Thursday, 30 June 2016

The Assassin's Curse

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.

I wasn't expecting much from The Assassin's Curse. I picked up a copy at a book swap, drawn by little other than the dreamy cover. The book blurb sounds like YA fantasy 101, so I wasn't really expecting much from the plot. It turns out I was pleasantly surprised when it started off much better than I expected it to be. Then I was kind of underwhelmed as it settled in to a saggy second act, then just bored by the finale. All in all, The Assassin's Curse is very much a mixed bag.

First up, the good. Protagonist Ananna, who I constantly want to type as Anna, is a brilliant character. The first person pov captures her rough and unpolished inner voice, and she's got attitude to spare. About to be married off to an attractive but dull fellow pirate, she runs away to make her own fortune. The opening few chapters crackle with energy, and it helps that Ananna talks like me after five vodka and cokes when my regional accent starts to come out. It's hard not to get swept away by such a lively and well-written heroine.

The problems start to arise when Ananna meets the titular assassin, Naji. Sent by her jilted fiancee, Naji also brings with him the introduction of magic. Some people have it, some don't, but I couldn't tell you why. There's mention of The Mists and Otherworlds, but nothing really gets fleshed out. The magic in this universe is frustratingly unexplored and appears all too frequently in obvious "because magic" plot devices.

I tried to find a magic GIF, but all I kept getting were Magic Mike GIFs. So enjoy!

It's disappointing, because the writing in this book is so vivid and descriptive, that it's a seriously missed opportunity for some truly amazing world-building. Ananna and Naji are bound together by an impossible magic curse - isn't that always the way? - but all we know about it is that it's magic. And impossible to break. There's something about Ananna saving Naji's life (by killing a snake that was about to bite him, which I see several problems with, but I'm not going to get into them) but unbreakable magic bonds are something of a "get out of jail free" cards for YA fantasy authors, a lazy way of explaining why supposedly strong characters don't just tell their jackass love interest to get lost. Sure, you could argue that with a first person pov, the reader only knows as much as Ananna. Which is what Naji is willing to tell her. Which isn't a lot. But that only compounds the issue of why such a strong-willed character would let herself get dragged across the empire by a stranger for something she doesn't understand.

The obvious answer is; to propel the plot, and this is another issue I had with the book. The pacing. The first third, where Ananna runs away from her family and ends up bound to Naji? Great. The story zips along, showing Ananna to be brave, resourceful and determined. I loved it. The middle act, where the pair cross the desert to find Naji's old flame who might be able to break the curse? Ok, a little dull, lots of walking and pretty-girl hate, but there's a bit of action and some new information to be gleaned. The finale, where Ananna and Naji end up stranded on a magical, floating island, trying to find a wizard who might be able to help them? Boring. Really boring. Pages and pages are spent starting fires, looking for water and building shelters. And then the book just ends, like a damp firework that promises a big bang but doesn't deliver one. Whether you believe the journey is more important than the destination, or the other way around, this book fails to deliver on either count.

Perhaps if there was more to go on, I'd have felt more invested. But I fail to see why Ananna would give a damn about the assassin who tried to kill her, and I can't buy in to a plot thread that isn't explained. I need more than the fact it's an impossible curse and no one really understands it to go on. I don't think that every plot detail needs to be spelled out, but "because I said so" isn't a reason that I'm willing to buy. Extra details are added at random too, like Naji will be in pain if he's too far from Ananna, and her being in danger (which is another incredibly vague definition) seems to injure him, which doesn't help my sneaking suspicion that the author was making things up as they went along. And ultimately that makes it harder to get invested in the stroy because the rules can change from one chapter to the next, and suddenly the game has changed without the story or characters earning it.

I was torn between two and three stars for this book. The plot is pretty standard YA fare, and the second half didn't hold my interest, but Ananna is such a well-written character, I persevered and saw the book through to the end. Will I pick up the sequel? Probably, and that's entirely down to the strength of the protagonist. I could have done without her hatred of Naji's old flame Laila (Ananna doesn't like beautiful people you see) based almost entirely on the fact that she's pretty, but the author is certainly all about equality on that front, because Ananna hates her fiancee for being too handsome (#firstworldproblems). Naji is a fairly bog standard love-interest, although the hints of romance don't really get going in this book (I'm guessing that's material for book two), but he's too cold and detached to really get invested in. Other characters come and go, but none - save for ship navigator Marjani - have much of an impact.

Sadly, this is a book where the sum of its parts is greater than its whole. With pirates, assassins, magic, deserts, maybe sort-of witches, the ingredients are all here for an epic read, but The Assassin's Curse doesn't quite reach the bar it sets.

No comments:

Post a Comment