Fantasy assassins add a wonderful element of violence, intrigue, mystery, and secrecy to any great novel. Just the name “assassin” reeks of shadowy danger. You just know you want to find out more about the mysterious man or woman beneath the hood or behind the mask.
There’s the added tension of knowing there’s someone hiding in the shadows, ready to spring out and attack the protagonists and antagonists alike. That’s what makes them so much fun!
But fantasy assassins aren’t just about the action and threat—they also bring in the question of morality. Is it always wrong to kill, or are there situations when such a thing is acceptable?
Whether the assassin serves the villain or the hero (or is the hero), they force us to examine our own beliefs on moral absolutes versus moral relativism.
Thanks to these things, assassins make for one hell of an epic fantasy novel! If you’re in the mood for fast-paced, heart-pounding excitement, assassin fantasy is the choice for you.
Behold, a line-up containing some of the best fantasy assassins of all time.
The mysterious Durzo Blint is the Night Angel, wetboy (magically-enhanced assassin) and potentially the greatest swordsman to walk the world of Midcryu. He is the wielder of the black Ka’kari, a sentient magical artifact of extraordinary power, which gives him abilities including invisibility, functional immortality (no aging), quickened healing, absorption of magic, perfect vision in any condition, and resurrection (at a cost). His long lifespan has enabled him to become master of weapons, smithing, herbology, poisons, and his magical Talent.
He is the most interesting character in the Night Angel series, but what makes him so intriguing is not his actions during the series, but his backstory.
As wielder of the black ka’kari, he has lived for over 700 years, and has lived dozens of lifetimes as many different people. Each of his previous lives has their own fascinating tales, most of which are only hinted at.
Orphan, street thief, and “bucket man” (assassin) for the Black Diamond, the most powerful thieves’ guild in Avryn. Royce Melborn is the only man to have escaped imprisonment in the dreaded Manzant Prison, where he received his mysterious (not magical) dagger Alverstone.
He is cynical, distrustful, and pessimistic to the core, yet beneath Royce’s façade as a self-serving individualist willing to let the world burn to keep himself and his loved ones safe, there is genuine good in him. He can feel remorse for his actions, is burdened by the lies he tells his friends, and has his own code of honor (twisted as it may be).
The gloomy Royce is the perfect foil to the friendly, eternally optimistic Hadrian Blackwater, the swordsman that serves as the other half of the thieving “crew” known only as Riyira. Their interactions are the best part of the novels, and they are the perfect unlikely pair that inject wonderful doses of humor into the stories.
Assassin of the Drenai nation, Dakeyras (also known as the Grey Man and Waylander) became a killer to avenge the brutal murders of his family. He spent 20 years hunting the culprits, during which time he became known as the Waylander. He eventually accepted a contract to kill the Drenai king, which led to him undertaking the quest for the Armour of Bronze.
Waylander was one of the first fantasy assassins to appear as a protagonist rather than the antagonist. His story arc is one of redemption, as he tries to atone for the chaos caused by his killing of the king.
He’s also one of the most bad-ass assassins of all time, thanks to his signature weapons (double-firing handheld crossbow, clever tactics (concealing his crossbow beneath his cloak), pinpoint accuracy, and disdain for armor (only using a small chainmail shoulder guard even when facing heavily armored opponents)
The arch-nemesis of dark elf hero Drizzt Do’Urden, Artemis Entreri is a cunning, tactical assassin known for being one of the most ruthless killers on the world of Faerun. His life is empty, devoid of all but the desire to kill and to defeat his arch-enemy.
His two-handed fighting style is equal to Drizzt’s, and has the uncanny ability to learn a maneuver after seeing it just once or twice. His combination of thieves’ training, near-peerless skill at arms, and adaptability makes him a truly fearsome opponent.
Unlike many of the other assassins on this list, Artemis Entreri is a straight-up antagonist. He is essentially a sociopath with a single-minded focus on killing. He is the mirror to Drizzt—where the dark elf tries to use his warrior skills to leave the world a better place, Entreri simply kills for the pleasure of it. He is the only antagonist to have survived repeated encounters with Drizzt.
Vladimir Taltos is more than just a killer-for-hire—as member of House Jhereg, he is a member of the Organization, the criminal enterprise that operates freely around the Dragaeran Empire.
Adept in the Eastern style of swordfighting (Italian-esque rapier dueling), he has also learned witchcraft from his Easterner grandfather and carries an arsenal of “sharp objects” concealed around his person. He also has a familiar named Loiosh, a winged reptile with a poison bite, and they share a psionic connection.
In the first novel, Taltos is a classic bon-vivant, smart-ass, wise-cracking killer who knows his way around a good meal and a bottle of fine wine. But over the series, he develops into a surprisingly complex, heroic character who uses his skills at assassination and death-dealing for good more often than harm. He is innately noble, with a sense of justice and duty that makes his adventures truly fascinating to follow.
