Of curses and assassins

The Assassin's Curse - Cassandra Rose Clarke

A charming story, this short novel is about a pirate girl, seventeen-year-old Ananna. Her parents are pirates and they decided to barter her off in marriage to make alliances with another pirate clan. Ananna dislikes her prospective husband – he is too beautiful – so she runs away from her wedding, on a camel, no less, with no preparations whatsoever, just following an impulse. That’s what some teens do, I suppose, so the book lives up to its genre – YA fantasy.

Unfortunately, the groom’s family takes offence and sends an assassin after her. Even more unfortunate (for some), during the botched assassination, Ananna unwittingly activates a curse on the said assassin. His name is Naji, and now he has to cling to her like a burr to keep her from harm, or else… poor guy. And he is conscious about his scarred face too, more aware of his appearance than a princess on her pea. The book follows this unlikely couple’s adventures, as they try to find a cure for his curse. They both want to be able to separate.

Like in some fairy tales, in this book, logic doesn’t always triumph and not everything is explained. Things simply happen: more assassins, witches and wizards, fights in the deserts and mysterious islands in the sea. And gallons of magic.

Ananna, the heroine, takes everything in stride. A no-nonsense girl, she is capable and courageous and strangely vulnerable. While she loves the sea and dreams of commanding her own ship one day, she sticks with Naji because his life depends on her being safe and in close proximity. Neither of them has a choice. He would die if he didn’t accompany her. She can’t let him die.

As their quest progresses from one crazy escapade to the next, she seems to be falling in love with her reluctant and secretive companion, while he broods and withholds information from her and the reader. But she definitely lets him feel the edges of her sharp tongue too.

Their developing romance is subtle on both their sides. There is no instant attraction or irresistible lust. Both remember that he tried to kill her. We see them learning to trust each other gradually, and the deeper their mutual acceptance, the more Naji opens up. Together with Ananna, we learn some of his fascinating story – bits and pieces of it at any rate.

The plot is convoluted, turning in unexpected directions every few pages, and the story moves very fast. It feels free like child’s imagination, mixing and matching its metaphors without restraint: pirates and sorcerers, the sea and the desert, the camels and the sailing ships, swords and smoke-belching machines. Written in simple but expressive language, it depicts the world original and beautiful, with the faint Arabian Nights undertones.

The only objectionable aspect of this book is its cliffhanger ending. I dislike those, as most of my online friends know, but for some reason, in this book, it’s not too bad. When I finished the last page and closed the book, I knew that nothing has been resolved, but it still felt like a chapter of Ananna’s life has ended. She is ready for her next adventure, and I already started the second book. I don’t have to wait long to find out what happens next.

Recommended.