This book is the second part of the story that started in The Assassin’s Curse. I’m not sure those two should’ve been separated. They have the same lead characters, and the story line continues uninterrupted, as if the heroes went to sleep in book #1 and woke up the next day in book #2. I’m glad I started reading it as soon as I finished book #1.
In this story, Ananna and her pet assassin Naji continue their quest to get rid of the curse that binds them together. For the history of the curse – see my review of book #1.
They have more adventures in this book, some of them funny, others macabre or even gory, and some combine both attributes. There is a deadly pirate battle, an underwater city, and magic aplenty. Ananna also befriends an intelligent manticore, which is spooky even for their world. You don’t know what a manticore is? Here is a description from Wikipedia:
“The manticore is a Persian legendary creature… It has the body of a lion, a human head with three rows of sharp teeth, sometimes bat wings, and a trumpet-like voice… The tail is that of either a dragon or a scorpion, and it may shoot poisonous spines to paralyze or kill its victims.”
A nice, easygoing girlfriend, isn’t she? The picture on the book cover is pretty revealing. Furthermore, manticores are man-eaters, but what Wikipedia fails to mention is that they don’t like the taste of human females. Ananna is a girl, so she is safe from being snacked on, and she even makes a deal with her new-found friend not to eat Naji either, despite him being a male morsel.
Those fantasy trappings and humorous twists are only the surface glaze. The novel’s real focus is the love story between Ananna and Naji. Their relationship goes through contradictory emotional stages, swinging like a pendulum, touching on the opposites: attraction and humiliation, hurt and denial, hope and disbelief, lust and withdrawal. Their intricate mating dance, nuanced and multi-leveled, didn’t surprise me. Both protagonists are complex people, adept in their professions (she – a pirate, he – a magician-assassin) but highly vulnerable in their personal milieu. Both are flayed by self-doubts, unable to fathom being worthy of love.
Oddly, I sympathized with them both. I’m not as a rule fond of fictional thieves and assassins, but this poignant young duet has real pain behind their imaginary dissonance. Love pulls Ananna and Naji away from their chosen life paths, and neither knows how to blend the two together. Despite their obvious shortcomings, both have too much integrity for a sensible compromise.
The ending wasn’t really to my liking – I prefer happily ever after – but it was logical and satisfactory, a resolution of sorts. The curse was broken, and new adventures awaited both heroes.
The narrative was swift and irresistible. I read the whole book in one sitting, couldn’t stop. It is much deeper and more mature than the first one, and I can’t wait to read the author’s other books.
Definitely recommended, but only after you read book #1.