Assassin's Creed: Renaissance (Oliver Bowden)
Assassin's Creed: Renaissance is the first book to novelize the events of the popular series of video games, though it actually starts with the second game in the series, featuring Ezio Auditore's quest for vengeance against the conspiracy that destroyed his family. Though the author does a good job of novelizing the video game elements, the story is fundamentally weaker through lack of the "modern" portion of the storyline, and an extremely dry narrative of most events. Most of the flaws from the game's story stay in place, and coupled with the mostly bad changes, Renaissance is a distinctly disappointing book.
The plot, set in 15th century northern Italy, is a nice story of revenge and conspiracy, and a slightly above average historical fiction work, but the other elements of the book betray it, and in leaving out the modern day sections, the author omits crucial pieces of the story. After devious treachery from an unassuming source, Ezio Auditore is the sole male survivor of his family of prestigious bankers, and what he discovers in his father's belongings drives him to become an Assassin, and after meeting up with his Uncle Marco, he devotes his life to defeating the Templar menace and their far reaching plot to dominate the world.
A pet peeve of mine is when novelizations or adaptations do little more than regurgitate the events of their parent source, without adding bonus scenes or extra insight into the characters. If that bothers you too, you will not enjoy the plot of this book after playing through the Assassin's Creed game. I couldn't find any scene that wasn't in the game, though if you don't have the two DLC packs (Bonfire of the Vanities and The Battle of Forli) then you will have the opportunity to experience them here.
Aside from the lack of new elements, the most critical flaw is that the lack of a modern day storyline to put events into perspective and instill a sense of urgency really cripples the final acts of the book. In the game, there is the impending sense of doom that none other than the end of the world is at stake should our heroes fail to defeat the Templars. In the book, without the modern portions to give it that imminent feeling, the end of the world that Ezio sees feels like a faraway and easily preventable thing, something that he is many lifetimes away from having to actually experience himself.
Characterization is an extremely weak element of the book, as the author fails to bring to life any of the various allies or antagonists, throwing out a ton of names but doing very little to connect them or develop them as actual people. Ezio's transformation from spoiled, irresponsible noble to hard boiled assassin has always been interesting to me, but we don't get a lot of detail on that here. He literally goes from the former to the latter overnight, with no real growing pains or internal conflict about his new role in the world.
The supporting cast is made up of a variety of fictitious characters and actual people (including Leonardo DaVinci, Machiavelli, and Pope Alexander VI.) I appreciated the inclusion of actual historical figures, most of whom have just a passing influence on the story, but a few of them, such as DaVinci and the Pope, play a crucial role in the proceedings. We don't learn a lot about any of them except for what their allegiances were at this time. Like with the cast of original characters, there isn't a great effort to expand on anybody's personality, and as we meet more and more people, the glossary at the back of the book becomes surprisingly essential, as it is very hard to keep track of a bunch of characters who resonate as little more than names on paper.
The antagonists, spearheaded by Pope Alexander VI and including a large web of conspirators, fare incredibly poorly. Outside of Alexander, who does manage to evoke some emotions as he is a mysterious figure involved in the story from start to finish, the other characters are nothing more than names on Ezio's list, easily dispatched and rarely mentioned before or after their time has come. The outrageous number of enemies really dilutes the opposition as a whole, especially as Ezio easily and rapidly dispatches them. In this area, a video game that gets by on having a bevy of fun game play mechanics but repetitive antagonists can be forgiven, but an actual novel doesn't suit this format at all. The faceless characters feel like the excuse for gratuitous action that they are, and no attempt is made to make any of them stand out.
The writing is characterized by a bland, play by play style that brings little flair to the action scenes, and abysmal dialogue. The worst aspect by far is the way the author tries to envision action scenes. Very often, the action will just be skimmed over in a brief sentence, and even for fights of more importance, the proceedings are described with
Dialogue is a bizarre mix of English and Italian (there is a glossary of terms in the back, though most of the Italian is just curse words) that suffers from being incredibly stilted and inappropriately modern, such as a reference to greased lightning early in the book. Interaction between Ezio and his compatriots is awkward at the best of times, but often painfully embarrassing. His attempts at romance are easily the worst, but even the less sentimental scenes are poorly scripted.
One element I did appreciate was how the book went out of its way to include game elements like the Codex pages, special weapons, and even (briefly) the feather collectibles. The various weapons in Ezio's arsenal feel right here, and fans of the game will appreciate the occasional back ground look at the weapons that help to explain their inner workings. There is also a concerted effort to delve into some of the backstory of the major cities featured in the book, including Venice and Florence, which helps to put the book in a more appropriate context and live up to the Renaissance sub title. Despite these strong suits though, the overall style of writing was very disappointing.
Assassin's Creed: Renaissance is a distinctly disappointing book due in no small part to the horrible characters and incredibly dry writing style. Fans of the series won't find much to like about the plot, which is just the story of the game minus the important parts, and people with no exposure to the game may find a decent story, but will still have to suffer through the bad writing and characters in order to enjoy it. Not a book I plan on reading again.