Straightforward and Fun: Assassin’s Creed The Golden City

Last week, we tried something a little different on the blog with a review of a videogame: Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. This week, we’re back between the pages of a book but we’re still within the robes of a Hidden One in Jaleigh Johnson’s Assassin’s Creed The Golden City (happy publication day!).

In this adventure, the saga of England is still a distant (but not to distant) point on the horizon, and we’ve yet to feel the grain of a sea-stallion’s deck beneath our boots. Nor have we felt the hidden blade of betrayal (I hope that’s not too spoilery).

What we do experience, is the sights and sounds surrounding a medieval Hagia Sophia. The hidden crannies of an imperial library and the din of the crowd as chariots race within the hippodrome. The Order of Ancients have designs for Constantinople, and so The Brotherhood has work there too, if only to route out their corruption.

Hytham and Basim, our main protagonist and his superior, will be familiar from AC Valhalla. If there were any other connections, or characters we’ve seen before, I did not notice them. But the focus on these two was intriguing enough.

Of course we’ll see more of Basim later this year in the upcoming game Assassin’s Creed: Mirage, but the wait will be hard given some of the revelations at the end of Valhalla. If you were hoping that The Golden City might reveal some more insight into any of those revelations, or even what will be going on in Mirage (which I think will take place before GC) you might be somewhat disappointed.

I felt Johnson walked a tight line with Basim, ultimately foreshadowing a great deal we already know from Valhalla, but never spoiling anything from that game, or any future games (as far as I can tell). It was honestly quite impressive.

But Basim is not the main character of GC, Hytham is, and as stories go, I felt his adventure to be a lot of fun if somewhat straightforward. Many times within the book Hytham considers the world and his place within it using the phrase “We work in the shadows to serve the light”. Though GC is the first time the phrase is catching my attention, a quick google shows that it seems to be something recurring through many installments of the series.

It is a very catchy mantra, and to me, seems to encapsulate the kind of black and white simplicity which I felt the book had, which the games I’ve played so far have not. In GC there is essentially one dichotomy: Order of Ancients vs Hidden Ones. Two sides; good and evil.

Assassin’s Creed Origins and the subsequent games contain this dichotomy as well — setting up the objective of annihilating the Order’s members — but ultimately there is more nuance in the means and choices by which you act (and whether or not you hunt every member down like a sociopath). For some members, the choice to kill or not to kill is an easy choice. For others . . . not as much. In some instances it can become a somewhat moral dilemma.

(all this discussion has me really wanting a game from the POV of an Order of Ancients member who gets turned by the Brotherhood).

I’m inclined to think GC’s more straightforward approach is just a consequence of medium (telling the story through a book) and perhaps even a feature, not a bug. It allows the reader to focus their attention on other parts of the narrative, of which I felt one part in particular really shined.

Of course that part was Hytham’s relationship with the young heir, Leo, which was actually quite wholesome for a book about the dealings of a brotherhood of assassins. The Golden City is by no means a Cozy Fantasy, but certainly seemed a bit less grim than you might expect from a book with such a dark premise.

My only complaint, which again might just be a consequence of working in such a large series, is that Hytham in GC seemed so much more competent and confident than the Hytham we meet in Valhalla. In that saga, he plays a pretty small part, befitting of an apprentice. In The Golden City he’s kinda a badass which, while very cool to see, did not quite line up for me.

However, I could be convinced that the events of GC are perhaps traumatic enough to temper him. He does a lot of badassary, but also makes a lot of mistakes. His skills as an assassin might be quite high while his experience as an assassin might still be limited. Perhaps the simplistic dichotomy of Order vs Brotherhood I mentioned earlier is merely a reflection of his character which becomes more complex because of the events of The Golden City.

Give This One a Read?

Ultimately, I’d say yes give this one a read. If you don’t have any previous experience with Assassin’s Creed, then the story will still read like a straightforward historical fantasy. However, when we consider its place with the larger AC universe, then I feel like the book offers much more to sort through and enjoy.

That’s all I’ve got for this week. Has anyone read this yet? Please leave me your thoughts in the comments!

Until next time!

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One thought on “Straightforward and Fun: Assassin’s Creed The Golden City

  1. Pingback: Wyrd & Wonder Quest Log: Week Two – The Book Nook

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