Book Review by Sapphire Ng
Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag (Book 6)
by Oliver Bowden
Copyright December 2013
Paperback, 464 Pages
Fastidiously written, entertaining, and with an ending more subtle than dramatic, this novel is based on the videogame Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and is the sixth installment in the Assassin’s Creed book series. Written from the point of view of an exceptionally flawed man and protagonist, Edward Kenway, this book strayed far from a certain norm established by its predecessors, a norm which I had expected to define the Assassin’s Creed franchise—that of plots that rigorously revolve around the Assassin-Templar hostility, and that which would fundamentally and strategically expand on the lore of the world of Assassins versus Templars.
In an unmistakable divergence from that of past books in the series, the majority of the action surrounding the protagonist in this novel showed only tenuous links to the Assassin-Templar conflict. In other words, discounting the approximately fifteen, or at most twenty percent of the book that unambiguously signals to the reader the relation of the prevailing action to the known universe of Assassin’s Creed and to the long-standing feud between Assassin and Templar, particularly in the eyes of loyal fans of the series, one could almost consider this an unconnected narrative of a world of pirates and piracy, and less so a sequel to the popular Assassin’s Creed series.
This narrative was largely focused on the identity of the protagonist as a pirate attempting to survive and make his own way in the perilous if disreputable trade of piracy, his familial background and his lost love. This novel might well have done a commendable job examining the interference of outsiders, in this case pirates, into the the elusive and secretive world where Assassins and Templars were firm archrivals, if not for the seemingly minimal and patchy integration between the piracy and the Assassin-Templar plots even at almost reaching the halfway point of the novel. Having devoured the first five books of this series which thus informed my subsequent expectations as I approach this novel, I hereby consider them hugely subverted.
This novel did a fine work on character growth and development, and particularly on authentically portraying a very real and flawed man, that which wasn’t previously availed by previous books of the series, and now embodied by the protagonist Kenway. This fiercely truthful depiction of Kenway’s susceptibility to greed and arrogance, his allegiance to gold and materialism, his indolent alcoholism and occasional naivety particularly in the first half of the book made him a highly unappealing character, at least to me. The general dearth of the trait of nobility in Kenway, a trait which had predominantly characterized past heroes in the Assassin’s Creed series, certainly dashed hopes that one would swoon from attraction or admiration. It is however this very authenticity in character that would make this novel compelling in its own way, unique from its predecessors in this book series.
The rather slow and mostly uneventful start to this narrative also differentiated it from prior books in this series; part one of the narrative lacked a great and commanding sense of mystery, tension, action and excitement that so defined previous books of the Assassin’s Creed series. Part one of Black Flag indeed seemed like part of a romance novella, which could be welcome news for some prospective readers, but less so for others.
This novel’s preliminary focus on the romantic life of the protagonist—a very ordinary man with no immediately discernible combat skills, and one who didn’t seem affiliated whatsoever to the world of Templars or Assassins or to those within—and his vocational struggles surely initially mystified the reader as to its fittingness as a follow-up to the series. One has to concede however the potential wisdom in the author’s creative choice in adopting a chronological, and thus positively logical, approach to the novel which relegated the coverage of the protagonist’s romantic and domestic life to the first section of the novel, as opposed to the segmented flashback format employed in the corresponding videogame.
Whilst this novel did not unqualifiedly adhere to all events, dialogue and form of the videogame, the mere fact that it furnished exceptionally detailed elaborations, historical, technical and mental, to most in-game events and happenings richly expanded the in-game experience. This is especially so concerning subtleties considered to be somewhat impractical to be addressed in-game due to the specificities of the videogame format. Examining thus from the vantage point of the videogame, this novel is indeed an integrous and seamless linguistic rendition of, and even potential enhancement to, its counterpart.
Considering this novel however as a sequel and sixth installment to the book series, and comparatively against the first five books of the series, this novel appeared to pale in comparison. Whilst the very ending of this book stimulates contemplation, its climactic action, in terms of impact, emotional affectation, height of tension and overall compellingness seemed plainly dwarfed by that of previous books in the series.
My personal experience with this book surely left much to be desired, it would do no harm however for prospective readers to give this novel a go and discover for themselves their individual extent of enjoyment of this novel. For all we know, my highly subjective experiences with this book might have just been a somewhat isolated case, a disruptive outlier in a set of nearly homogenous data, or the result of a certain personality quirk or literary preference that subliminally just would not agree with the particular idiosyncrasies of this narrative.
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.