Review by C.J. Bunce
At its best, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed, is an entry point for gamers to gain knowledge about real places of the past. Every new story features a key character from history, sometimes even found to be members of the Creed or its nemeses the Templars. The next franchise tie-in novel takes fans to 13th century Scotland and nations at war, featuring William Wallace. Writer Alain T. Puysségur’s novel Assassin’s Creed: Fragments–The Highlands Children arrives in bookstores tomorrow and is available for pre-order now here at Amazon. For past gamers and new gamers, and readers of its many tie-in stories, or anyone wanting to know what the game, and tie-in film, novels, and comic books, are all about, this is a young adult novel featuring 16-year-old twins on a perilous journey, and it can serve as an entry point especially for teen+ readers.
The fun of the Assassin’s Creed universe is the merger of history and adventure in a way that incorporates both fantasy and science fiction. The science fiction is from the “time travel that isn’t.” That is, from the vantage point of a seemingly unlimited selection of starting points across history, characters can look back to the past to gain knowledge and answers to essential questions along their hero’s journey, much like in Doctor Who. A catalog of important objects is plucked from to accompany history’s celebrities and new fictional characters on every journey. Assassin’s Creed has certain rules, but always has the same factions of heroes and villains: the Creed and the Templars. Fragments–The Highlands Children is a tale that is actually more fantasy than the typical historical fiction or supernatural/sci-fi tale of the franchise.
This story has much in common with Disney’s Willow series: Twins Ailéas and Fillan are kids who become separated, and a band of fantasy world (but all human) heroes (a la The Lord of the Rings or Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) accompanies one of them on a mission where a “Chosen One” is revealed. The best and most fun part of the novel is the author’s characterization. It also contains the requisite “training montage” sequence.
Lacking are historical fiction elements that make the story feel like medieval Scotland, and it is light on the features that separate Assassin’s Creed from the worlds of Mortal Kombat, Dungeons & Dragons, Halo, Warcraft, or even Highlander or Outlander. The author doesn’t identify enough evocative, descriptive elements of the setting or the time, for example. Readers are told the events take place in 13th century Scotland, but characters all speak in modern 21st century English, without any efforts at local dialects, and barely few words unique to Scot speech are used, from then or now. Scotland is known for its emerald green… everywhere… and the author doesn’t mention it until around page 240. And all Scots don’t have red hair. In short, the story lacks adequate worldbuilding.
The book also could lean more into what makes Assassin’s Creed cool and unique–you could easily drop this story into any fantasy setting (or any civil war story): Take away the Scotland map references and the few historical figures and it all plays out like a D&D campaign. The supernatural doesn’t arrive until late in the book. It’s a better story if read as a completely standalone fantasy tale–outside the Assassin’s Creed universe. Wallace, who doesn’t seem all that much 13th century Scot, could be any fantasy hero here. All the better elements combine to make a solid young adult fantasy story. Two of the characters really shine: Kyle, the woman who trains Fillan, and a secret character who guides Fillan to his destiny.
As a convention the book also uses the “they” pronoun in an odd way. If it’s to be used for a singular person, that person’s character should identify with it in some way, not to trick the reader. Here, a character is identified as a she pronoun, then later as a “they,” then back again. It seems to be to conceal the character’s true identity from the reader, but instead it’s just confusing. Pick one and stick with it or it’s similar to being an unreliable narrator. Here it was used incorrectly, and made a few early chapters unclear.
For fans of the franchise, the next tie-in in the Assassin’s Creed universe Assassin’s Creed: Fragments–The Highlands Children arrives in bookstores tomorrow and is available for pre-order now here at Amazon.