‘Welcome to Archenfield, trust no-one’ reads the tag line for Justin Somper’s young adult novel “Allies and Assassins”, such a shame as this seems to be one stunning place to visit. Surrounded by forests, fjords, mountains and streams, it’s an idea location for outdoor adventurists, foodies and culture lovers, it’s rich, happy and prosperous. Downsides are that Archenfield has no clocks , so time is marked with the sound of bells ringing out day and night, that and the fact there is a killer on the loose who has just successfully disposed of the current ruler, Prince Anders, uncovered cold and dead in his bed.
Word of murder is spreading fast. The young falconer Nova Chastain is lamenting high in her tower whilst releasing seven birds, all with the sombre message for the allies in the far territories that an assassin has infiltrated the palace and no-one is safe.
Proving yourself in the world when you’ve just turned 16 years old is tough enough, but taking the throne to rule as a worthy successor to a much beloved brother is a terrifying prospect for Jared Wynward. At least with the Poet at hand he can play the puppet and deliver the right message to appease the masses. Law and order must be maintained at any cost.
For young Prince Jared there’s no time for nurturing and he’s had his fair share of grief already in trying to come to terms with his father’s passing not long before. Now before his prime he’s in the chair of power and not only that, he’s surrounded by a team of doubtful advising officers.
All 12 begin making their opinions known, picking at Jared’s confidence like famished vultures as they circle the throne. They sense weakness and as Jared scans the court he knows these men and women are used to seeing blood run, from the Executioner to the cook, the Huntsman to the Physician, even the Priest, the Groom and the Beekeeper have a sting when messed with. Had his brother made an enemy in one or all of them?
Guided and advised or trapped and bullied, it amounts to the same for poor Jared, one of the first decisions is choosing an Edling to rule in event of his own death. Keeping enemies close he picks his cousin Axel Blaxland who’s aspiration to one day be top dog is the worst kept secret in Archenfield.
The next 7 days are going to be testing, with Jared having to uncover the truth about his brothers death. If inside the walls weren’t scary enough rumours start about the surrounding enemies are getting twitchy to attack. Never has there been a more ideal opportunity to claim a prize like Archenfield in the throws of chaos.
Who can Jared turn to for confidence and support, not his iron willed mother Elin who masterminded the Wynward family line into power years before, she’s lost too much and there’s no time for weakness. Nor Silva, Anders beautiful widow hailing from neighbouring Woodlark, is she overcome with grief or burdened by weight of some unknown guilt?
Help is offered unexpectedly, from the inquisitive physicians apprentice Asta Peck, being an outsider of Archenfield and only 16 herself she makes for an unlikely detective within the inner sanctum of the court. Asta has a knack of being in the right place at the right time and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty either. What puzzling revelations has she discovered from snooping around the bedroom, the ice-house, and the boat house?
Can Asta help lead Jared to uncover the murderer before another body lies in the morgue?
As each Archenfield bell chimes, one thing is for sure, time is certainly is not on their side.