Sunday, May 17, 2015

Assassin's Creed: Unity (novelization) review

    If you want to read my non-spoiler review of Assassin's Creed: Unity then go here.

    If you want to read my spoiler review of Assassin's Creed: Unity then go here.

    I had mixed feelings regarding the story of Assassin's Creed: Unity, even if I generally enjoyed the game for its gameplay and amazing graphics. However, I'm a big fan of Oliver Bowden's other entries in the Assassin's Creed novelizations.

    While some of the series are mere literary adaptations of the games, most are actually very good at streamlining the stories of expanding them into full-blown historical biographies. He also invented an entire history for the character of Haytham Kenway, antagonist of Assassin's Creed 3, which I enjoyed tremendously. So, I was looking forward to his interpretation of the story of Arno Dorian and Elise de le Cerre. I should note that this review will contain spoilers for the game as the framing device reveals a fact which took many gamers by surprise.

    So be warned.

    The premise is Arno Dorian receives the journal of Elise de le Cerre after her death during Assassin's Creed: Unity's climax. Sitting down to read it in order to make sense of the event, Arno follows her adventures growing up as the daughter of a Templar Grandmaster up to the game's events. Because the book is from the perspective of Elise, the vast majority of gameplay is skipped over or ignored. After the final confrontation with Grandmaster Germaine, the book returns to Arno's perspective and he provides an epilogue to Elise's story.

    The book gains props for me for providing a lot of context for the social changes happening in France at the time. While Arno remains aggressively apolitical throughout the game, Elise provides the context of being a anti-monarchist and progressive reformer who, nevertheless, is a noblewoman in her own right. While the book's plot remains distinct from the French Revolution, Elise not really caring about the Templar conspirators reforms or motivations, this plays a small role but a significant one.

    I like the depiction of Elise as a somewhat spoiled and naive woman who is still possessed of an iron-willed determination. Elise's intelligence and political awareness contrast against her passionate feelings on numerous subjects. I loved her relationship with Arno as it's not a storybook relationship by any means. Several times, she decides to break it off with him permanently only for events to bring them back together.

    The book is not perfect as there's a few things which are dissonant with the game. There's almost no mention of the truce with the Assassins being an ongoing consideration. Elise considers herself to be the Grandmaster of the Templars while the game indicates the Grandmaster following her father was Chrétien Lafrenière. Indeed, it's very strange to act like leadership of the Templars is hereditary since they've traditionally been a meritocracy anyone can join.

    Elise's supporting cast is entertaining with Freddie Weatherhall, Ruddock, her maid, and a half-dozen other minor characters giving us insight into how her mind works. While I regret the fact we didn't get any more insights into the Unity characters I enjoyed like Pierre Bellic, Mirabeau, or the like, I still enjoyed reading this novel a great deal.

    One of my favorite parts of the book is the discussion of Elise's relationship with the now-elderly Jennifer Scott, daughter of Haytham Kenway. Jennifer provides Elise with Haytham Kenway's journals and they inspire her to believe peace between the Assassins and Templars is possible. While this doesn't really fit with the Elise who was openly contemptuous of the Assassins, I felt it was a more interesting idea than the game's portrayal of the conflict. I also appreciate it as an epilogue to the events of the Kenway family. Someday, I hope Oliver Bowden will do an adaptation of Assassin's Creed: Rogue.

    In conclusion, Assassin's Creed: Unity's novelization is a fun book for those who enjoy the Assassin's Creed series and I recommend it to any who like it. Indeed, I recommend this book over the game itself in terms of pure storytelling. It's not perfect but it goes above and beyond the call of adapting a video game into literature. I also think it improves on many of the video game's weaknesses as well as focuses on an enjoyable lead. What more could you ask for?


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