Title: Magic of Blood and Sea: The Assassin’s Curse; The Pirate’s Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarke
Published by: Saga Press
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: Just your standard, everyday, typical run away from your arranged marriage only to fall in love with your own assassin romance whilst being a pirate, escaping demons who keep ripping through the fabric of your world in order to steal the assassin of your dreams, creating cautious friendships with manticores, and being surrounded by magic of the blood and sea variety.
Plot: A pirate princess and a cursed assassin find their fates intertwined in this gorgeous and thrilling adventure.
Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an ally pirate clan. She wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to a handsome and clueless man. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns that her fiancé’s clan has sent an assassin after her.
And when this assassin, Naji, finally finds 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 to complete three impossible tasks that will cure the curse.
Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must face the repercussions of betraying her engagement that set her off on her adventures. Together, the two must break the curse, escape their enemies, and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction.
Review: Magic of Blood and Sea is a duology initially published as two books The Assassin’s Curse and The Pirate’s Wish. The series kicks off with Annana as a young pirate, from a pirate family, getting ready to be married off to another pirate family, having to be second-in-command to some handsome weenie rather than being captain, per her heart’s desire. Ananna, it should be noted, has a thing against beautiful people: they can’t be trusted for… um… reasons. From here, the jilted dude’s family hired an assassin to kill her because that’s apparently the done thing. But. Things don’t go quite as planned and when Ananna inadvertently saves Naji, the two are curse bound with a side effect of him having a tremendous headache whenever she’s in danger.
Needless to say, Naji has a lot of headaches.
This book is fun and easy to read. There’s swash-buckling. Magic. Demons made of mist. Naughty manticores who want to be groomed almost as much as they want to eat the man of our heroine’s dreams. The world-building is done well—a mix of something of the Middle East, remote islands ala Robinson Crusoe, pirate-y ocean boat dwelling, and perhaps something civilized and Mediterranean…but also not. You’ll see. Rather than being either genre or mind-breaking, the author stays in relatively geo-familiar territory, modified to the purpose of telling this story.
The characters in this book are imperfect, yet nice to see heroic, strong, smart, queer women in power.
Ananna is brave, witty, irascible, and more annoyed than not to have a blood-mage assassin as a body guard. She isn’t educated. Not like the assassin nor like her best friend Marjani. Nor is she a magician (though her mother very patiently tried to instruct her in the ways of being so), but she is in the process of figuring out her strengths and is often surprised by the messes she’s come out of.
Naji, on the other hand, is an assassin of substance—dedicated to his craft and to his Order, even though he is disconnected from it for the bulk of this book. His role is to navigate life under difficult circumstances, usually with a headache and under conditions which will lead him to sporting more than the many scars he already has. He also holds the emotional space for the subtle and slow-developing romance, pursuing ongoing communication with Ananna, not running away, despite spending most of his time facing her metaphorical back.
Mirjani, while not initially the Captain, is effectively captain, taking Ananna under her wing and using math to teach her the fine art of navigation. I envision her to be Clarke’s answer to those who poo-pooh Teen Vogue as if teens can’t both be interested in speaking up about their views on complex political situations and get excited about a new way to wear eyeshadow. I love her. She’s wonderful.
The manticore (hands-down my fave), who insists on calling Ananna “girl-human” is the first counterpoint and nemesis to our heroine, outsmarting her, and putting her in what seems to be more and more grave danger. But as it happens, this becomes just one more way Ananna finds her mettle. Not that she hasn’t always faced adversity head on but she’s becoming more conscious and more aware as she does so.
The other nemesis, Jeric yi Niru, an Empire sailor on a boat Ananna captured, is delightfully annoying and suitably mysterious since he’s never quite what he seems. He continually needles Ananna, poking holes in her brave exterior, not letting lie what Ananna abso-positiv-olutely wants to stay quiet. The scenes with him were palpable with tension, and glorious as a reluctant admiration between the two grow. Not that he ever stops needling her.
Something that makes this uniquely wonderful, I think, is that nothing is ever truly resolved. That’s not to say the threads aren’t tended to and tied up as they are supposed to be. But, without giving away too many spoilers, the HEA isn’t what we’d expect (though it is there), the quest is forever changing, the people we expect to be a certain way get to change, we, ourselves, do unexpected harm and benefit in ways we can’t imagine.
What you may not like: The language seemed simple and perhaps younger than what I would expect from a YA book and has been listed as MG book on some sites. That said, there are plenty of people who would benefit from the more accessible language.
Also, for being a book about facing adversity, Ananna still manages to spend a lot of her time running away and feeling sorry for herself. I wanted her to be more. Other reviews of this book range on this point from her whining making her annoying as a character to being downright abusive to Naji, who has no choice in his physical proximity, never mind any developing emotions that may or may not be happening (and if they are developing, they are happening at different velocities). Her short-sighted disappointment in him not mirroring her emotions matches her fear that she isn’t all to him that she wants to be. This left no room for his actual—and quite remarkable—feelings. As mature as Mirjani is, Ananna falls short and, whether or not she is beautiful in the mirror, is something that makes her less attractive (in her heart) than she could have been. I would like to have seen this fine-tuned to allow a reader to go on more of an emotional journey than this book provided.
What you will love: The serious kick-ass girl-power. From manticores to queens to magicians to captains of pirate ships, the people in power are, for the most part, females. Everything from leading a team of men, to birth control, to choosing to swap freely between breeches and off-the-shoulder dresses, to taking lovers—either male or female–is framed within a natural state of the characters simply being who they are. I can’t believe I have to make this remark in 2017 but it is…well, quite remarkable. And lovely to see. Note: The Pirate’s Wish (Part 2) is also an improvement over The Assassin’s Curse (Part 1), where Ananna couldn’t inherit the ship because she was the daughter. *Sighs deeply* Alas, hurray for progress!
Alex claims to read more than any normal, healthy adult should though the rest of the Binge on Books team would beg to differ. You can read all of his reviews here.
Connect with Alex on Twitter: @Alex_deMorra