Review: Renaissance (Assassin’s Creed #1) by Oliver Bowden

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: June 4 to 9, 2014
Read Count: 1

Not bad, or rather not what I had been expecting. It’s okay overall but could have been better. Hopefully the next book is an improvement.

Since this book (and series) is based on a video game and the author is known for penning newsstand pulp thrillers, I thought the combination would turn out to be some kind of pulpy disaster, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent plot-driven, light historical fantasy story about the life and times of Ezio Auditore. Those who’ve played Assassin’s Creed II already know this story and how it ends, but if you’re a fan of Ezio and feel like revisiting the journey, this book is a more detailed substitute to the game.

Ezio’s journey is one of vengeance, and he finds himself on this path after a conspiracy tears his family apart. His father and brothers are arrested and publicly executed for treason. Ezio escapes this fate by sheer luck. Barely out of his teens and left to hold what’s left of his family together, he quickly takes his traumatized mother and sister out of Florence to escape further persecution. Still a wanted man with a lot of unresolved issues, he sets out on a path of vengeance to unravel the conspiracy and kill all those responsible. Along the way he uncovers more family secrets and his true lineage.

With help from interesting friends and acquaintances he meets along the way (like da Vinci and Machiavelli), Ezio becomes a skilled assassin and follows in the footsteps of his father because it’s destiny. He tracks down and dispatches his foes one by one until he gets every last one, which leads him to the end of the conspiracy. But the story doesn’t end there. Just as this conspiracy is wrapped up, more or less, a bigger one is set into motion.

Reading this book is almost like playing the game.

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* * * * spoilers below * * * *

Much of the story goes like this: Ezio solves a small part of the big mystery to find one of the Templars responsible for his family’s deaths, he then skillfully dispatches the Templar, finds a clue on his body, gets help deciphering the clue, fits the clue piece into the big mystery, and then heads out to find more guilty Templars to dispatch. Ezio’s missions increase in difficulty with the next one requiring a lot more skill and practice to complete than the one before it. The clues get more elaborate and the weaponry more advanced with each mission. Just like in the game.

What worried me most before going into this book was how similar the writing is to the game. So I expected sparse descriptions, hard to follow narration, confusing info-dumps, and for most of the book to be filled with action-packed fight sequences. The fight sequences are indeed action-packed, but so is everything else in the book. Florence, during the golden age of the renaissance, is given a lively atmosphere and filled with a colorful population of merchants and peasants going about their business. Even the countryside has character and charm, as well as secrets lurking in the dark. And Venice, also lively and colorful, is a sophisticated sprawling metropolis on the edge of the sea and also the center of corruption and conspiracy. I would have liked to see some more of the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, but both are probably saved for the next leg of Ezio’s journey in the next book.

Aside from the settings and fight sequences, Ezio’s story is very much a straight-forward quest for vengeance. His character development is okay, but could be a lot better if Ezio’s training and formative years aren’t rushed and jumped over in favor of moving the vengeance plot forward quickly. A lot of backstory and secondary character development are lost during these couple-of-year time jumps. Because Ezio goes from grieving boy who just lost most of his family to skilled assassin in a matter of months, the pay off of seeing him putting the mystery together while dispatching the Templars who wronged his family isn’t as satisfying as it could be. If it were to take him a little longer to learn the ways of the assassin and that we get to see him in practice as well as in action, then it would seem like his growth and learning curve is an organic process, instead of a forced overnight success.

The ending feels rushed and the explanations given don’t seem adequate enough. If I hadn’t known Ezio’s story before reading this book, I would have been lost and confused as to why he’s the prophet. Also, I wouldn’t understand what’s the significance of it in the grand scheme of things or what’s that familiar but unsettling presence and deja-vu-like feeling he keeps alluding to. These things are important merely because they’re mentioned a couple of times throughout the story, but they don’t play much of a part in the mystery in this story. Perhaps that’s saved for the next book.

One more thing, there’s a full glossary in the back. So if you ever want to learn Italian insults…just saying. They’re all right there.

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