Swashbuckling, brash pirate Ananna fights her growing attraction to Naji, the Jadorr’a assassin once sent to kill her, while trying to break the impossible curse binding them together (The Assassin’s Curse, 2012).
Clarke entertainingly modernizes a classic pirate tale by including steampunk machines in naval battles, employing clever wordplay—the man-eating, beastly manticores really eat only men—and giving the requisite evil magician a femme-fatale makeover. And those aren’t the only surprises, as finely wrought introspective moments show outwardly prickly Ananna’s internal struggles to accept the secret longings for affection that she feels are antithetical to her pirate lifestyle. Informing Ananna’s growing awareness of life (and relationships) beyond the pirate ship are her close observations of her fellow travelers’ romantic entanglements. Included among these is Marjani’s tender gay relationship with Jojka’s queen, Saida, which is delicately woven into the novel. Ultimately, Ananna’s struggle to balance her twin desires for affection and independence advances the story beyond conventional teen romantic angst. Naji’s attempts to reconcile his love for a pirate while remaining an assassin are less developed, and their romance wraps up a bit quickly. However, tantalizing tension develops as both finally realize that breaking the curse means their inevitable separation, a development both appealing and potentially devastating.
Thrilling action combines with surprising character revelations in this satisfying sequel. (Fantasy. 13 & up)