It doesn't take too long for Justin Somper to establish exactly what is going to be the motivating factor behind the traditional warring kingdoms of his new fantasy series. Prince Anders is dead after only two years on the throne, the victim it appears of assassination by poison. Prince Jared, his 16 year-old brother, is now ruler of Archenfield. In order to retain some measure of stability within the kingdom that is under threat now from an unknown enemy, Jared must quickly find out who is behind his brother's death and take decisive action, but can he trust his ambitious cousin Axel, the Captain of the Guard? What is also concerning however is evidence that suggests that the murder was carried out by one of the Twelve, the council who advise the ruler of Archenfield.
Although this sounds like a typical set-up for an internal power-struggle leading to an epic war between neighbouring kingdoms, Allies and Assassins unexpectedly and brilliantly avoids many of the usual trappings of the fantasy genre by turning unexpectedly into a murder mystery as the inexperienced Prince Jared teams up with Asta, the 16 year-old niece and assistant to the Physician Elias Peck. It's not a conventional murder-mystery either, since the motivations of the killer could be related to complex affairs of state between different lands, personal enmities and grudges, ambitions for power and succession, even secret affairs and romantic complications. It could really be anyone then!
Even if the investigation is covered in a conventional manner between a mismatched boy/girl team (a royal and a commoner), Asta seeking to gain the confidence of various figures and suspects only to find herself involved and deeply implicated in a very dangerous affair, it's the fantasy element (without any supernatural elements at present) that provides a grander context for the mystery. As a way to introduce the series, this is a fine way to uncover and elaborate on the roles of the main characters, laying out the ambitions and the personal emnities that are likely to have significance once the story settles into a more traditional fantasy of warring kingdoms. I would expect however that the follow-up book might well demonstrate a similarly inventive and thrilling take on the fantasy genre.