Back in 2014, Nathan Barnhart created a weekly feature called ‘Tough Travels’, which he hosted over on Fantasy Review Barn. Inspired by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones – a tongue-in-cheek parody of the fantasy genre – it would spotlight a different trope every week, and invite other bloggers to compile their own lists of examples. Despite being put to rest eighty-three (83!) weeks later, ‘Tough Travels’ was widely successful, with over fifty blogs participating at one time or another. On April 1, 2017, Fantasy-Faction received Nathan’s permission to revive Tough Travels once more…

This time the topic is:
Assassins are ubiquitous throughout fantasyland. Sharp-eyed readers (or even dull-eyed ones) will notice that their hooded forms often adorn book covers, and that they frequently appear – rather improbably – not to mind being the sole focus of our attention. Whether they’re spotlight hogs or camera-shy and brooding, most assassins will have trained for years and are very, VERY good at their job (i.e. killing people for money).

Assassins! One of the troupes of fantasy (and comics: Marvel especially has several heroes who have been trained by ninjas and often fight hordes of ninjas. But DC also has the League of Assassins which has featured a lot in the TV-show Arrow as well as comics.) who are often just minions for the major bad guy. But sometimes, they have more important roles:

Fitz by Robin Hobb
He was the first assassin main character I read about. Fitz in an orphan but he’s also related to king Shrewd. He’s too much a potential danger, so king Shrewd decides to train him as the royal assassin, keeping Fitz working for Shrewd rather than for the king’s enemies. This causes Fitz a world of pain.

Vlad Taltos by Steven Brust
Vlad is a human who lives is a world ruled by elves, or Dragaerans as they’re called in this world. The humans are considered a much lower class than Dragaerans but fortunately, Vlad’s father was able to get enough money to buy his way into the Jhereg, the Dragaeran criminal house. When the series starts, with “Jhereg”, Vlad is an assassin and a minor crime boss. He’s a smartass and so is his familiar, Loiosh. Their banter is one of the things that really endeared me to the books, not to mention the wonderful cast of characters around Vlad.

Elektra from Marvel comics
Elektra started out as Daredevil’s girlfriend and later enemy. She’s been a hero for a short time but, as far as I know, she’s currently a villain again. She was trained by the Hand, a deadly ninja organization.

Psylocke from Marvel comics
She started out as a British telepath (she’s actually Captain Britain’s twin sister). But thanks to a trip through Siege Perilous, she ended up in the hands of Hand (heh) and in a body which wasn’t hers but which belonged to a Japanese woman. She never got her original body back and her powers have changed through the years, as well. But she was trained as an assassin by the Hand and is one of the most reliable X-Men.

Storm Shadow by Larry Hama in the G.I. Joe comics and movies
G.I. Joe comics have a lot of assassins, as well. Storm Shadow (who started out as a villain but then turned into a hero but, IIRC, was brainwashed into a villain again by the time the comics ended) was the most prominent ninja assassin in the series for years (yes, Snake-Eyes is also a ninja but since he’s a good guy he doesn’t actually assassinate anyone) but there are several ninja clans running around with various masters and apprentices, including Snake-Eyes and Jinx. Storm Shadow was a villain because of an incident in his past and when that was cleared up, he became a hero.

Lord Vetinari by Terry Pratchett
The Patriarch of Ankh-Morpok was trained as an assassin. Most likely that influenced his ruling style which is very subtle. Discworld has a number of other assassins, as well.

Ehiru by N. K. Jemisin
He’s a Gatherer. His job is to give peaceful death to the suffering, or the corrupt. In order to do that, he must enter his victim’s dream and make is a peaceful, blissful dream. He also gathers the victim’s dreamblood which is very addictive. He and his apprentice Nijri are followers of goddess of dreams, death and the afterlife. Their organization is completely legal.

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