Assassin’s Creed: Renaissance by Oliver Bowden – Book Review [Bane of Kings]
Bane of Kings reviews the first of the Assassin’s Creed video game tie-in novels to feature Ezio Auditore Da Firenze, entitled Renaissance, written by Oliver Bowden. It’s the first in a three-part trilogy focusing on Ezio’s adventures and inspired by the games themselves.
“A fast paced, fun novel that is unfortunately flawed.” ~The Founding Fields
I’m a huge fan of the Assassin’s Creed series. I’ve played all of the games (1,2,Brotherhood,Revelations), and have really enjoyed playing them, so – naturally, I thought I’d give the novels a try. Now, I know video-game adaptations aren’t normally top quality literature, and Renaissance certainly isn’t. In fact, I read not only Renaissance sometime last year, but also Brotherhood and The Secret Crusade, all Assassin’s Creed tie-in novels and all written by Oliver Bowden. And, seeing as I’m starting to re-play the video games, I thought that I’d give the books another try as well. But I figured that I’d skip The Secret Crusade and move onto Renaissance, which is technically the second book in the series even though it was the first Assassin’s Creed novel released. So, my verdict?
Well, you’ll have to find that out for yourself, after I’ve informed you of the blurb, which is below:
‘I will seek Vengeance upon those who betrayed my family. I am Ezio Auditore da Firenze. I am an Assassin…’
Betrayed by the ruling families of Italy, a young man embarks upon an epic quest for vengeance. To eradicate corruption and restore his family’s honour, he will learn the art of the assassins.
Along the way, Ezio will call upon the wisdom of such great minds as Leonardo Da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli – knowing that survival is bound to the skills by which he must live.
To his allies, he will become a force for change – fighting for freedom and justice. To his enemies, he will become a threat dedicated to the destruction of the tyrants abusing the people of Italy.
So begins an epic story of power, revenge and conspiracy.
TRUTH WILL BE WRITTEN IN BLOOD
Assassin’s Creed 2 has probably the most epic video game story line ever, so the first thing that we’ve got to look at really, is how well does Bowden translate the video game into a five-hundred page novel? Yes, you heard me, Renaissance stands at just over five hundred pages long, a large word count for not just a tie-in novel, but also a non tie-in novel as well. So it’s huge. Is it worth it, though? can Renaissance emerge triumphant where countless of other video-game novels have failed? Its premise is good, the video game it’s based around is epic, its main character is about as awesome as they come, but… no. Sadly, Renaissance doesn’t lift my expectation of video-game tie-ins. Although it may not be terrible, as I certainly had fun whilst reading the book, Bowden’s novel isn’t particularly brilliant, neither.
Sure, the plot’s nice, fast-paced and well drawn together. Ezio is a likeable character, and there are even some bonus bits that we don’t get to see in the novel brought into the game. The novel draws upon many aspects of Renaissance-era Italy, just like the video game itself. I’m not going to give Bowden credit here for the plot as it’s been already created by the team at Ubisoft (the ones behind the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise), but it’s worth pointing out that the historical characters such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Niccolo Machiavelli, as well as indeed – the Renaissance-era itself, is tied neatly into the fictional elements and I didn’t catch any errors in the historical side of things, although there might have been a few that I’ve missed.
Renaissance itself is unlikely to draw in newcomers to the Assassin’s Creed franchise though. In fact, I’d say that it might put them off getting the game altogether. The writing doesn’t match up to quality that George RR Martin fans will be familiar with, and neither does it match up to stuff like the enjoyable The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher or Brent Week’s awesome Night Angel Trilogy. But then, Bowden isn’t trying to create a novel that will be the next fantasy epic. The game’s there for that – what Bowden is trying to do is to flush out the storyline a bit more, and provide a break from reading the series for the gamers. A whole host of back-story is created for Ezio, such as his love for Cristina, which we only touched upon in the video game (And explored more about in Brotherhood flashbacks), and this provides a whole new level of depth for Ezio as a character.
The biggest surprise that I got when I read Renaissance was that Desmond’s storyline as a character (gamers will know who I’m referring to here), has been shelved completely. The bits where Desmond is referenced in Ezio’s timeline is also re-cut, making this just a story about Ezio’s adventures and Ezio’s adventures alone. Which I enjoyed once I got used to the fact that Desmond wouldn’t be appearing in any of these novels, after all – I find the parts where he appears the most boring things in the game.
The is an extremely fast paced novel, and it covers a large amount of Ezio’s life, stretching from him as an eighteen-year old to being forty-four by the end of the book. The time-jumps are confusing though, and you have to pay attention to detail or you’ll be wondering why Ezio’s hopped from one part of Italy to another suddenly.
There’s a problem that I had with Renaissance though, and that is character development. Sure, it starts off looking as though Ezio will develop as a character, but once we get out of his early life, it’s fast revealed that Ezio doesn’t develop at all. Sure, he may be slightly more mature at the end of the novel, slightly more skilled in battle, but apart from that… nothing. It ends there. And don’t expect any other characters to be developed, either.
So, all said and done, I believe that it’s fairly safe to say that whilst Renaissance isn’t going to win any awards any time soon, it certainly is an enjoyable, ‘comfort’ read that will give fans of the series a nice break from the standard fantasy fare. Even though the game outclasses the novel in every possible way, the novel is still worth a try, just don’t go in with high expectations.
The Assassin’s Creed Video Games: Assassin’s Creed, Assassin’s Creed II, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, Assassin’s Creed Revelations, Assassin’s Creed III (October 2012)
The Assassin’s Creed Novelizations by Oliver Bowden: The Secret Crusade, Renaissance, Brotherhood, Revelations