When outlaws Amaranthe and Sicarius chance upon spies stealing military prototypes, they immediately give chase. Well, immediately after Amaranthe talks Sicarius, former assassin and all-around non-altruistic type, into the mission. She wants an imperial pardon, and what better way to attract the emperor’s favor than by looking after the empire’s interests?
What seems like a straightforward mission develops a hitch when the spies flee to Darkcrest Isle, a forbidding chunk of land reputed to be haunted. Amaranthe isn’t quick to believe in tales of malevolent spirits, so she’s startled when the ever-pragmatic and unflappable Sicarius shows reluctance at setting foot on the island. Only when it may be too late to escape does Amaranthe come to understand why.
The Assassin’s Curse takes place in the world of Buroker’s The Emporor’s Edge series. I have not read this series before, but I’m happy to report that this really doesn’t matter, because The Assassin’s Curse is an exciting stand a lone tale that does everything that a short story should do.
I would argue that short stories are harder to write than novels because they have to world build, create complex characters and create a fully realized plot with a beginning, middle and end in such a short space. Any weaknesses in pacing can be forgiven in novels (if it picks up later), but any failures are the death knell of s short story. The Assassin’s curse manages to strike the perfect balance and get all these tricky components spot on.
It begins with our leads, Amaranthe (that name just makes me roll my eyes so much) being put through an intense phys session by her co-warrior, Sicarius. She hears something strange and wants to investigate purely to get out of PT. As someone who’s served in the Armed Forces, I can entirely sympathize with her motive.
The rest is a tightly plotted adventure centring around our hero’s attempt to capture the thief and uncover their motives. The action sequences are all gripping and tightly paced. The world and myth surrounding the island they had to visit was interesting, and even the exposition was fascinating in and of itself. The climax was perfect and the story ended on a bang.
The only downside is Amaranthe herself. Although there’s no explicit romance, Sicarius is clearly going to turn into her love interest later, and she falls into the depressing trend of ‘female characters who are vastly overshadowed by their male love interests’. She’s allegedly the leader of the group, but shows absolutely no leadership qualities whatsoever. Sicarius takes the lead and she follows around like an inept private to . I could start a drinking game with the sheer amount or character fawns over Sicarius saying ‘wow, you’re strong’.
She does defeat the villains i the end, but Sicarius ad to be physically removed from the picture for her to be able to do anything. Having an action protagonist enter a scenerio which you know would be more efficiently handled by their sidekick if they were there really diminishes their capability as protagonist.
Verdict: Ignoring Amaranthe lacking as a protagonist, The Assassin’s Curse is a brilliant action packed short story with a rich world and myth that begs to be expanded on.
Recommend: anyone who wants a quick, exciting fantasy.
Recommended Against: Anyone who wants a strong independent female lead. She’s not bad, but is too much in Sicarius’ shadow that she’s not really a heroine you want to be. Recommend Guardian Of The Spirit or God Save The Queen for a more independent lead.
RATING: 41/2 strikes from an invincible weapon / 5