Magic of Blood and Sea: Boundless freedom awaits on a wave-tossed ship

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Magic of Blood and Sea: The Assassin's Curse; The Pirate's Wish Kindle Edition by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Author)Magic of Blood and Sea by Cassandra Rose ClarkeMagic of Blood and Sea by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Magic of Blood and Sea (2017) combines two of Cassandra Rose Clarke’s novels, The Assassin’s Curse (2012) and The Pirate’s Wish (2013), into one volume. Originally, these novels were published by Strange Chemistry, the YA branch of Angry Robot Books, but the imprint went defunct (as sometimes happens) and the publication rights to their various books were scattered to the four winds. In this particular case, Saga Press swooped in to save the day, and not only did The Assassin’s Curse and The Pirate’s Wish get a shiny new re-packaging, but two other books set in this universe — The Wizard’s Promise (2014) and the previously-unpublished The Nobleman’s Revenge — are expected to be released as a single volume, Magic of Wind and Mist, potentially in late 2017 or early 2018. We readers are lucky, lucky people.

Why are we such lucky people, you may ask? Because Magic of Blood and Sea is chock full of magic, yes, but also seafaring pirates, magic-wielding assassins, mysterious frost-fogged islands, man-eating manticores, dangerous spirits that travel between worlds, and so much more. As if all of this weren’t wonderful enough, it all takes place in a remarkably diverse world containing a range of skin colors, gender options, and religious beliefs. Clarke’s prose has the same sense of boundless energy and possibility that I love about Diana Wynne JonesHOWL’S CASTLE books, with ever-so-slightly more of a mature, modern sensibility.

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke (October 2, 2012)

Book 1 of the omnibus

Ananna of the Tanarau clan of pirates is being married off to Tarrin of the Hariri clan, an arrangement she is decidedly unhappy about. In her estimation, Tarrin is too handsome to be trustworthy or intelligent, but marrying her is the best way for his wealthy clan to make a legitimate name for themselves as pirates, and her pirate-royalty parents will benefit from this business arrangement, so Ananna is expected to do what’s best. Naturally, she abandons her fiancé and disappears into the bustling port city of Lisirra, so in retaliation, the Hariris hire an assassin to track her down and kill her. Unfortunately for Naji, the assassin, Ananna accidentally saves his life while he’s trying to kill her, inciting an Otherworld curse which links their bodies and minds: if Ananna is in any kind of danger, Naji experiences terrible agony. The two of them are forced to work together and complete three impossible tasks in order to break the curse and allow them to live separately once more; easier said than done, especially when they spend most of their time fighting like stray cats.

Ananna has a wonderful spark of life — she’s clever, headstrong, plain-spoken, and brash, but she’s also vulnerable, self-conscious, and kind when she needs to be. She’s everything a YA heroine should be, and her gradual discovery that she can be more than just someone’s wife or first mate is sure to make readers’ hearts swell. Pirate culture itself is interesting and convincing, with different factions, languages, and customs depending on location and social status. While those cultures are patriarchal, Ananna’s interactions with an inspirational character show that there’s more than enough room for their society to improve.

The Pirate's Wish

Book 2 of the omnibus

Naji’s use of magic is fascinating, especially as it relates to his bloody profession. He can literally disappear into shadows when the need arises, he can craft charms to guard the wearer against spells, or he can even light special fires that never go out. There’s an appropriately taxing trade-off for his spells and abilities, though, and he’s not the only person with access to this magic, which adds all sorts of complications to his quest to rid himself of the curse. For my own part, I found him to be too much of a brooding grump to see any appeal beyond friendship, though I’m well aware that opinions will vary.

Ananna and Naji’s journey takes them to strange and wonderful places: the city of Lisirra, various oceans and deserts, the floating Isles of the Sky, the tropical-island kingdom of Jokja, the Island of the Sun (populated by manticores), and many more. Each location feels distinct and individual, lived-in rather than functioning merely as backdrops and set pieces, partly because of the variations in culture and language but also because the settings play a part in plot progression and character behavior. Everything in Magic of Blood and Sea is significant in some way, but I never had a sense of information overload or, even worse, info-dumping. The romantic elements of the story felt a little rushed and sudden, but that’s a minor complaint when considering that everything else was so thoroughly enjoyable.

