Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to another pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. When Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn’t really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together.
To break the curse, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks – all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic… and the growing romantic tension between them.
Of the first four books Strange Chemistry announced Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse was the one that appealed to me most, probably because its description was most like the fantasy I enjoy most, or rather have enjoyed the longest. Besides, pirates, assassins, and dark curses, all set in a strange desert land—who could resist? And not only did I like The Assassin’s Curse as much I thought I would, I was blown away by this amazing debut! Clarke shows she’s a deft hand at her craft and creates a wonderful and unique voice for her heroine Ananna, one that I found impossible to resist.
Even if I was drawn in by the promise of pirates and assassins, the part of the book I ended up loving most was its heroine Ananna. She’s caustic and cynical and she’ll stand up for herself. At the same time she knows she’s flawed and readily admits it if she doesn’t know a thing. She’s eager to learn and I loved that along the way she manages to get herself taught new skills, without it coming across as the protagonist learning a new skill so she can fulfil a requirement to the plot later on in the narrative. She’s smart and resourceful, without being an unrealistic super girl, who has skills that are implausible for someone of her age and background or is brilliant at everything. Another point where Clarke deviates from some of the more often seen YA tropes is her romance. No insta-love or attraction for our heroes, this love affair is grudging and perhaps not even an affair. I loved Ananna’s interaction – and often exasperation – with Naji; I loved that she only realises she likes him, or even loves him, when it’s already happened, even if the reader does see that bond slowly building.
Naji, being what he is, is completely different from Ananna. He’s well educated and possessed of a kind of magic that is distrusted by most decent folk. His Order uses blood magic, a strong and mysterious magic that is both scary and fascinating, both to Ananna and the reader. His past is mysterious, largely because he chooses to keep it thus. At times Naji’s secrecy seems more about keeping secrets than being functional, something which is annoying to Ananna and sometimes the reader as well. There remain many unanswered questions about Naji, such as his true past with Leila and the extent of his assassin’s arts. Hopefully, we’ll find out more about those in the second book.
The Assassin’s Curse doesn’t just have great characters in its protagonists and some of the secondary ones (I really liked Marjani), but it has a very cool setting as well, with the desert lands surrounded by the seas. I especially loved the Isles of the Sky, which are as magical and spooky as you might wish. I loved the juxtaposition of the environments and their related magic, water magic for the pirates and earth magic for the people in the cities and the desert. While there isn’t much explanation about the magic systems, beyond that there are spells, potions and you can bargain with what I presumed to be the spirits of the elements. What it lacks in detail, it supplements in flavour, though I hope we’ll find out more about both the magic of Ananna’s world and that of the Mists.
Clarke took a big risk with The Assassin’s Curse in the way she wrote Ananna’s voice and thus the narration. It’s very distinct and with what you might call an accent if you’d only heard it. I’m not sure whether it’s a reflection of pirate patois or meant to convey that Ananna isn’t that well-educated, though since she can read, write, and cipher, I’d have to guess it’s the former. It takes some getting used to with its use of ain’t, gonna, shoulda and not neither, just to name a few examples. While I loved Ananna’s voice after falling into its cadence, I can see that this is a real marmite issue, you either love it or hate it, there probably isn’t much in between.
The Assassin’s Curse is a fantastic debut for Cassandra Rose Clark. I thought the book was fabulous and I want book two now! I didn’t know going in that this was the first of what looks to be a duology and while the book stops at a point where there is a natural breathing space for our heroes before they set out on the second part of their quest, I was still a bit frustrated at the fact that we didn’t get the whole story. As it is, I will have to wait until June, when The Pirate’s Wish is released. Fortunately, I won’t have to wait quite so long to sample more of Clarke’s writing as Angry Robot is releasing The Mad Scientist’s Daughter early next year. Meanwhile, Cassandra Rose Clarke is an author to watch if The Assassin’s Curse is anything to go by.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.