The world’s most feared assassin, former apprentice of First Magus Bayaz, Shenkt is a truly terrifying opponent. He is an Eater, absorbing magical power by cannibalizing human flesh, with enhanced strength and the ability to move at blinding speed. His speed amplifies the force of his blows enough that he can pierce muscle and shatter bone with his bare hands. He is so talented a fighter that few of his fellow Eaters would consider facing him in combat.
Cultured, highly intelligent, and ruthless, Shenkt kills without hesitation yet with a manner that is exceedingly polite. Beside his weapons of death, his pouch is filled with spices to satiate his palate as a gourmand.
Trained at the Assassin’s Keep in Rifthold, Celaena (real name: Aelin Ashryver Galathynius) achieved her first kill by the age of nine. Captured as she attempted to avenge the deaths of her parents, she was sentenced to the hard labor camp of the Salt Mines, which hardens her resolve and turns her into a more ruthless, driven character. Everything changes when she enters a competition to become the personal assassin to the tyrannical king of Adarlan.
Celaena is passionate, cares deeply for the ones she loves, and shifts between witty and carefree in her happy moments and rage-filled when angry or sad. Worse, she enters a killing calm when facing death or threat, and that is when she is at her most dangerous.
Her moral compass is strong, and her past experiences have shaped her into a women who will not tolerate injustice, cruelty, or slavery.
Truthless of Shinovar, the Assassin in White, Szeth is a Surgebinder (powered by Stormlight magic) that uses his abilities to kill.
His actions (killing King Gavilar Kholin) lead to war between the Alethi and the Parshendi of the Shattered Plains, yet he cannot accept guilt or blame for what he is done, for he must do as he is commanded by whoever wields the holy Oathstones of Shin. He is a slave to his religion and culture, and though he hates himself for being enslaved, he tries to spare lives whenever possible.
He is bonded to an Honorblade, which gives him the ability to use Adhesion and Gravitation—powers that enable him to fly, walk on walls and ceilings, increase or decrease the gravitational pull on objects and people, and bond objects and people to other objects and people. As one of the characters state, “(A Shardblade) in the hands of Szeth should be one of the most terrifying things you have ever contemplated”.
Saved at a young age by Master Merela Khan, Girton is an assassin’s apprentice with an unusual upbringing: his master raises him with love and care rather than hardship and trials. Despite his club-foot, Girton is a professional killer in the disguise of a clumsy, unskilled cripple.
His disability is what makes Girton such a fascinating character. Girton is forced to create coping strategies to work around his foot, and that leads him to find solutions and plans that no “normally-abled” assassin would conceive of.
R.J. Barker stated, “He is not his disability; it is only a part of him. He does not let it stop or define him.” His heart and hope outweighs any of the hurt caused by his foot, making him a truly marvelous character to follow.
Born in Godsgrave to a wealth marrowborn familia, Mia joined the Red Church to become an assassin, all in the pursuit of vengeance against those who killed her family.
Her skill-at-arms is extensive: she can fight with any number of weapons, from dueling blades to the gravebone stiletto that is all she has of her family treasures. Added to her skill in venom-crafting is her magical ability to control darkness, enabling her to conceal herself, travel unseen, and constrict enemies in shadows.
Mia is fearless, the side effect of her two shadow daemons, which consume her fears. The lack of fear causes her to be reckless and impulsive, but as she confronts her inner demons, she manages to achieve a healthy balance of living with fears and not being consumed by them. Outwardly vicious and cold, she is inwardly sympathetic, even kind, with an innate goodness that all her years as an assassin can never truly blot out.
Originally from the Seven Cities, Kalam was the Claw’s best assassin before a disagreement led him to flee and join the Bridgeburners. Tall, broad-shouldered, and deadly with his compact, wrist-carried crossbows, Kalam is a force to be reckoned with.
His inner discipline of mind and body enables him to stanch bleeding with sheer thought-power alone, and he can decrease his body temperature to render him invisible to those with “enhanced sight”.
Though he will kill without hesitation, he is not ruthless or cruel. He is quick to laugh, shares a deep friendship with Quick Ben, and is a staunch defender of his fellow Bridgeburners. But beware: when he speaks in a quiet tone, that is when he is most dangerous.
Post-graduate student of the Assassin’s Guild, Mr. Jonathan Teatime was the only choice when the Auditors of Reality needed someone to assassinate Hogfather, Discworld’s version of Santa Claus.
His years of studying at the Assassin’s Guild have twisted him into a resourceful, cunning, and utterly amoral killer who cares nothing for money but kills only for killing’s sake.
