Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan: she wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to her handsome yet clueless fiance. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns the scorned clan has sent an assassin after her.
And when the assassin, Naji, finally catches up with her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse — with a life-altering result. Now Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work together to break the curse and return their lives back to normal. Or at least as normal as the lives of a pirate and an assassin can be.
The Assassin's Curse has all the makings of a really fantastic fantasy adventure. There are pirates and assassins, a spunky heroine, a tortured but handsome young man, a curse and a bit of romance. All the pieces were there but unfortunately they didn't come together in the right way and so the story ended up falling flat.
My main problem with The Assassin's Curse is that the characters don't behave like they should, or at least, as I would expect them to based on their roles in the story.
Ananna has been raised as a pirate and has lived her life among ruthless, law-breaking murderers and thieves and yet when she gets attacked by an assassin she responds by saving his life because “it seemed like the right thing to do.” When she discovers that her actions have triggered a curse that binds the assassin to her Ananna responds with concern for the man who had been hired to kill her, and sets out to help him break the curse. This did not make sense to me at all. I didn't understand why Ananna was so solicitous of Naji's health and well-being and why she so easily gave herself into his care. I was also irritated by her constant apologies to him each time he showed signs of irritation. While I didn't need Ananna to behave like a hardened criminal I think she comes across as too sensitive to be believable. We aren't given any reason to think she's different than a typical pirate kid and I would have expected her to behave a bit more like one.
Then there was Naji, a member of a fearsome group of deadly assassins. It's said that when one of them has been hired to kill you, you are as good as dead. And yet, this supposedly terrifying assassin spends most of the book weak and incapacitated- which didn't impress me very much. While I like my stories to have strong female characters I also like to read about strong male characters, heroes who are able to save the day if needed, even if the female doesn't actually need them. So I was pretty disappointed by Naji who has his legs kicked out from under him pretty early on in the story. And there really wasn't much else about him that won me over. Naji keeps to himself for the most part and his expressions are limited to the quirking of his eyebrow and the occasional suggestion of a smile. I really didn't see what there was about him that attracted Ananna.
In addition to my issues with the characters I also felt that the story really should have provided more explanations on several crucial points. For example, why exactly was Ananna being forced to marry a guy from another pirate clan and why was Ananna's refusal taken so badly that an expensive assassin was hired to kill her? It seemed like a rather excessive reaction to me, unless there was some secret pirate code involved that we weren't told about.
There was also very little explanation given about the curse itself. Sometimes we are told that Naji gets a headache when Ananna leaves his side, other times he is in severe pain. Or Naji feels pain when he perceives that Ananna is danger. But it was all kind of murky and I was surprised that Naji and Ananna don't make any effort to find out more about how the curse operates.
The story still might have been saved if I felt like it was actually going somewhere but after the initial excitement the momentum fades and the story kind of just seemed to be going in circles, especially towards the end. The end was a particular bummer because nothing really happens and the story just fades out. I would have even preferred a cliff-hanger to the uneventful ending that we do get.
But I feel that I should mention that even though The Assassin's Curse was not to my taste there are apparently a lot of reviewers on Goodreads who really loved it. I was interested to note that one of them compares it to Brightly Woven, which was a comparison I had frequently made myself while reading the book. I thought the writing style and characters of the two books were very similar. But I wasn't impressed with that book either (the other reviewer was). So there you go. If you liked Brightly Woven you'll probably like The Assassin's Curse as well. Or, if you are like me, you won't particularly like either one that much.