November 9, 2012

Review: The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Published: 2012, Strange Chemistry
Series: The Assassin's Curse, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Personal ebook

You don't realize how much you miss something till it comes back to you, and then you wonder how you went so long without it.

Ananna of the Tanaru knows what she wants out of her life. The daughter of one of the larger pirate clans in the Confederation, Ananna hopes to captain her own ship one day. She's spent the majority of her life aboard her father's ship learning all the tricks of the trade. But then she finds out that her parents wish for Ananna to marry Tarrin of the Hariri. Marrying Tarrin would ensure that Ananna's dreams would never happen, and so she runs away. The Hariri clan does not take this insult well, however, and sends an assassin to kill Ananna. 

Not only does Ananna survive the assassin's attack, but she saves the assassin's life, which triggers an impossible curse. The assassin, Naji, finds out that his life is tied to Ananna, and that any hurt or pain she receives is shared with him. Neither of them is quite happy with the arrangement, and both are the targets of groups that want them dead. Together Ananna and Naji must protect each other, as together they travel across their world for a cure to Naji's curse.

Ananna is a great heroine. Strong-willed, confident, and independent, she's everything that I love in a protagonist. Even though she's in difficult situations for the majority of the book, Ananna's personal beliefs and sense of self are never shaken. That's not to say that she isn't willing to learn or change, however. Ananna knows that she is her own instrument of happiness, but that doesn't make her callous or oblivious to others' needs. It can be a fine line for a character to walk, yet Ananna accomplishes this as easily as she climbs along ship rigging.

In retrospect I really appreciate how Clarke chose Ananna's voice to narrate the story, although it did initially present some difficulties for me as a reader. I like reading, writing, and speaking in proper English whenever possible. I guess that I'm a grammarian and respect the conventions of formal English a little too much. The Assassin's Curse is not only told from Ananna's perspective, but also written in her voice. Clarke therefore uses lots of slang, fragments, and improper grammar to convey Ananna's story. At first this made for a disconcerting read for me, but as I continued to read, I realized how right it was. How many authors do have their characters speak in a way that is less formal than their narrative point of view, after all?  Clarke's writing style becomes much more consistent and it's clear from the combined narration/dialogue that she has an incredible grasp on Ananna's character.

Naji is also a rarity: an assassin with a troubled conscience. In comparison to Ananna he's a bit of an anomaly. After all, Ananna has no issues working within the culture she's grown up with; it's only when one part of her cultural expectations interferes with another that she's forced to operate outside of her pirate life with the Confederation. Naji's doubts about his way of life seem to be much broader and all-encompassing. I have to say, however, that his powers are just so cool. And I love it when characters have existential crises and are riddled with self-doubt.

As much as I enjoyed Ananna as a character unto herself, I found myself appreciating her characterization even more throughout her interactions with Naji. There is no romance in this novel. No romance whatsover. I can't even begin to explain how happy that made me. From the beginning Ananna point-blank refuses to consider the possibility of being married to Tarrin. And then once she and Naji are bound together by a curse, they're both understandably focused on finding a cure to the curse. They're also able to know one another as individuals, instead of simply as products of their societies.
It took me a little longer than I expected it would for me to become fully immersed in Ananna and Naji's world. Clarke combines so many fascinating elements in her fantasy world, from pirate and assassin lore, desert lands and ice islands, an alternate universe called The Mists, and the presence of magic permeating the world. While the alternate universe of The Mists and the creatures of that world are lacking the clarity I would have liked, most other aspects of Clarke's world are well-defined. Clarke doesn't engage in information-dumping on the reader, nor did the pacing seem slow. Just something inhibited me from clicking with the novel until Ananna and Naji finally leave the port city to begin their journey.

The ending of this book did not bother me much, considering how open-ended it is. Ananna and Naji are given a little direction for their continuing quest, but not many things are resolved at all by the end of The Assassin's Curse. I think the whole storyline of Ananna and Naji could definitely have been written as one book. One very, very long book. However, I did begin reading this story with the knowledge that is a duology, so at least I can be confident with the fact that Clarke won't be dragging out her story unnecessarily. 

My opinion of The Assassin's Curse changed quite a few times while reading it. Ultimately, however, I was very glad that I had taken the opportunity to read this book. It is a unique offering in YA fantasy and I look forward to reading more of Ananna and Naji's world, as well as any future works of Clarke's.
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. Wonderful review, Amanda! I'm so glad you wound up enjoying this one, despite your qualms with it. I, personally, adored it and was blown away by the depth of the characters. I have Clarke's next novel, a sci-fi story due to release next year, on my Kindle so I can't wait to get to it and see what she does with a different genre field. I'm sure it'll be great! :)

    1. Thank you, Keertana! My qualms were initial ones that happily subsided. I am excited about Clarke's new book, as well as the sequel to this. It sounds as though next year will be a good one for her! Definitely a new fan of her works!

  2. Gosh, I REALLY need to read this soon. I have the galley but haven't been able to read it yet. But every review of it has been positive. Plus you had me with this:

    "And I love it when characters have existential crises and are riddled with self-doubt."

    Me too! And the fact that there is not a romance between the 2 main characters at all also makes me curious. I'm all for romance but to read something that doesn't veer off in that direction would be very refreshing indeed:)

    And I can be nitpicky about grammar and use of language as well. Sometimes I have hard time with slang or dialect. But other times I get past it and really appreciate it as the book continues (case in point: Blood Red Road.)

    Great review, Amanda! Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier (and commenting on Sunshine.) I'm glad to have found your blog:)

    1. You should read it! haha yes internal issues will always be my favorite issues for characters to have. So much more interesting than having to save the Earth/kingdom/someone else is a character who must learn to save/live with herself. :)

      Blood Red Road is on my TBR list. I've heard great things about that as well!

      I do hope you give The Assassin's Curse a chance soon - I'm sure you'll enjoy it and I'll be very interested in hearing your thoughts on it! :) Thanks so much, Heather!


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