, the only thing he did was stumble on a body), the Physician (he examines all the dead bodies that turn up (one of the select Twelve that actually has a purpose in the book)), the Captain of the Guard (he’s Jared’s cousin, super ambitious and one of the prime suspects of the murder even tho we already find it’s not him within the first few chapters), the Falconer (the first character we meet and she manages the messages to and from places, very important character), the Poet (Jared’s adviser and sticks with him almost 24/7, writing his speeches and telling him how to run court) and the Edling (it’s the role of Prince’s heir, Jared’s role right before Anders dies and I guess doesn’t count as the Twelve because then it would be Thirteen). A lot of these characters have little to no purpose even though they’re all suspects.
Enter in two more characters to our mile long list: Silva (Prince Ander’s wife, a marriage of political union), and Asta Peck (the Physician’s niece and for some reason her role as Physician’s niece is repeated half a billion times, basically every single time someone addresses her).
Basically everyone except Asta and Jared is a suspect. The really annoying thing is that a quote on the back of the book tells you the murderer is one of the Twelve but Axel, the Captain of (a nonexistent) Guard, spends a good number of chapters chasing down this steward who supposedly poisoned Ander’s food. Axel’s supposed to be really clever and good at his job but once he arrests the steward he’s all like, “no confession? check. immigrant? check. escaping at the time of Anders’s death? check. still no confession? check. I guess this our man!” then executes him ahead of time because why not?
Except Asta, who helps the Physician with his postmortem realizes things don’t stack up. She’s the one that gives all the details to Prince Jared who’s all like ‘wow, I bet the murderer is one of the Twelve, you’re such a good friend for telling me this Asta, I really need friends now with all these people trying to kill me.’
Asta basically figures out the entire murder mystery except at the end where she jumps to conclusions JUST so Jared, through pure coincidence and good timing is able to “solve” the mystery. Because you know, he’s supposed to be the main character and the PRINCE OF ALL ARCHENFIELD.
Not that Asta is a perfect character either. Every time she does something, EVERY SINGLE TIME, she’s all like “oh no, what if uncle elias (the physician) sends me back to my parents? He told me not to do this anymore.” and then she’s like “oh well, whoops here we go” and then gets scolded EVERY SINGLE TIME. But the author makes the Physician really stupid too. Asta will bring up something that makes the answer seem wrong and EVERY SINGLE TIME, he’s like “asta, that’s not my job, that’s the captain of the guard’s job to figure this stuff out, just write down what I tell you even though we all know he won’t read the postmortem”. Then she blames herself for EVERYTHING that goes wrong even though she’s actually pretty insignificant in whatever goes wrong.
As a reader, since it’s a mystery, we try to solve it too, right? But we’re told, right at the beginning that Jared’s personal main suspect, Axel, is not the murderer nor is Hal Harness the Bodyguard because apparently they were planning ANOTHER murder of Prince Anders and someone beat them to it. So Jared is super suspicious of Axel (he should be since Axel is planning to kill him too) but once the mystery is solved and it turns out it’s not Axel *surprise* he leans on Axel A LOT, trusting him A LOT. like “Axel, I know you’ll protect me from all my enemies, right coz? Family sticks together, you were always my friend, sorry for doubting you, I was being stupid. That guy just stabbed me but I know you’ll keep me alive right? Plus I know your sister has a thing for me so here, I’ll trust you and I might keep you as my Edling.” Like there’s a reason you didn’t trust him in the beginning, just because he didn’t kill your brother doesn’t mean he isn’t after the Princedom.
Not just him but Asta is misguided too. She suspects the Huntsman, the Woodsman, Axel, the Bodyguard and is wary around the Woodsman – basically anyone who knows how to use a knife EVEN THOUGH the Prince was poisoned. The whole book is basically Asta and Jared running around suspecting everyone but thinking they know exactly what’s going on. (And Axel trying to reassure the Prince he’s got everything under control when he’s doing absolutely nothing)
Then there’s Silva, the Prince’s Consort, who is hysterical and distraught from the death of her beloved husband. Her marriage was the result of a political union with Woodlark but the Poet (his job is to basically talk to the public) made it seem like “a fairy tale romance” (a term repeated nine trillion times). She kinda dies halfway through the book which throws the investigation off track for a bit and causes Asta to jump to conclusions and also breaks the alliance between Woodlark and Archenfield so it made the book slightly more interesting.
Jared is arrogant without even knowing it. He’s like oh, I can keep my own councilors under control, I’m a great prince! Even when Silva’s parents from Woodlark come to see Silva and break the alliance, he’s like yeah even though YOUR Edling is also Captain of the Guard, I’m sure I’m a great prince so listen here I rule here so you gotta do what I say!
The book ends with Jared threatening the murderer, and he does a poor job of it. You can tell he’s way out of his league and he seems unconcerned that the murderer is basically telling him that this is a political attack and that the murderer is only the beginning (which I suppose leads into the next book?). Then a threat comes from that country, basically a surrender or we’ll invade type thing. The author pretty much shoved this cliffhanger for the next book in really hastily. Other than Axel saying he’ll kill Jared in the beginning , the rest of the story made it seem like catching the murderer would end the story, happily ever after. The whole tone of the book was “catch the murderer and Jared will be a star Prince” and then oh wait, never mind, there’s gonna be a sequel.
And apparently Jared and Asta liked each other? I did not notice that until the end when the author was suddenly cramming in all these I need a friend like you and but I’m a commoner and you’re the Prince type of cliche stuff
Seriously though, the book had great premise, the setting is great, the murder has enough curiosities that it was interesting but the lack of a strong character, repetitive and unnecessary phrases, failed suspense, dragged out scenes, cringy wording, too many unnecessary characters, unnecessary scenes and lack of a consistent pace throughout the book really just made it uninteresting. So when we got to big revelations we were like
Honestly, it was just wayy too dragged out to be connect-able and you couldn’t stay interested. The setting is great just the story wasn’t. I loved the Council of Twelve and the idea of an Edling that didn’t have to be related to the Prince. It’s all set up beautifully and would’ve made a nice story if the author had been a BETTER author.
Rating: 2.7 /5