Throne of Glass, Graceling, Grave Mercy.
I’m looking warily at The Assassin’s Curse because I’ve yet to read that one (and it’s part of a challenge) but I’m suspecting, with how I feel about Knight Assassin in the end, I’m well on my way towards Assassin Fatigue.
It wasn’t a bad book. But save for this being set in Syria during the time of the Crusades, it offered very little in innovation. This didn’t commit any of the offense I found in the previous assassin books I read, if anything this did exceptionally well in avoiding the pitfalls that usually accompany the female assassin lore. But still, I can’t quite bring myself to stay still, pay attention and read what will become of Zayn in one go.
A young woman with special kick-ass abilities gets raped after witnessing her mother murdered for being a witch by Templar Knights. Taking advantage of her hunger for vengeance, a mysterious man recruits her into the Assassins, militant Ismaili Muslim fanatics who hunts both Muslims and Franks alike. Eventually, she gets sent to a mission to infiltrate court by being a lady-in-waiting in Jerusalem to murder her rapist who also happens to be a growing threat to the Saracens’ cause, rising in the ranks among the knights. But her purpose gets complicated by discovering new and old friends among enemies, uncovering secrets about her she never knew existed and giving her a purpose beyond hatred and revenge.
I think I commented in one review how everything I know about the history of The Crusades I learned from Ridley Scott. I’m pleasantly surprised how effective that movie is in terms of a companion piece to reading this book. Sibylla, King Baldwin, Guy de Lusignan and Saladin were mostly peripheral characters in Zayn’s story but it was quite fun revisiting these characters and knowing what becomes of them based on the movie (No “I am Jerusalem” moment for King Baldwin though). I should probably read more reliable texts on this part of history (it IS quite fascinating) than base it off an Orlando Bloom-starrer but for the moment, it was a serviceable background.
I had a bit of a hard time trying to identify exactly what didn’t work for me in this book because any other time than now, I feel this would’ve ended up in my favourites’ shelf. I think my biggest issue was the length and the romance.
This is probably the first time I’ll be complaining about a book being too short.
I appreciate that this had the pace I’d expect in a novel about assassins. It didn’t skimp on the action and I like that this had a lengthier focus on Zayn’s training as an Assassin (which was what I was hankering for in Grave Mercy)… but it also has a story line about a young woman who watched her mother die, got raped and in the process has been made to view her femininity as an affliction.
She hated herself, the curves of her body, the hairless skin of her face, her child-like eyes and lips… everything that made her female and feminine.
She was no longer genderless, wearing this gown. She was very much a woman, and she hated it. Filth. Filth.
And unlike Katsa in Graceling I find that I can fathom this character and her rejection of all things feminine. But there was this one scene, while Zayn’s being prepared for a party with the other ladies in waiting that she has a moment of appreciation of being a woman.
That was my favourite bit in this book. Because I’ve seen a lot of the twists and turns this story had to offer in previous reads but that was quite unique. I would’ve liked the pace to have dwelled more in Zayn’s understanding of being a woman and coming to terms with her anger outside the killing even if the killing of Guy de Molay was much deserved handled without going the over-dramatic route. Maybe more memories of her mother which I quite liked in the early chapters but gradually gave way to developing a relationship with that nice boy from long ago.
For some reason, I was utterly uncharmed by the romance between Zayn and Earic. Maybe because the beginnings of their story has been done to death that it has started to come across flimsy and shallow to me. Or maybe I just really didn’t like how Earic figures into every scene. There’s a ultilitarian quality in the way Rima Jean wrote the book as a whole… except when it comes to Earic.: “bright blue eyes”, “golden hair”, dashing, handsome and virile. It was almost embarrassing to read about him. For all the depth and complexity of Zayn’s character, “virile” feels like an ill-fit to her lexicon just as how a two-dimensional hero like Earic is an ill-fit for this book. I actually hoped for an evil twist in Earic's character and a surprising turn in Bashar's without resorting to a love triangle, just to set this apart from the rest of the assassin books out there.
And finally, there seems to be a gap between the majestic story of The Frank-Saracen conflict and Zayn’s own. The two plot lines felt detached from each other and Zayn’s story could’ve happened anytime else in history where there’s conflict between two nations and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. I would’ve liked Zayn’s story to be better integrated to the historical aspects of this novel, which is one of the few things that Grave Mercy to have done well in its setting.
So a pretty decent read that would probably work better for readers who haven’t got their fill of the attractive kick-ass assassin on a revenge streak storyline. I have quite a short list of books to recommend under the Young Adult Historical Fiction and save for a few pitfalls and faults, this is quite a solid addition to that shelf.
ARC provided by publishers in exchange for an honest review. Quotes may not appear in the final copy.