Wednesday, 16 August 2017

REVIEW: "Assassin’s Creed: Forsaken" (Book 5) by Oliver Bowden

Book Review by Sapphire Ng 

Assassin’s Creed: Forsaken (Book 5)
by Oliver Bowden
Copyright December 2012
Paperback, 464 Pages

An extraordinarily meaningful narrative rounded off with an exquisite touch of irony, and executed with an excellence that appeared to transcend that of its predecessors in the Assassin’s Creed book series. The ending to this novel, perfectly engineered and complete with an element of delightful surprise, was profoundly emotionally effecting; it was a bittersweet and poignant culmination to a tale that I felt commendably explored an astounding theme, one that drastically expands the reader’s notion of the supposedly already known universe of Assassin’s Creed

Adroitly weaved into the narrative was this theme—a literary investigation of fluidity in identity between that of Templar versus Assassin, and an inquiry into the rigidity of the Templar-Assassin demarcation as perpetuated by previous books in this series. Alongside the protagonist, readers were invited to question the designations and labels attached to Templars and Assassins that seemed to be so definitively attributed since book one. Astounding thus was the subversive, and somewhat unexpected, statement made by action within the epilogue of the book, an almost painful mockery of the general tenor of this thematic exploration throughout the novel. 

As the fifth installment in this book series, it seemed apt that the narrative included treatment of certain issues. Including that of a more philosophical and existential outlook regarding the identities of Templar and Assassin, and their inter-factional conflict. Appropriate as well was the furnishing of an alternate point of view, from that of a Templar, a perspective that haven’t yet been offered in this book series, and with which readers could view the expanded franchise. A perspective that appeared to serve as a significant and timely counterforce against stubborn stereotypes, both of Templars and Assassins, that might have been established through prior books of the series.

I appreciated that the narrative took stances on various issues, even stances that seemed unsavory and poignant. Plot implications on the relative predominance and potency between that of familial ties and disparate factional loyalties were breathtaking, not to mention narrative insinuations that indicate the prevailing of unyielding beliefs and allegiance over truth and reality.

This book exceptionally explored the notion of the plasticity of factional identity through a very apt vessel, the main protagonist Haytham Kenway. Haytham’s familial background, intriguing and some might say convoluted, was very well told, and skillfully related to the influence thus on his professional vocation, decisions, visions, and even perception of the self. On the radar as well was the idea of childhood indoctrination.

With this being the fifth installment in the Assassin’s Creed book series, the reader can expect similar themes and even the occasional similar narrative circumstance that defined the franchise. Betrayal and deception of the highest order remained a primary plot driver, that which set in motion further themes of vengeance, retribution, and of meting out justice. The element of mystery also defined the plot, befittingly compelling one to dutifully continue to leaf through the pages. 

Excellent writing remained a staple. The following as penned by the author speaks for itself, “I tethered my horse at the back of the church then stepped inside, where it was just as bone-freezing, numbing cold as it was outside. Along the aisle were the remains of more fires and by the door was a pile of wood, which, on closer inspection, I realized was church pews that had been chopped up. Reverence is the first victim of the cold.”

The novel at times seemed flawed however. It was ironic and galling that the narrator and main protagonist of this novel, Haytham, at one point in the narrative perfectly embodied the expression of pot calling the kettle black. Haytham thankfully preserved a certain sense of self-awareness to realize that some of his actions “effectively sabotaged the work of [his] own Order,” thus making him a “traitor” to his own people. It was ironic that he could follow this personal realization with self-important accusations of another’s betrayal of his Order, passing the judgement that the one he accused have “forsaken the goals of the Order” and was “a disgrace to the Order, to put it mildly.”

This unfortunately undermined Haytham’s credibility in relating the story considering that his journal entries were the primary sources to which this narrative was chronicled. Thankfully this moment of hypocrisy occurred near the end of the novel, and thus only minimally diminished my enjoyment of the book. It was clear however one of the author’s strategies in attempting to convey Haytham’s objectivity and suitability as a narrator, by emphasizing his moderate tendencies and beliefs for the most part of the book.

On a side note, I couldn’t help but wonder what nature of justice it was that Haytham could evade the punishment of death when such a similar nature of treachery committed by others within his Order would have immediately painted them as targets for assassination, deeds to be completed by fellow members of the Order. Being the protagonist certainly has its benefits. 

A certain bloodlust personified by Haytham was also rather unsavory. Despite verbal indications to the contrary, Haytham’s concrete actions and behavioral quirks at certain junctures in the book, as further assisted by the author’s style of writing and choice of words, hinted at a certain eagerness and even sadistic pleasure in killing. 

This book is nevertheless an undeniably worthy sequel to the Assassin’s Creed book series. The narrative shines in its own way, with its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. What I would give however for the beloved Assassin Ezio Auditore to make reappearances in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, as the protagonist once more or otherwise, even if it had to be in a non-human form.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.

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