Miss Possum

Miss Possum
Pale but dynamic

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Assassin's Curse

Publisher: Angry Robot, Imprint: Strange Chemistry
Publication Date: October 02, 2012

Thanks to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the ARC.

This is a sparkling, magical book singing with fresh ideas in a saturated paranormal YA universe. A strong young female voice, a belting plot, exotic imagery and strange magic immediately capture the reader and keep the pages flipping.

The story explodes into being when a determined and wilful pirate girl runs away from an arranged piratey wedding into an unknown future. Her problems increase when the scorned clan seek revenge through an unbreakable assassin sent to kill her. In a night-time desert fight, Ananna desperately uses magic given her by an enigmatic woman whom Ananna believes she cannot trust. The unexpected consequences bind the handsome young assassin to Ananna, in an adventure which crosses seas in search of a forbidden island.

Striking features of the book include the sensual and exotic imagery and the unusual, sparkling magic, which is also creepy and scary magic. The binding of the assassin and victim is a terrific device for plot development and the building of romantic tension. The immediacy of the writing style is very effective. Like Ananna, we do not know what kind of magic is happening to us, and who to trust.

Ananna, as the female protagonist, is satisfyingly determined and courageous (most of the time). Ananna is handy with a knife or a lie, and has quick hands for essential thieving. She has great character: as Ananna explains to her prospective husband, ‘Oh just stop!...Why would I want to marry someone who won’t even listen to me?..I want a ship of my own, not yours.’

This wonderful, magical story unfolds in a desert setting. We feel the cold harsh bite of the sand in the wind; the rich smells and colours in the night markets, and the uneasiness inherent in the slipping, sliding shadows which could so easily become something both corporeal and menacing. With Ananna, we feel alone, desperate but determined to find our own way.

This story is filled with vivid, individual characters, immediacy of action and great backstory. Cyberpunk elements add a strange contrast in the desert scenes: ‘The creatures stood there for a long time, creaking and heaving and letting off smoke.’

I particularly love the unusual magic: ‘The thing crawled across the sky, long thin strands like a ghoul’s fingers’, and ‘..he spat out a word in a language like dead flowers, beautiful and terrible all at once.’ This is Ananna discovering a type of magic: ‘As I worked, I sang in a language I didn’t know; the words sounded like the babble of water over stones, like rainfall pattering across the surface of a pond, like rapids rushing through a canyon.’

In the beginning, this story could have been the one I’d wished I’d written; however, the narrative is unable to sustain the fire, pace, imagery and ideas of the first third. Our heroes’ journey, while interesting, could perhaps have been more dramatic – I’m sure the author considered whether to have them cross her pirate father’s path and experience her mother’s magic– perhaps in sequels we will see this, but in some ways the reader is set up for a drama which does not then take place. Ananna is a pirate; the reader wants more pirate action, battles and lore.

Swearing and curses are always difficult to get right in an imagined world. In this case, the author chooses to use conventional swearing, ‘bullshit’, which jars in the exotic setting. The invented prayers and invocations are far more appealing: ‘…still there, thank Kaol and her sacred starfish.’

The last section re-engages with and echoes the earlier creepiness, although again does not quite hit the gripping suspense and sheer wonder of the new magic of the first sections. Our heroes are possibly saved too early in the final settings, which defuses what could have been an explosive climax, given this author’s superlative powers of strong voice, evocative imagery and strange magic.

Overall, this book is highly recommended for anyone who loves YA paranormals – it really shines above the general. Sequels will be anxiously awaited, promising unusual and dramatic adventures with a most engaging protagonist.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I just found your blog through the Strange Chemistry imprint link. It looks like we read some of the same books :) I love the possibility of this particular book. I thought is different and there's just so many places the author can go with the sequels. I also loved the possibility and hopefullness that Ananna has at the end of the story.

    I look forward to seeing your future reads and reviews.