Book 1, Chronicles of Ghadid
By K. A. Doore
Tor Books, ISBN: 978-0765398550
Paperback, 352 pages. © March 2019
Novice assassin Amastan is relieved to learn, after passing all his tests, that no new contracts are being issued. He’s not convinced he could really take a life and doubts his future with the secretive guild. That is, until the uncontracted killings start, and the bodies’ jaani are left unquieted to roam wild and murderous through the streets of Ghadid. Worst of all, the killer is taking out skilled members of the Basbowden family. Amastan’s own.
The drum council turns to the legendary Serpent of Ghadid for answers. She turns to Amastan, who found the first body. The murders must be solved and the killer found, or the Basbowdens will take the blame and be out of business for good. Season’s end approaches, and time is running out as Amastan puts his skills to the real test: find the killer or become the next victim.
I was charmed with this story from the start. Author K. A. Doore sets The Perfect Assassin in a desert world, where cities sit high above the sands on sturdy platforms. Every detail fits this setting: the sacred nature of water, pitiless heat, sand between one’s teeth, the harshness of the dry climate and the joy that comes at season’s end when storms roll in to refill the city’s aquifer. Caravans and merchants fill the backdrop, along with rooftop glasshouses, date wine, teahouses, men who cover their faces out of modesty, and so much more. Doore’s attention to detail in every setting brought the story to vivid life in my imagination, each tidbit so masterfully woven through the story that you hardly notice, except in appreciating the richness of the narrative.
This novel isn’t all about descriptions, though. There’s plenty of action to be had here. Rooftop chases, weapons play, poisons and antidotes, murders, and lethal, wild spirits who will possess the unwary kept me turning pages long after my bedtime. I could almost see the boards laid across the gaps between roofs to accommodate that mode of travel, as much as I could the bridges that connected one neighborhood platform to another. I could see Amastan and his cousins climbing the sides of the buildings and racing through the night in training and, eventually, in flight for their lives. The red “cloud” of the wild jaani and the fear they evoked felt palpable to me, so much so that I am anxiously awaiting the second book in this trilogy.
But, of course, the main focus of the story is on Amastan. On the Basbowden family, where cousins are related by their training, if not their blood. On the hard choices made by both. Amastan and his friend Menna develop beautifully through the story’s arc, coming of age in an unforgiving and dangerous environment. Amastan goes in search of clues and instead finds a surprise in Yufit, a young male scribe from the murdered drum chief’s household. I found it sweet to read Yufit’s effect on Amastan—whose heart’s aflutter, his stomach in knots, his nerves on edge—which felt authentic to first love and budding romance. And they weren’t the only LGBT characters, all of whom were woven into the story in a completely normalized way. We need more fiction like this.
In Amastan’s reluctance to kill, and the internal dialogue that goes through his mind over the subject, I found an intriguing philosophical debate about the value of an assassin’s guild. In Ghadid, murder is outlawed. Contract killing, on the other hand, is sanctioned as long as certain customs are followed. The mark must have harmed Ghadid or its people in some way, i.e. stealing water. The death of the mark by assassin must be the lesser of evils. The assassin cannot be seen or identified by any witness. Amastan debates with himself the role of the Basbowden family, whether what they do is wrong, no matter what, or whether killing can be a kindness to the mark and/or their family in the long run or a salvation for the city and its residents. Such reasoning felt culturally appropriate in such an unforgiving environment as Ghadid’s. Amastan’s thoughts raised interesting questions on what is the best course of action when there are no good choices, and I found myself pondering his points long after I’d finished reading.
This is K. A. Doore’s debut novel and for me, The Perfect Assassin was a refreshing change in setting, style, plot, and characters. I can’t wait for more. The next book, The Impossible Contract, comes out in November; the third, The Unconquered City, is scheduled for release in June of 2020. Don’t miss out on this thrill ride!