I’m always ready for a good pirate story — I can’t deny the appeal of the sense of freedom, the endless journeys, and the constant search for adventure and treasure. Magic of Blood and Sea did not disappoint in any of those arenas, and I will absolutely be looking forward to the companion volume, Magic of Wind and Mist. Highly recommended.

~Jana Nyman


Here’s Ruth’s previous review of The Assassin’s Curse, the first book in this omnibus edition:

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Ananna of the Tanaru is about to be offered up in an arranged marriage to one of the other pirate clans, but escapes on a camel she steals from a jewelry merchant. The insulted clan sends an assassin after her, and when she accidentally saves his life, she triggers a curse that binds the two of them together in a search for a cure. Their search sets them off into the desert, where they have to deal with other assassins, cruel witches, pirate clans, floating islands and their own stupidity.

I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun reading a book. I love sword and sorcery, and in The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke, both Ananna and Naji, the assassin, can both swing a sword and cast magic, though with varying degrees of skill and different areas of expertise. This is a non-stop adventure romp through deserts and up rivers and across the high seas that will not let you put the book down. I seriously read the book non-stop from beginning to end. Luckily I have a husband that will feed our child when I get like this.

One of the things that I appreciate about Cassandra Rose Clarke’s writing is that the heroes are not perfect. Ananna is a 17-year-old girl. And like most 17-year-olds, sometimes she is annoying and arrogant and acts impulsively and does stupid things. Naji, even though he is older and has spent years as an assassin, also has some convincingly human blindspots. I like flawed heroes, because it makes them much more compelling as characters. Superheroes are fun, but you typically don’t worry about them getting killed off. (I know, I know, sometimes they die, but typically just until you reboot the franchise.) Ananna and Naji are just two people trying to survive the consequences of their choices, and that is something that readers can identify with.

I also enjoy the skill with which Clarke has created a different world. Ananna has a distinctive but not annoying to read dialect that is far different from Naji’s educated precision in his language. The eerie Islands of the Sky, a river coursing down a deep canyon, a merciless desert, pirate ports of call and garden cities are all conjured out of the air with convincing reality, and with just a few descriptive words. Her world can kill you — and I appreciate that her characters suffer from things like sun sickness and hypothermia and actually have to recuperate from massive blood loss for multiple days. There are a few jarring typos that threw me out of the story, but mostly, Clarke’s skill with writing kept me deeply immersed in the story.

This is obviously the first book in a series, and I’m looking forward to future installments to see what Ananna and Naji get themselves into, and hopefully out of, in the next book. This isn’t some weighty serious discourse on the problems of modernity or a huge epic brick of a book. It is fun, though, and every once in a while, you just need a fun book to transport you to another world and involve you in a run for your life across the desert or the high seas. Beyond just telling a good story, Clarke can write, however, which keeps this from being just a pulp novel. From:

“Well, look who’s on my front porch,” he said, speaking Empire with this odd hissing accent. “A murderer and a cross-dressing pirate.”
I looked down at my clothes, ripped and shredded and covered in mud and sand and dried blood. I’d forgotten I was dressed like a boy.
“So are you here to kill me or to rob me?” the man said. “I generally don’t find it useful to glow when undertaking acts of subterfuge, but then, I’m just a wizard.”

to:

I hadn’t even recognized the hope for what it was until it got dragged away from me.

Clarke’s skill with words keeps you enthralled in the tale.

I’ll recommend The Assassin’s Curse to anyone who enjoys good old-fashioned sword and sorcery stories. While this is technically a YA novel, I think any fan of sword and sorcery is going to enjoy this. There’s a little bit of profanity, but no objectionable content for advanced middle grade readers either.

~Ruth Arnell

Published as an omnibus February 7, 2017. Assassin’s Curse originally published in 2012. A pirate princess and a cursed assassin find their fates intertwined in this gorgeous and thrilling adventure. Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an ally pirate clan. She wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to a handsome and clueless man. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns that her fiancé’s clan has sent an assassin after her. And when this assassin, Naji, finally finds her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse—with a life-altering result. Now, Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work to complete three impossible tasks that will cure the curse. Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must face the repercussions of betraying her engagement that set her off on her adventures. Together, the two must break the curse, escape their enemies, and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L’Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit’s staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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One comment

  1. I’m part of the way through this book right now, and I’m really enjoying it. I love the way that Ananna narrates the way she actually speaks, which is something that a lot of authors don’t bother with. But it really works here!

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