With a book called The Assassin’s Curse, you might expect this to be about the curse of an assassin on their victim. But no, this is about a curse on an assassin when his target saves his life. And with this twist, Cassandra Clare sends us rocketing off on a bizarre adventure through a vibrant fantasy world of pirates, deserts, and high-stakes pursuit by supernatural beings.
Ananna doesn’t want to get married, or at least not to the suitor her parents have selected. So she hops on a camel at the market and runs away, severing all ties with her family and the family of her betrothed. His family sends an assassin after her—and in this world, assassins are a big deal. Ananna is the daughter of a captain in the Confederacy of Pirates. She knows ships and sea like the back of her hand. Navigating her way around a desert city is more difficult.
When she manages to save the life of the assassin sent after her, she unknowingly places him in her debt. He is bound to protect her from harm, and the rest of the book follows the two of them as they try to find a cure to his curse. Supernatural beings from another world called the Mists are hunting Naji, the assassin, and now Ananna is on their radar too.
Clare grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let you go. The phrase “never a dull moment” springs to mind: even at apparent lulls in the action, something happens to upset the status quo and force Naji and Ananna to change their plans. Nothing ever goes smoothly, and they are constantly making mistakes and falling over each other. Because their ways of operating are so different, and their motives are not always the same, they aren’t always on the same page.
The budding relationship between Naji and Ananna is the crux of this adventure. I’m not sold on it as a romantic relationship. Clare doesn’t spend enough time showing us how Ananna could fall in love with Naji (I don’t know how Naji feels about her). However, the sometimes-adversarial, sometimes-aligned aspect of their relationship leads to good conflict and humorous moments.
I also can’t fault Clare for getting the story off to such a quick start. Yet I would have liked to see more of the Confederacy before we left it behind. Ananna does get a chance to return to the seas as she temporarily serves on the crew of a ship that’s giving them passage. But it isn’t the same as seeing her aboard her family’s vessel. To be fair, Clare shares plenty of flashbacks and memories from Ananna to help flesh out her character.
The threat of the Mists is often a powerful one, but it’s also ambiguous. I enjoyed how the various characters Ananna and Naji encountered often seemed to be of the trickster variety. But Clare plays these cards close to her chest, with the result that it’s difficult to understand the stakes involved, beyond Naji and Ananna’s personal welfare. Do the Mists have some kind of plan that threatens the world itself? Or are they merely interested in something that Naji has done? He promises to explain this to Ananna, but it isn’t made clear.
The Assassin’s Curse definitely entertained me, but it didn’t amaze me. Clare has created a cool world and a good main character, but the story itself didn’t convince me to stick around longer than it took to read the last page. I’ll read the sequel, because I have a Strange Chemistry subscription, and because Clare’s writing is strong enough that it shows potential for greater things.