Summer Fiction: 'Master Assassins' By Robert V.S. Redick

Jul 26, 2018

The latest book by Florence, Massachusetts, author Robert V.S. Redick is a fantasy tale about two brothers running for their lives through a desert during wartime. 

“Master Assassins” is the latest pick of our Summer Fiction Series. I sat down with Redick to find out more about the brothers and their journey.

Robert V.S. Redick: Kandri is the straight-laced brother. You could say he's pretty good at keeping his head down. He's good at feigning belief.

His brother Mektu, on the other hand, is a train wreck. He's never seen a situation where he couldn't cause mischief, and he seems to be inspired to get in trouble just when discretion would be most wise.

So he's constantly on the verge of getting them killed, getting them in terrible trouble, getting them arrested, tortured. Things go suddenly and catastrophically south for them. 

And the prophet that leads their people -- she was a legitimate liberation hero who has stayed on a few decades too long and gone slowly insane -- is leading her people in this endless war. Something happens that makes the brothers be considered abomination.

She denounces them, and it's suddenly the duty of everyone in their clan, which is about half a million strong, to see them dead. And their only choice is to run before their deed is discovered.

Adam Frenier, NEPR: I want to ask you about the brothers’ relationship. It seems like it's a relationship like many siblings have, where they love each other to death, and they really hate each other to death, at times, too. How is that central to this book?

It's a fundamental tension. And I do call them brothers, although technically, they're half-brothers.

One of the tensions in their relationship is they try to deny that they're only half-brothers, if you will. They really do love each other, and they can't live without each other, and they can't live with each other. That is really the crux of it. They fight, and they fight.  

And Kandri, who is the levelheaded one, feels a deep resentment that he may well lose his own life, because Mektu can't stop being a jerk, basically, and can't recognize when he really must be quiet and restrained.

Why did you choose war as a backdrop in this book?

That was really deliberate, and I think, perhaps, that preceded everything.

Fantasy loves to deal with war and violence. And epic fantasy, in particular, tends to be a sub-genre that deals with war.

I am rather critical of that tradition, as much as I love it. And you know, I am a child of J.R.R. Tolkien and Le Guin, and many of those classic writers.

But I think that we have been overdue for a long time for a reassessment of how we fantasy writers deal with violence, and in particular, the psychic consequences of being exposed to violence. It leaves no one unscarred.

But at times, epic fantasy, in particular, will tell a story as if you're playing a sort of Dungeons & Dragons adventure, where you can fight, and hack, and bleed and kill, and then march merrily on, and be the same person that you were before those terrible aspects entered your life.

So I wanted to talk as seriously as I could about war, and as honestly as I could, and to really look at what it does to how we feel about ourselves. And I think novels are the place to do that, because they are interior, and because they let you stay inside a mind for a very long time.

Without giving too much away, how did you come up with the title?

It's a very ironic title, I should add. They are not master assassins. As I mentioned, they are draftees. They're conscripts. They're village boys who have been denied much education and have never seen much of the world.

But because of this thing I don't want to give away that happens early in the book, they are taken for master assassins.

The prophet believes that what they have done could only be accomplished by enemies of her government and her religion.

And so she pronounces them as such, and makes it the sacred duty of half a million of her own people to find them, and hunt them down. So it has been a cause for a little head-scratching by some critics, I guess, until they realize: "Aha, there's irony at work."

And I'm happy. It's a discussion piece right out of the door, because there are a lot of "school of assassins, young boy becomes the deadliest thing alive" stories out there, and this is the polar opposite.

Catch up with NEPR's Summer Fiction Series.