Review: The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Thursday, August 2, 2012
Genre: fantasy, young-adult
Series: Untitled #!
Pages: 188 (ARC edition)
Published: expected October 2 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Ananna of the Tanarau is the eldest daughter of a highly-ranked family in the loose assortment of cutthroats and thieves in the Pirate's Confederation. When she runs away from the marriage her parents have arranged for her, they hire Naji the assassin to murder her.

When a mysterious woman in a dress shop offers her magical assistance for dealing with the assassin, Ananna accepts. She never went in much for magic herself -- she lacks the talent for it -- but she's not quite ready to die yet, either. Unfortunately, the woman's magic fails.

Fortunately, Ananna inadvertently saves the assassin's life in the skirmish, thus activating a curse that had been placed on him a few years earlier. Now, whenever her life is in danger, he must protect her -- or else he experiences tremendous physical pain. Neither Ananna nor the assassin, Naji, are pleased about this development.

Follow Ananna and Naji as they sail across the globe, visiting such mysterious places as the Court of Salt and Waves, in their desperate effort to lift the curse. Soon they will discover that only by completing three impossible tasks will they be able to set themselves free.

Wow - what a beautiful and original cover; I defy anyone to see that and not want to at least peak at the inside novel. I caught sight of this beautiful, evocative cover a few weeks ago on GoodReads and once it had popped up on NetGalley, I knew I had to read it. For once, this is not a case of a beautiful, alluring young adult cover hiding a big ol' mess of plot and characters inside (like numerous others I could name that lied to my eyes); this is a novel worth that eye-catching picture. Boasting a wholly fun and quick-moving storyline about Pirate Confederations, blood-magic, assassins, battles and more, The Assassin's Curse tries for a lot for a debut novel and happily, it succeeds in most of those areas. Immediately entertaining, original and full of compelling characters, this is a welcome addition to the fast-growing young-adult fantasy genre. Fans of the soon-to-released Seraphina and other such fantasy offerings will find a new strong heroine to root for and identify with, in an alien but vaguely familiar world, populated with the weird and strange sprung from this author's fertile imagination.

Though The Assassin's Curse is truly just a bit too short to see all its potential awesome to its full fruition, this is a novel rich in imagination and atmosphere. With islands of mists that can drive men mad, magic, pirate allegiances and Orders of assassins, there's an obviously medievally-influenced fantasy feel to the world being built by this author and it works for both the story and the characters being created. And the characters are a tretat -- for all that I was enveloped in the feel of Clarke's world, the strength of this novel rests mainly on its strong teen protagonist Ananna and her foil, the withdrawn Naji. With a sluggish, almost juvenile beginning, it was my interest in the mythology and in Ananna's story that kept me engaged. As it turns out, the novel matures from its initial impression of simplicity as its leading heroine does: quickly and smoothly once the narrative gets going. The introductory imfodumps are not the best method of storytelling (duh), and thankfully the author matures out of that foible soon enough.

Ananna is one of those memorable heroines: strong, difficult, smart, and deadly. She is a wonderfully complicated, flawed woman - this is a girl who will kill to stay alive but will feel regret for it after. She's a hard woman, but not a cruel one -- and that's perfect for the cutthroat pirate world she hails from. A wide-eyed innocent wouldn't escaped from her wedding on a stolen camel, but a fully proficient one wouldn't be caught in the situation she finds herself in with Naji. It's a delicate balance, but one that is well-struck here. The first person POV is used skillfully with this particular protagonist; though I did grow tired of certain phrases she used, I felt connected to the independently-minded Miss Taranau immediately. Her strong and defiant voice, coupled with the conversational tone of the novel make for a vibrantly fleshed-out young-woman. I was really impressed with the air cultivated for both Ananna and Naji - both are prickly and difficult people, but you root for them because of (or in spite of?) their often harsh outlooks. Naji, whom I love, does still need a lot of personal development. I'm a sucker for any brooding assassin but I hope more characterization is down the road for him. A tortured love interest is well and good -- but don't leave it at that alone. Naji has potential and though I love him, I will be pissed if he is wasted and becomes a stagnant character. 

As much as I was wrapped up in Ananna's inner monologue and travails, I didn't fail to notice that some aspects of this novel can feel a bit shortchanged, and that the plot can feel a bit thin in places. There's a lot of rushing about from place to place, long treks from one location to the next, all to find Person X and then Gandalf Dumbledore, the old Hermit Mystic Wizard trope...which didn't exactly light me on fire with its originality or do anything to fix the lack of tension. Those are all fairly common fantasy tropes and its a shame to see a novel as original as The Assassin's Curse fall prey to such easy traps.  Ananna and Naji are more than able to carry the novel and create momentum between them that makes me want to read, but I never really felt any tension or suspense when confronted with the Mists, or other enemies. There's not a lot of worldbuilding here, and as this is character-driven, I'lll allow a pass. For now. The bittersweet ending is open-ended enough for a sequel or companion novel (in fact, I am counting on a series for this) and that is one area that sorely needs some detail and attention. 

Cassandra Rose Clarke is an author to watch. This novel was quick, fun, unique and filled with two wonderfully imagined characters -- all the more impressive for The Assassin's Curse being her first. Though not free of a few pitfalls, I greatly enjoyed reading this and eagerly look forward to the next adventure on the horizon for these two characters.


  1. Yay! I'm so glad you enjoyed this one Jessie! I loved it, but, like you, I did find the writing and plot to be lacking in some areas. Still, I loved the banter and growing relationship between Ananna and Naji and I can't wait to see where it goes in the sequel! :) Brilliant review, as usual! :D

    Ivy Book Bindings

    1. Thank you Keeratana! It's always nice to see your name pop up on my blog -- you're good for my ego!

      I LOVED the relationship between Ananna and Naji -- I wish more experienced authors wrote relationships like this one!

  2. Hi, new follower from GoodReads. I'd love a follow back!

    1. Done! Thank you for stopping by and following, Candace! Looking forward to talking books with you!


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