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.”
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.