Assassin's Creed: The Secret Crusade
Author: Oliver Bowden
Published By: Ace Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Having read two of the novelizations of the celebrated Assassin's Creed video game series, I couldn't wait to read the third novel in the series, Assassin's Creed: The Secret Crusade. Taking place long before the days of Assassin Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the story promised to explain the Apple and other artifacts and how they came to be hidden throughout Europe.
As the novel begins, we meet Alta´r Ibn-La'Ahad, a Master Assassin in the year 1191. Alta´r, like his father before him, has risen to the position of Master, but has chosen to circumvent the rules and oaths taken by the Order of the Assassins. This errant path eventually results in the death of a fellow assassin and the maiming of another.
In an effort to retrain Alta´r and allow him a chance to restore his former status, Master Al Mualim decides to put Alta´r through a series of trials. He is ordered to hunt down the Order's enemies and obtain the Apple of Eden, a mysterious object that the Templars seek in hopes of creating a world of forced peace. He is to do this with little help, answering to individuals working with the Order that would once be considered beneath his stature.
As Alta´r continues his journey, he changes, becoming more introspective, respectful of the Order and more thoughtful. Alta´r eventually realizes that Master Al Mualim has been using him for his own purposes - to gain control of Apple and, through it, the world. Betrayed by all he's ever cared about and believed in, can Alta´r hope to defeat Master Al Mualim and return the Order of Assassins to the greatness of old, or will a new threat in the form of an old enemy destroy the Order forever?
There are a great many things explained by Assassin's Creed: The Secret Crusade. For one thing, when we come upon Ezio, the Order of the Assassins is an underground sect, the members of which keeping their membership secret to all but other members within the same order. But years before, during Alta´r's time, the Order was a well-known entity, with no need to hide. The book explains the evolution of the Order of the Assassins and why it became necessary for the Order to remain hidden.
The book also explains different aspects of the Apple's power, where it was originally found and how it came to be hidden where Ezio found it, as well as the rest of the artifacts and hidden pieces of codex. Without giving too much up, I can say that the idea that some of the items were stolen from someone trusted by Alta´r and others hidden by that same entrusted Assassin throughout Europe.
The location of the Order was changed through necessity as it could no longer remain in the Middle East and be hidden. The fact that the Order was actually begun in the Middle East was surprising to me at first, but then made sense as I realized the religious war that was taking place and the origins of all the factors involved. Historically, this all would make sense (take a look at your history books regarding The Crusades, etc.).
As with the first two novels, The Secret Crusade is full of exciting action and suspense and the events of the book play out just as a video game would. Bowden's descriptive writing brings the story to life. I could picture everything in my mind's eye perfectly. Even though Alta´r does not begin as a character one could like, let alone root for, Bowden manages to make such subtle changes in the character, explaining his history to the readers and more in a successful effort to endear Alta´r to the reader and make him/her hope for success. I, for one, enjoyed watching Alta´r mature and grow into a respectable individual with a purpose.
I can't wait to read the next novel in the Assassin's Creed series! Thus, far, Oliver Bowden has done an excellent job captivating his audience and transporting them right inside the video game. Can't wait to see what's next!