Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke is the author’s debut novel, out on October 2nd from Strange Chemistry, the new YA imprint of Angry Robot Books. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this novel from the publisher for review purposes.

The (slightly truncated because spoilers) blurb from the publisher:
Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. And 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. 
First things first: this is a great book. The blurb ticks a lot of boxes of awesome (pirates, assassins, hilarious curses) and the book itself did not disappoint.

Annana is a 17 year old pirate, born and raised by her parents on a pirate ship. When she runs away from a marriage to a stupid pretty boy, her plan is to eventually get herself a ship (or a place on one to start) and return to her normal life. Instead, she’s stuck with Naji, an assassin, protecting her when she can look after herself well enough. If she wanders too far from him or gets into any danger, even the sort she can no trouble getting out of, he feels physical pain.

The interplay between the two characters was very interesting. They both end up protecting each other. Naji, particularly, needs more help from Annana than one might expect from a member of a secret order of magical assassins. Annana is mostly happy to fend for herself but is stuck with Naji and doesn’t actually wish him harm since he’s stopped trying to assassinate her. I liked that Annana can fight with a sword or knife competently and that this makes perfect sense (because she’s a pirate).

One thing in this book that really made me happy was Annana wanting to be captain of her own ship one day. I mean, on the face of it, it’s not unusual, but in the story world it is unusual for a woman to captain a ship. Better yet, she is keen to learn navigation and maths and she’s competent at these things when she learns them and enjoys them and this made me squee. Far too often, especially in non-SF books, characters (and, quite frankly, real people) say things like “oh, I don’t like/understand/know maths!” without considering the implications. Maths is useful and important and, as delightfully emphasised by Clarke, essential to certain tasks, like navigating a ship across the sea/ocean. <3

The Assassin’s Curse is set in a fantasy land, partly in a sort of deserty Arabian area, partly on a ship and partly on a northern island. The settings are broad and given the context, I was glad to see that the people were mostly shades of brown (as opposed to white people in the desert for no logical reason).

The only thing that I didn’t love about this book was that it took a little while for Annana’s voice to feel natural. Written in first person, there were a few times near the start where it felt a little bit awkward, but not for any definite reason I could put my finger on. She talks like a pirate (think Mal from Firefly or Jack Sparrow with less “Yarr!”) and by about half way through, I felt like her voice had settled into a rhythm and I didn’t notice it anymore. In any case, it definitely didn’t detract from the story itself.

This is an excellent debut and a great YA novel. I recommend it to all lovers of fantasy, YA and adult. Although it’s on the short side for an adult book, I still feel adult fantasy readers would enjoy it. It’s also a good place to start if you’re looking for a less conventional setting.

4.5 / 5 stars

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