The Pirate’s Wish picks up literally where The Assassin’s Curse leaves off: Naji and Ananna are stranded on the Isles of Sky with a wizard who doesn’t seem all that interested in helping them. That changes when a manticore the wizard has been keeping prisoner escapes, kills him, and makes a deal with Ananna to help her in return for passage to the manticore’s home, the Island of the Sun.
The manticore is an early and exciting change in The Pirate’s Wish. I can’t recall the last time I saw a manticore in a fantasy novel; certainly I’ve never encountered them in the way Clare uses them here. The manticores of this world are sentient and, in their own minds, civilized beings with ranks, royalty, and even human servants. They snack on men but not women, and Ja’dorra like Naji are delicacies—but his curse taints his taste. They are hung up on making deals and keeping track of an elaborate system of boons, favours, and debts—all of which Ananna leverages. Oh, and they shoot poison spines from their tails.
Returning the manticore to the Island of the Sun is but a subplot, of course. The Pirate’s Wish is really about curing Naji of his curse through his three impossible tasks … which turn out not to be that impossible. Obviously. To fulfil the task of experiencing true love’s kiss, Ananna kisses Naji. Huh. Well, OK, I guess having the first of the three be so simple and straightforward is fine. But the next two will be really challenging and difficult, right?
Well, turns out that the starstones they need are in the possession of a friend of a friend, who would happily loan them … had they not been stolen by pirates! That’s an excellent complication that could have sent Ananna and crew off on a quest for the stones. Instead, it turns out the pirates are in fact Ananna’s own parents, who naturally give over the starstones without so much as scolding Ananna for her actions. Naji’s experience with the starstones is not as straightforward as his kiss with Ananna, but it still doesn’t seem that threatening.
The kicker comes with the third task, though: creating life out of a violent act. Turns out that Naji already completed it, but the curse didn’t dispel itself until he realizes this. Back when the Hariris (who are disposed of rather neatly as well, I might add) attack Ananna at sea, Naji uses heavy-duty magic to take them out. The magic’s spillover is like radioactive fallout, mutating the ocean life into a fun, under-the-sea monarchy. Good times. It’s not until Naji answers a summons from the new sea king that he understands his role in their genesis and that, therefore, he has passed all three trials and gets to be free of his curse.
So, look, I have very mixed feelings about this. On one hand, like the first book, The Pirate’s Wish is a fun and somewhat light-hearted romp around an archipelagean pirate world. There’s romance and fighting and manticore shenanigans. I enjoyed it. On the other hand, every time I look back on it, the story shrinks away, as if it knows that it doesn’t bear up under scrutiny.
The completion of the three impossible tasks is just too easy. The fight against the Hariris is not easy—Ananna technically dies, after all, except for Naji’s magic bringing her back by binding them together—but it happens very quickly. Likewise, the entire overarching problem with Naji and the beings from the Mists gets resolved very abruptly, and almost as an afterthought. The story just keeps bouncing from event to event like it’s on some kind of poorly-maintained amusement ride track, with each subsequent problem popping up not necessarily because it’s the opportune moment but because it’s running on a schedule.
This sense of coincidence-rather-than-cause-and-effect-driven plotting pervades the book, from Ananna and Naji’s very flat romantic subplot to the appearance of Jeric, who is apparently obsessed with starstones. As a result, Clare largely undermines her own attempts to build tension by creating a series of anticlimaxes. It’s forgivable in the first half of the book, but by the back half I found myself reading just for the sake of being done.
So what started as a promising two-part adventure doesn’t quite deliver. By all means, readers of The Assassin’s Curse should satisfy their curiosity: The Pirate’s Wish isn’t bad and isn’t even—as I so often charge books I give two stars—bland. Rather, this book is definitely entertaining, but it’s not going to stay with you. Ananna and Naji are not a memorable couple; theirs is not a romance that will live through the centuries, and their story is wholly unremarkable except as an hour or two’s diversion.