While many of the ingredients in Ms. Clarke’s story aren’t particularly novel, such as a young lady fleeing from an arranged marriage, having to throw her lot in with an apparent bad guy and being chased across the globe by true evil, she weaves them together and binds them into a tale that is both original and enthralling.
Ms. Clarke has a stark and rich sense of place. There are disparate areas of her world, town, desert, sea and island, that stand in sharp relief due to her vivid detail and the seamless way they are incorporated into the narrative. Similarly, her characters are rooted to their place in the world so that travel, their responses within these other environs are understood through their contrast to “home”. One senses the smells, noise and people of the town, the burning sand and terrible thirst of the desert and the splash of spray on the sea in the midst of action. We see the awkwardness of the pirate in the dunes and the uselessness of the desert assassin on the sea. Even as the characters remain true to their form, they are not wooden. Their relationships seem to be on shifting ground and nothing is certain. Ms. Clarke nicely juxtaposes Ananna’s impulsive, in-the-moment personality with Naji’s careful, planning one. Overall, it’s a delightful adventure seen mainly through the eyes of our protagonist, Ananna, and her journey with her would-be assassin turned bodyguard. Let me put it this way: I stayed up later than I should reading it, lingered longer in the car listening to the Audible version and generally spent any spare moment in the book. Most telling of all, I’ve already bought and downloaded its sequel The Pirate’s Wish.
I have two quibbles with The Assassin’s Curse: Ananna’s dialect and the ending (don’t worry, no spoilers). Ananna has been raised as the daughter of a pirate captain, so she learns to read but is not formally educated. This is portrayed in her occasional bad grammar, as in: “I ain’t never been one to trust beautiful people” or “I ain’t had no say in it”. The problem is that this is told from her perspective and that inner voice tends to use good grammar albeit bits of uneducated speech is peppered in. In other words, the use of the dialect is inconsistent enough to be unconvincing. This isn’t a huge problem but more of an occasional irritant that pulls me out of the moment.
Ms. Clarke follows a current trend of breaking up a book into digestible parts. In The Assassin’s Curse, almost none of the issues raised during the book are resolved. So while the ending is not abrupt, it is unsatisfying. I’m OK with cliff hangers and whetting our appetite for the next book, but a book ought to be able to stand on its own; this book does not. It’s not just that I want more (that’s the good thing), but that I want some resolution. However, The Pirate’s Wish is available, so all is forgiven. I do hate this trend in series, however.
As I often do, I switched between the Kindle and the Audible version. Tania Rodrigues really nails the narration. She deftly jumps between Ananna and her erstwhile assassin, Naji. Pacing and enunciation are perfect even while she vocally portrays the drama of the various situations the characters inhabit. This is the first book Ms. Rodrigues narrates that I’ve heard; she’s first rate. (As of this post, Assassin’s Curse seems no longer available on Audible. I hope that’s rectified soon.)
So, set out on this journey with Ananna and Naji, brave the desert, slice through the seas and discover mysteries on an island; it’s a grand adventure.