Oh boy… Sadly, I can not at all recommend this book. For a while I thought, maybe this will appeal more to younger children but in the end, I wouldn’t put my kids through this experience.
published: Angry Robot, October 2012
copy: ebook via NetGalley
my rating: 2/10
first sentence: I ain’t never been one to trust beautiful people, and Tarrin of the Hariri was the most beautiful man I ever saw.
Ananna of the Tanarau is the eldest daughter of a highly-ranked family in the loose assortment of cutthroats and thieves in the Pirate’s Confederation. When she runs away from the marriage her parents have arranged for her, they hire Naji, the assassin, to murder her. Fortunately, Ananna inadvertently saves the assassin’s life in the skirmish, thus activating a curse that had been placed on him a few years earlier. Now, whenever her life is in danger, he must protect her – or else he experiences tremendous physical pain. Neither Ananna nor the assassin, Naji, are pleased about this development. Follow Annana and Naji as they sail across the globe, visiting such mysterious places as the Court of Salt and Waves, in their desperate effort to lift the curse. Soon they will discover that only by completing three impossible tasks will they be able to set themselves free.
I feel guilty for saying it but I hated this book. I’m not unreasonable and I realise a story written for children will probably not have the same depth as, say an adult fantasy novel. However, there were so many things wrong with this that I would have stopped reading very soon. But this is a review copy I received, so the secret reviewers’ code holds me to my honor and I did finish reading it. It wasn’t much fun, mind you…
Let’s start with the characters. Our protagonist, Ananna, starts out well enough. She is strong-willed and doesn’t take anyone’s crap. Especially not her parents’ who want to marry her off to some pretty boy pirate. So she runs away. More precisely, she runs away and stays in the same city? Yeah. It turns out pretty quickly that Ananna, despite what she tells us about herself, is actually very, very stupid. She doesn’t listen to people who are smarter than her, puts herself in danger constantly simply by being too naive to understand it. And – seriously? – when encountering a sort-of-villain she spills the beans about Naji’s secret and just tells everything. Is that smart? I don’t think so. And personally, I have a hard time rooting for a heroine who is that dumb. My biggest problem with her is that she doesn’t have any drive. Sure, she wants to get out of an arranged marriage but after that? Nothing. She’s unfortunately tied to this assassin and follows him around. But she’s so passive in everything she does and we don’t even learn if she had any plans or dreams of things she wanted to do after getting out of that wedding.
Naji, supposedly mysterious and entrancing, is kept so vague that I can’t say much about him. He fulfils the character trope of never giving away any information – and for no reason that anyone can see. He would have been so interesting to explore, feeling terrible pain whenever Ananna gets herself in danger again or even when she walks away from him too far. This dual problem of feeling physical pain and feeling guilt for inflicting such pain would have been a great idea, had it been better executed. Or executed at all. Mostly Ananna just comes back from one of her walks and says something like “Oh, I’m sorry. Are you okay?”.
The language of the book is very simple, very basic. I did get the feeling that the author was trying to sould poetic in her descriptions of the sea and the smells of a marketplace. Despite the cover and the mention of a desert, I had great trouble imagining the surroundings. We’re told there is a desert right outside the city of Lisirra, where the story starts. People wear white toga-like robes – so I put this somewhere hot and deserty but really, that’s all we get. My biggest problem, though, is when they get to a range of islands set in or near the ice sea. It’s supposedly very cold and yet Ananna and Naji walk around an area that is lush with trees and running water. To say the least, I was confused. A bit more description would have helped, as well as some clearer notes on what the different countries and political factions are. There is talk of the Confederation, of which the pirates make up a part, but not really who they are opposing. Everything is left very vague and I’m not sure if that is because the author doesn’t know her world herself or because she was too lazy to tell us or because she thought her readers would be overwhelmed with that kind of information. If it’s the latter, I can only repeat myself: Children are not idiots.
I had the feeling that the author was terrified of boring her readers. That is a great thing, in my opinion. But to sacrifice character growth, a proper set-up and the creation of atmosphere for action and speed? Not so great. Also, a lot of stuff happens but there is no real plot until almost half of the book is over. There was no story arc to be detected from beginning to end. If you can call that an ending…
As I got an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley, I’m not going to take the spelling mistakes and occasional missing words into account here. I’m sure an editor is going to read over the story before it’s going into print. They did interrupt the reading experience but I don’t feel it would be fair to take points away from the novel for that. What this author has to learn – and i’m surprised nobody told her – is to SHOW, NOT TELL. Or at least if you tell, then also show the same thing and not the opposite. For example, Ananna talks about making a bunch of jokes to cheer Naji up. We as readers don’t get to see a single one of those jokes. Why? So for us these are just two kids walking around the desert and one tells us that she’s being funny. She also constantly tells us how street-smart she is and how her parents taught her this and that – but really, she can’t get the simplest things right. She does manage to kill a few people but those “action scenes” were so bland and boring and there was no sense of real danger because there was no struggle. Someone lunges at her, she sticks a knife in them, done.
I painfully made my way through this novel because I felt some loyalty towards the publisher. And I was hoping the ending would make up for the rest of the story. But. There is no conclusion to this story at all. It doesn’t just feel like part one of a trilogy or series, it simply stops mid-plot. Now I don’t really mind because I don’t care about these characters anyway but I imagine people who did like the story will be majorly pissed off about this. As they should.
If you want good pirates, or pirates that behave like pirates at all, read some Robin Hobb. If you want a good children’s book that doesn’t assume your child is a literary moron, read Catherynne M. Valente – oh and those you can read as an adult as well.
THE GOOD: Very fast-paced, the language is simple and easy to understand.
THE BAD: We’re told, not shown. The characters are bland and stupid. Plot is all over the place and has no conclusion.
THE VERDICT: If it hadn’t been a review copy I would have stopped reading about a quarter into the book. There are clichés galore, I disliked the style, hated the progatonist and wasn’t interested in the plot. Sorry, this is just a lot of wasted potential.
RATING: 2/10 Two assassins mostly for a good idea.
- The Assassin’s Curse
- The Pirate’s Wish (2013)
- Staffer’s Book Review (who said it more eloquently than I could)