Book Title: The Assassin's Curse (Blackthorn Key #03) Author: Kevin Sands Number of pages: 384
All that’s recovered from the killer is a coded message with an ominous sign-off: more attempts are coming. So when Christopher’s code-breaking discovers the attack’s true target, he and his friends are ordered to Paris to investigate a centuries-old curse on the French throne. And when they learn an ancient treasure is promised to any assassin who succeeds, they realize the entire royal family is at stake—as well as their own lives.
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– MG ‘The Da Vinci Code’ set in Paris in the 1600s
– Mystery and puzzles are based on wordplay and the nuances in language
– World building might take the assumption that readers know what each landmark looks like; might be a concern re: imagery
– Expands the lore of Benedict Blackthorn’s legacy
– Although 500+ pages (in the ARC), the dialogue reads very quickly and the story is well-paced
Kevin Sand’s The Blackthorn Key series is a middle grade book that should be on everyone’s radar. Full stop.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of The Assassin’s Curse from Simon & Schuster Canada.
The Assassin’s Curse is yet another thrilling installment to the Blackthorn Key universe that pivots itself back to its roots of intricate puzzles of wordplay and layered mystery. The journey brings Christopher and his friends to investigate a possible coup and assassination on the royal family in Paris.
By in large, this story felt like Middle Grade The Da Vinci Code.
While nothing can replace the dazzling intrigue of first book for me, The Assassin’s Curse is a much more thought out and well-plotted story than the first-and-second book [combined?]. What Curse displays is experience and confidence in storytelling. Although the entire “treasure hunt” meets “someone is trying to kill me” plot is overdone, it’s the use of puzzles that weave the entire story together that makes this all so enjoyable.
This story takes place over-and-under the streets of Paris taking readers through iconic locations that, while easy to visually grab hold of, I’m unsure if there’s enough finessing provided to be more than its reliance on simply saying “The Louvre” [and bam sudden image]. Maybe I’m a tougher critic this time around, but I had criticized the previous Blackthorn books as having lackadaisical and non-existent world building. It worked before as the “London” settings did not have iconic fixtures to ground the setting (if I remember correctly). Sure, a church is still a church, a mausoleum is still a mausoleum, and a rickety old home is still that, but I found it got away with crafting an aesthetically sound experience by pounding us with its mystery.
That being said, the minimalist world building seems to be the norm. Thankfully, my recall for Paris architecture is adequate enough to flesh out the setting despite having limited description. This may not be the case for everyone though. Also bonus points for providing a map too.
One of my favourite aspects to this series is the friendly banter between Christopher and Tom (and I guess Sally too). It’s ultimately what makes 500 some-odd pages read fairly quick. What’s different this time around is that there’s a further exploration of Tom’s relationship with is childhood bud. He posits that Chris adamantly goes into firefights without the opinion and concern of his friends — and he’s right! So it is refreshing to delve into this avenue of character development as it plays with the concept that sub-characters are their own protagonist and their safety is just as important to not aimlessly follow their leads into the fray.
In it’s entirety, the stakes in this installment is the highest it’s been, to the point where it’s believable that death is a viable route for some characters. That’s both scary and exciting, as the typical shield of plot is not there to act as a barrier to reckless actions.
It seems that with each sequel, Christopher is challenged to combat his boyhood in ways he’s previously not have to deal with. One particular element which was only hinted at previously is developing itself into a key mainstay of future story lines: his familial-to-romantic feelings for Sally. It’s the teeter-totter balance between acceptance of these emotions versus a brotherly protection that is the hallmark of this character development that evokes so much nuance. It’s really a slow burn, and that’s what makes each moment special.
Between the uncertainty of the antagonist and the new faces we meet along the way in support of the plot, the supporting cast wasn’t too interesting to me. The reveal itself was met with lackluster vibes (not shocking or anything, just “okay”) and there seemed to be too many citizens willingly passing along information and services like hotcakes for my taste (even if they were paid for it).
Lastly, I am saddened that Bridget, Christopher’s family pigeon, was not mentioned enough.
The Assassin’s Curse is arguably Kevin’s best book to date in this series, and regretfully, ends on a pretty nasty cliffhanger. The mystery is layered with a richer lore bringing a new side to Benedict Blackthorn’s life that was previously not known to readers…and that’s incredibly promising in keeping this world he has craft new and interesting. I implore you to check this book out for yourself, or for a young reader who’s interested in explosive fun underscored by mystery. Christopher Rowe and friends is sure not to disappoint.