Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to another pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. When Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn't really know how to use, she accidently activates a curse binding them together.
To break the spell, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks -- all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic... and the growing romantic tension between them.
~Print copy, 295 pages
Published: 2012 by Strange Chemistry
I have some problems with this novel.
First off, that summary is wrong. It's probably describing the SERIES: not this book. This book is like, Act 1. I was expecting an actual novel, where there is all that stuff in the summary. I did not realize it WASN'T a standalone novel until the ending, where they are just beginning to go on the actual quest.
I was mildly upset. Would it have been that difficult to add a number 1 on the spine, or perhaps a byline underneath the title that said something like, "Book 1 of the ____ Series"? Or "___ Duet", if it's just this and the next book?
Now, I admit, I didn't expect this to be a 5-star novel: I'm not one for romance, and it says "romantic tension" right there in the summary. But I felt this could've easily been a standalone novel, if Clarke had added another 100-200 pages or so and just went on with the quest.
Fantasy novels, in general, do run along to 300, 400 pages, oftentimes longer. Look at the Inheritance series by Paolini - some of those books are 700 pages long, even longer. Later Harry Potter books run over 500 pages.
This one is a little under 300 pages, and could have been the beginnings of a standalone. I am not making a comment on lazy writing or anything (Clarke seems like an excellent writer, actually: I couldn't have gone along over a dozen pages with that sort of informal voice), I'm just stating an opinion. But I felt, with the way the novel's been set up, it could have been Act 1 of a standalone novel.
Another little thing with the summary: it says "abandons ship". What they mean by this is that she hops on a camel and loses her would-be-betrothed in a desert city. I'd been psyched up for this awesome scene where Ananna jumps off her fiancee's ship and swims to shore, or something like that. Just a little wordy misunderstanding there.
Also, she doesn't really have any "magic" of her own; she was using a Spirit's Vials of Stuff that she borrowed from a stranger to try and defeat him. I thought she was going to discover this new magic inside her and she accidently activates it, can't control it, and then accidently bind him to her. But no -- she borrowed some vials, and they didn't work; when a snake rears up behind the assassin, a common snake about to bite the magician, she kills the snake instinctively. This activates a curse already on the assassin, that whoever saves his life he has to protect with his life.
So, Naji -- the assassin, or the Blood Magician with Super Magic Skills -- takes her to a river witch who lives near a river in a canyon in the desert (try to wrap your head about that). The river witch sends them off to a pirate ship who would take them to the Isles of the Sky, where a Wizard Eirnin lives, who could perhaps help them break their Impossible Curse.
Don't get me wrong -- I liked the beginning and parts of the middle, when I still thought this was standalone. It has this kind of unique voice: sort of American Southern accent, but using Kaol's name in vain, and spouting off names of other fantasy countries. Lots of double negatives and "ain't"s.
It would have been nice if there were made up swear words, too, but there are (a decent amount of) real swear words. Not my cup of tea, but definitely a part of a lot of teenagers' vocabularies. Not really my main tick about this novel.
Also, it's a pretty thought-out world. I was almost confused by all the different names of places, but those were general mentions, and I got the gist of it -- Lisirra, the desert city in the opening pages, was in the south, and was part of the Empire; they were traveling north to the Isles. There wasn't just sights mentioned, either: temperature played a large role, uncomfortable-ness too, especially in the latter stages as they travel north.
Ananna... what to say about her? She was pretty cool early on -- all bad-girl-with-super-sword-skills. Then as things progress, she relies more and more on Naji, freaking out when he disappears or leaves her alone (that's actually when they make it to the Isles; I suppose I can't blame her for not wanting to be alone on a floating island that's supposed to drive you crazy from the magic in the air).
But Naji was kind of cool, I guess. He sulks a bit, and he generally doesn't tell Ananna things (like WHO is chasing them, why they want him dead...). But I kind of respected his privacy, and he really did need that curse ended. He would be in severe pain whenever Ananna was in danger, and she was in danger a lot, so he actually had a reason to want this curse ended. (I have read books where there was no real point in the quest. This was not one of those books.)
So, really... the only problem I had was that misleading summary. I expected manticores and nobility, but those don't occur in this book. And I really like manticores. :( But I kind of thought this book would make a nice beginning for a standalone novel. Good voice, a decent array of characters...
I'd recommend this to those who realize this is part of a series, but I was kind of disappointed. I give it three stars.