Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (Oliver Bowden)
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is the novelization of the 2010 videogame of the same name. Detailing the life of Renaissance era Assassin Ezio Auditore, it continues his saga as he fights against the evil Templar menace and the conniving Cesare Borgia. Unfortunately, it is an unpolished mess of a book that represents the worst of tie in fiction in just about every category. If you want all of the content of the games with approximately 6% of the fun, Brotherhood may just be for you.
The story is one that should be familiar to Assassin's Creed fans, as very little has changed from the book to the game. In fact, I don't remember anything that has changed significantly or been added to this book that wasn't in the game, although some events have been reworked in detail with outcome remaining the same. This alone presents a problem for Assassin's Creed fans, because it really doesn't add anything to capitalize on the medium, nor does it cut out the parts that work better in the games. On these grounds alone this would be a sub-par purchase for the Assassin's Creed fan in your life, but even people who are just looking to try some popular historical fiction probably won't be able to get into this book because of all the excessive scenes that don't add anything to the story.
There are a few glaring flaws that come into play in the book that don't really affect the game. Firstly, the decision to not include the present day storyline is a puzzling one because, although the story of Ezio is compelling in its own right, the game takes on a whole new sense of urgency when the quest to thwart doomsday is introduced. Leaving out protagonist Desmond Mason and the new age of Assassin's not only sucks a substantial amount of the tension and drama out of the book, but it also cripples the Apple plot device. In this book it is written as being a jack of all trades magic plot advancer, which I guess in a way it is, but with the scant explanation of its power and the lack of the modern storyline for that added bit of context, what is a decent plot device becomes something that feels a little too convenient and more than a bit confusing.
Secondly, there are quite a few scenes, particularly early on, that translate terribly from the source material. These are mostly the tutorial sequences where the player learns to control Ezio, blend in to a crowd, or buy things from stores. In the game, we expect stuff like this to crop up and in the first one it made a reasonable amount of sense to include it as a narrative device as well. In this second book, Ezio is in his mid forties and seemingly well aware of this kind of stuff, not to mention that the author doesn't even make the effort to craft these scenes into something useful or fun. They are included because the game used them, and for no other reason. Also, a lot of the mindless, random action that makes perfect sense in the game world is included here, and this has the doubly negative effect of slowing down the narrative and causing the author to run out of ways to describe events by about page 250. Seeing as it brings nothing new to the table and actively makes some elements of the story worse, this is a very awkward attempt at a novelization.
Brotherhood features some of the most listless characterization you will ever see. While it is true that the characters from the game are mostly dull and nothing to write home about, one would think that the function of this book is to flesh them out at least a little bit. Instead we are treated to a book told almost exclusively from Ezio's point of view. His band of assassins and sympathizers are pushed off to the side and we are given very scant characterizations for them, mostly relying on their historical personas. Da Vinci is an eccentric genius with a taste for male companionship, while Machiavelli is a scheming shadowy type mistrusted by the other members of the order. The author takes no chances establishing either of these legendary figures, and the lesser known personas get little face time too. Even the villains, lead by Cesare Borgia and his sister Lucrezia, are extremely boring. Outside of an incestuous relationship straight out of a George R.R. Martin novel, there is very little to say about either of these characters. While it is nice to use historical figures, portraying them safely and leaving them mostly as abstract figures with more name power than personality definitely leaves more to be desired when looking at this as a work of entertainment.
The only character we get to know at all is Ezio, and for all his development this book might as well have not even bothered. Now in his mid forties, Ezio is coming to terms with the life he has made for himself and his rapidly increasing age. We do get a few insights into his personal struggles with the aging process, but not enough to write home about and certainly nothing to get excited for. A line here or there doesn't make for a very compelling internal conflict, and he never even resolves this turmoil either, it is seemingly brought up just to remind us of his age. There is little else to take from his character in this book, he has a very boring off and on relationship with Caterina Sforza for the first few chapters of this book, a completely manufactured and pointless conflict with his sister, and then of course the expected killings and espionage in the name of destroying the Templars. I didn't learn anything particularly interesting about the character from reading this book, and it certainly didn't expand on what we already know about him, so I can't say that the book is at all worth it you want to get inside Ezio's head a little.
Of course, I also can't recommend the book if you are a fan of creative and eloquent writing, but that is a bit more acceptable given what was being novelized. Not that video games can't have amazing and intricate plots, just that it is very hard to directly translate gameplay and that was actually attempted here. We get lots and lots of descriptions of fighting, some scenes are incredibly intricate while others are brushed over completely, but the real problem is that by the end of the book the author has pretty much run out of ways to express the emotion and movement behind a scene. We get the same pedantic phrasing and scenarios over and over again, something which takes most of the tension out of what should be the most intriguing parts of the story. I can only read about Ezio cutting people's throats and parrying blades so many times before I check out mentally. The dialogue isn't much better, as the mix of English and Italian does little to spice up the very pedestrian and exposition heavy discourse.
Brotherhood is a book that will have a hard time appealing to anybody. Fans of the popular game series will be immensely disappointed in the lack of new content and one dimensional characters, while fans of historical fiction will find little to enjoy in the occasionally awkward story, terrible writing, and excessive action sequences. Accordingly, this is a book that should be ignored by all but the most rabid of Assassin's Creed fans looking to collect all merchandise related to the game.