Mr. Teatime has physics-defying abilities (flipping on thin air), and can kill with such speed that his enemies see him as nothing but a blur. It is believed that his glass eye is actually a scrying device. He has a brilliant mind, yet he sees people as things—either to be killed or to hire him to kill others. He is a loner, friendless, and bordering on insane.
Honorable mention: Lord Havelock Vetinari, Lord Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, is a Machieavelli-like former member of the Assassin’s Guild who excelled at the art of camouflage.
His appearance at a party was enough to frighten the then-Patrician of the city to death.
A legend among the people of his city, the Hunter kills without hesitation or mercy—but only those who deserve it. Big men, little men, strong men, weak men, cowards and brave fools, heroes, villains, rich men, beggars—all are his prey. His dagger, Soulhunger, consumes the souls of his victims, feeding him power and healing his wounds.
He is immortal and possesses superhuman speed, strength, and stamina. He is incredibly skilled with a variety of weapons, though he prefers a handheld crossbow (tipped with poison) and his sword-and-dagger combination. He wears masks of alchemical “flesh”, which allows him to adopt various disguises to hide in plain sight.
He is fiercely protective of those who cannot protect themselves. He has taken beggars, lepers, and outcasts into the building he owns, and he feels responsible for caring for them in his own way. He also has a firm, if cynical, sense of right and wrong, and will fight to his last breath for any cause he believes is truly right. He has become an assassin out of necessity, for the voice of Soulhunger echoes in his mind and drives him to kill. Yet he fights its demands and refuses to be ruled by his “inner demons”.
Assassin to the throne of Turgonia, Sicarius spent a lifetime enduring harsh training to become a peerless killer in service to the Empire. His black clothing and myriad throwing knives and daggers make him a dangerous foe after nightfall. He is trained in fighting styles from all over the world, and has few peers in armed and unarmed combat.
He is also fiercely protective of young Prince Sespian, adheres to duty and service above all, yet he is willing to disobey orders to kill if he believes it is the right choice.
Though he insists that he acts only when he is invested in the outcome, he is not without conscience. He regrets certain actions he has been forced to take in service to the Empire.
Born in the harshest of the Four Territories, Esh is hated by all because of his hybrid blood. Trained to be an assassin from a young age, he mastered all things combat, sorcery, and alchemy.
He is also host to the Wisp (an evil and powerful parasite), which can be manipulated to stick to his enemies, rip them apart, or infiltrate his target and destroy them from the inside. His power comes at a price: his blood. The more blood he gives the more Wisp power he can manipulate.
Esh comes from nothing and has nothing to lose, which has hardened him and made him fiercely loyal to the few people in his life. He wields a green granite and wood-handled sword crafted by his mother, which has magical abilities of its own. His youth and naivete may cause him to leap before he ever thinks to look, but his drive to survive enables him to fight his way out of even the deadliest situations.
Born Iliana Poncett, heir to the throne of Alexander, Adelei was kidnapped at age five and sent to the Kingdom of Sadai, where she was raised and trained by the Grand Master of the Order of Amaska, a secretive organization of assassins serving justice and order.
Adept at climbing and scaling a variety of surfaces, Adelei’s well-trained in using a variety of poisons and weapons. Adelei is not one to let anything stop her from what she wants. The world of the Little Dozen Kingdoms is very black and white to Adelei. She’s devoted to punishing criminals, and headstrong like most her age.
Foul-mouthed, infamous, and utterly ruthless in his pursuit of his target, Astul is a purveyor of secrets and death that will work for almost anyone if the coin’s right.
His weapon of choice: a mysterious black sword that can cut through the thickest of plate. He might not possess an iota of magical ability, but his aggressive fighting style mixed with two decades of self-training more than makes up for a lack of occult powers.
He barely survived childhood—courtesy of a father who thought fisticuffs solved all problems—yet his hardships have turned him into an assassin feared by even kings and nobles.
Yet his disregard for human life only applies to his targets, however. His assassin family, the Black Rot, means everything to him, and he’d do anything—anything—to protect them. To outsiders, he may seem like a man possessed by bloodlust, but join his cause and he’ll lay down his life to save yours.
Member of an outlawed religious order, Aral is a jack-of-all-trades (fixer) driven to seek the justice for his murdered brethren. Priest and killer, he was given the name “Kingslayer” because as a novice, he asked his goddess for a chance to kill an evil king. The goddess granted him divine weapons and her blessing, enabling him to succeed where other master-assassin priests had failed.
He is bonded to Triss, a wraith the shape of a man-sized dragon. The wraith allows him to hide in shadows, makes him resistant to wounds, enhances his senses, enables him to spy unseen, and can even form wings to fly. He might not be the best of his priestly order, his magic mediocre at best, but he is the more determined and cunning.
Who would you be most afraid to face in single combat? Drop a comment below with your favorite fantasy assassin—either on this list, or one that I’ve missed that deserves a spot here!