Ananna of the Tanarau, daughter of pirates, is about to be married off to the beautiful Tarrin of the Hariri. She has never trusted beautiful people and when she spies a loosely tied up camel in the market, she grabs her chance and escapes on its back. She takes no heed of Tarrin’s threats to send an assassin after her, after all, assassins were only threats that her father gave her when she was misbehaving. She remembers tales of blood magic and men that move in the shadows. No one would send an assassin after her, a worthless pirate girl, would they? But when Ananna comes face to face with the assassin in question she inadvertently saves his life, activating a curse; he must protect her or face great pain.

I was up at street level now, surrounded by fruit trees and vines hanging with bright flowers. The air in Lisirra always smells like cardamom and rosewater, especially in the garden district, which was where Captain Hariri kept his manor. It was built on a busy street, near a day market, and merchant camels clomped past its front garden, stirring up great clouds of dust.

The Assassin’s Curse lives up to its elegant cover; an Arabian Nights styled fantasy adventure spanning desert and ocean. I was sucked in to Cassandra Rose Clarke’s world immediately and didn’t want to leave. Ananna may have grown up amongst pirates but she is still young and a little naïve. But she manages not to go all mushy over boys and she’s got such great attitude despite being in a difficult situation. Who wants to be tied to an assassin after all?

Ananna’s mannerisms sneak into the narrative, with double negatives and speech that echoes that of an uneducated, Victorian maid. This does give the impression that she is speaking directing to the reader, telling a tale just as Scheherazade might do but I’m not entirely convinced it is consistent with the more evocative writing in places. Still, I’m sure most younger readers won’t even notice this and it doesn’t detract from this wonderful tale of adventure and magic.

Beautiful people, things are too easy for ‘em. They don’t know how to survive in this world. Somebody’s ugly, or even plain, normal-looking, that means they got to work twice as hard for things. For anything. Just to get people to listen to ‘em, or take ‘em serious. So yeah, I don’t trust beautiful people.

There is a tendency for young adult novels to veer toward romance, but this isn’t that girl meets boy story at all. Girl runs away from boy, gets stuck with another boy she doesn’t really like. Ananna would much rather be captain of her own pirate ship. She’s a plain girl and she doesn’t expect boys to fall for her, and Naji, the assassin, is no exception. I absolutely loved that this was a classic fantasy adventure tailored to a teen protagonist.

The pace is a little off nearing the end. Just when it should be reaching its nail biting climax, it slows off and the two characters plod around doing mundane things for a few chapters. Elements were undoubtedly important to the ongoing story but, dare I say it, I got a bit bored, and this odd section is the only thing stopping me giving this book five stars. Otherwise I loved it.

The Assassin’s Curse is published by Strange Chemistry and will be available in paperback and ebook formats from 4th October 2012. You can also read an extract here. The sequel, The Pirate’s Wish will follow next year. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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