They slip through shadows, hidden from view. Walking softly, to sneak up on you (Hey, that rhymes!). The silent killers of the fantasy world: Assassins, paid in gold to cut someone’s throat. They are a formidable foe both in rumor and in action. But do they have a proper place and function in a fantasy world?
The difficulty with assassins is the lack of moral clarity they engender. I read a book once (I think it was The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb) about the life of an apprentice assassin. It was interesting enough, as far as it went; the assassins described were in the direct employ of a king, and that, I guess, gave them some legitimacy—or, at least, that was how the author intended to give them legitimacy. For myself, I would probably avoid making an assassin a protagonist in a novel. There is just something too cold in taking money for killing that prevents me from using them as such. Still, although Robin Hobb did a good job and everything, it was always in the back of my mind … yeah, this guy really isn’t a good guy (of course, maybe that’s the pot calling the kettle black considering how my novels are progressing … wink, nod), even though this is a fun read.
Anyway, I like using assassins as weapons of the antagonist. They’re great for developing political intrigue. The nobles are plotting against each, jockeying for power and position, one hires an assassin, the others respond in kind, and all hell breaks loose. People dropping dead left and right. Great stuff. My favorite type of assassin is, of course, the legendary ninja of Japan. Trained since birth as the ultimate killing machine. Woo hoo! I based my own super-assassins known as bloodseekers on the Japanese ninja. I intend to introduce one in the next book. It’ll be great. More chaos. More blood.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on assassins in fantasy literature for today.