I fell in love with the book cover for The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke and, once I’d read the publisher’s description, I knew I had to read it. This is our second review of a novel from the new Strange Chemistry imprint. If it can be judged by these two novels, Strange Chemistry is going to a YA imprint to watch! The Assassin’s Curse is a fun, quite often snarky, action-adventure tale filled with sorcery and elemental magic, political intrigue, strange and sometimes ethereal places, and interesting creatures. What a fun way to start the week! If you like fantasy, far-away places and kick-butt heroines, then read on!
Ananna’s father is a pirate captain and head of the Tanarau clan, so Ananna grew up on a ship on the open seas. Her dream has always been to captain her own ship. She’s bold, she’s independent and she loves being a pirate.
Unfortunately her parents have a very different dream in mind for her. They see her as a bargaining chip and have arranged her marriage to another powerful pirate clan, the Hariri, as a way to form an advantageous alliance between their two clans. Ananna has tried everything to talk them out of it, to no avail. Inside she’s fuming at being treated like an object to be traded to the highest bidder, and is busy plotting how to get out of it.
“’So I take it all the arrangements are in order?’ asked Captain Hariri, Tarrin’s father. ‘You’re ready to finalize our agreement?’
‘Soon as we make the trade,’ Papa said.
I glowered at the word trade and squirmed around in my too-tight silk dress.”
When they finally meet at the Lisirra trading port, Ananna discovers Tarrin, her fiancé, is handsome and seems nice enough but he’s clueless and she’s still not going to marry him. He’s not even allowed to sail his own boat and makes it clear there’s no way he’d ever let a woman captain a ship. How disgusting!
“I ain’t never been one to trust beautiful people, and Tarrin of the Hariri was the most beautiful man I ever saw…Golden skin and huge black eyes and this smile that probably worked on every girl from here to the ice-islands. I hated him on sight.”
As soon as she can, she escapes into the streets to hide out and hope that will end the entire ridiculous idea. Surely when her fiancé and his family see how disobedient and headstrong she is they’ll decide to look for a meeker bride for him.
“Papa told me once that you should never let a door slam shut on you. ‘Even if you can’t quite figure out how to work it in the moment,’ he’d said. He wasn’t never one to miss an opportunity, and I am nothing if not my father’s daughter. Even if the bastard did want to marry me off.”
No such luck. The Hariris are not to be dissuaded or humiliated by a bride running off. They put a high price on Ananna’s head and send assassins after her. She narrowly avoids several assassins but she’d rather die than go back to live as a submissive wife. A shopkeeper helps her evade capture and gives her a spellbound potion to throw at the next assassin who comes for her.
“Kaol, I wanted out of that store. The haggling went way too easy and that smile chilled me to the bone. It was like a shark’s smile, mean and cold…’Wait,’ said the shopkeeper.
‘Be careful,’ she said. ‘I don’t normally do this for free, but I like the look of you. They’re coming. Well, one of them. Him.’
I stared at her. She said him like it was the proper name of somebody she hated. ‘What are you talking about?’
‘Oh, you know. Your dream last night.’…
All I could see was the gray in her eyes, looming in close around me. And then something flickered in the room, like a candle winking out. And I knew. The assassins…”
With the shopkeeper’s help, the ocean-loving Ananna escapes into the desert outside the town because it’s the only place she might be safe. When the assassin Naji finds her, she throws the potion at him and utters the spell. What the shopkeeper hadn’t told her was that instead of killing him, the potion cursed Naji.
“The world was suddenly too big.
And then he was there. I didn’t see him, but I felt him, a shiver of cold breath on the back on my neck. I spun around, kicking up a spray of moonlit sand, and shoved the knife into my dress sash.
A flash of skin.
I pulled the vials out, broke them between my palms, and threw the whole thing, blood and magic and glass, in the direction of that skin. I screamed the invocation, the words still clumsy on my tongue.”
“I screamed. I didn’t have time to think about the failure of the woman’s magic. I didn’t have time to think about anything. I just screamed and screamed, and the assassin stared at me with a sword glinting like starlight at his side.”
In a singular twist of fate, Naji must protect Ananna at all costs and cannot leave her side. His fate is in effect sealed to her fate. What an ironic twist – an assassin who must become a protector. I’m not sure who is more appalled by this reversal, Naji or Ananna. He’ll be the laughing stock of the assassin’s guild and she ran away because she didn’t want any man to control her fate. And of course, there are still tons of assassins after her.
Will her fiancé and his family ever give up? Can Ananna and Naji escape the other assassins? Can they even get along for five minutes, much less understand each other? Can they get the curse lifted? What adventures will they have, and what strange and alien places will they visit, in their quest to get it removed?
I loved Ananna. She’s got a 21st century snarky sense of humor and is one kick-butt girl. She’s going to shape her life into the one she wants, even if she dies trying. Her determination and persistence are to be admired although she’s still got a lot to learn about how the world works and how to get along with other people. I also really liked Naji for a lot of reasons. I’ll leave you to discover those to prevent spoilers. In my head, I saw him sputtering a lot as he locked horns with this independent upstart of a girl.
There are a number of other very interesting characters they meet along their journey, some of whom help them and some of whom want one or both of them dead. I’ve left those out in my synopsis but all have their own agendas and I loved some while I despised others. I also loved the elementals and the magical aspects to this world’s characters which are woven into its ocean of water and its ocean of sand.
I’ve barely touched the story in The Assassin’s Curse because anything more will spoil the surprises in store for you. Cassandra Rose Clarke has built its world very well, giving us enough familiarity that it’s not completely alien while inserting enough magical and alien qualities to keep us on our toes while we explore it with Ananna and Naji. As sorcery begins to surface within that setting, it’s at first surprising; however, those surprises are introduced so gradually that soon elementals and other magical creatures seem right at home. I completely enjoyed this often funny and always surprising fantastical action-adventure and I hope you will too.
Can’t wait to read it?
The Assassin’s Curse was published on October 2, 2012, so it should be available from your favorite online bookseller below. To give you a pricing example, the paperback is only $9.99 and the e-book is only $4.99 on Amazon. Just click the button to go there to get it.
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