Casca #13: The Assassin

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August 18, 2012 at 6:23 pm #1494
Tony Roberts

Adam France has just sent me this review of Casca 13:

Casca : #13 ‘The Assassin’

Plot Overview –

(From Tony’s Timeline) –

Casca is captured by Muslim slavers and takes the name Kasim the Spear after helping to defeat bandits. While en route to Baghdad where he was due to be sold, he is taken to Castle Alamut, home of the Assassins, and inducted into the cult through the use of drugs. Sent to kill under the orders of Hasan al-Sabah, Casca makes a mess of things and is taken prisoner. He is rescued however and finally joins the company of Persian poet Omar Khayyam and vows to go with him north to the lands of the Rus.

My Review –

The Assassin is quite a different book to the earlier and in my opinion better sequential Casca books, it feels lighter, less thoughtful, less ‘connected’ to what has gone before and what might come after. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, rather I just didn’t like it as much. It’s a quick, action packed, surprisingly quirky adventure tale, a ripping yarn, but sadly not much more.

The great thing about the sequential early centuries books was that it is absolutely possible in them to track and see Casca’s personality and general mood change over the years, decades and centuries. Each book built upon what happened to him before, what brought him to the places and decisions we would see him experience and those changes make sense. He does actually grow from always being simply a lone wandering mercenary swordsman into a warrior skilled and experienced in leading and commanding great armies. He has periods of deep depression when relatively brief moments of fleeting joy and hope are snatched from him both by enemies or the passage of time. He’s shown falling in love so rarely, that when he does it really means something, especially when he inevitably loses the object of his love.

In Assassin Casca really has no development, he starts off very much in his stock ‘wandering loner sell-sword’ mode, and ends up more or less the same. I guess we do see him change somewhat in his being tricked by drugs and semi-brainwashed into becoming a hashishin, which was certainly interesting and entertaining, especially when it initially seemed he had genuinely bought into Hassan’s dog and pony show. However, more or less as soon as he’s out on his own it becomes clear that while Casca did personally like Hassan, he really had in no real way embraced the philosophies of the Ismaili assassins. I think the book would have been much better had Casca genuinely become swept up by the assassin’s creed (excuse the pun), as we know he was later by Nazism in the 1930s, but in some way comes to realise his error.

As I’ve mentioned in my other reviews, though I love the concept of the Brotherhood of the Lamb, I don’t like them being shoe-horned into every book, or being an Illuminati like group that are behind every single bad event or thing in human history. Thus, I’m not really that keen that the Assassins were a secret front for the Brotherhood, and that the historical Hassan al-Sabbah was the Elder of the Brotherhood. There just seems no need for this to be the case in the story, Hassan never actually realises Kasim is Casca, Casca never knows the Assassins are a Brotherhood front, and the fact the Assassins are essentially the Brotherhood has no bearing on the story whatsoever. It could have been left out and the book could have changed in precisely no other way, which in itself proves it was an unnecessary plot point.

* * *

Call me a ghoul, but one of the things I have always loved about the Casca books is seeing Casca suffer. I think the scenes where we see him horribly tortured and executed, or ‘killed’ in gruesome ways, are some of the most memorable in the whole series. The heart ripping out scene from God of Death, the burning in Persian, the burying alive in War Lord, and so on. So I did like that we got two new ‘Casca suffering’ scenes in Assassin; the first being his memorable couple of years drowning, then reviving, then drowning again, as he’s swept down a rushing underground river, and the second being the torture scene where for a moment it looked like he might lose ‘little Cass’ to the knives of the depraved concubines of the Sultan.

I also liked the very ‘Nam era seeming trippy drug haze scenes, though I’d liked to have had a moment when Casca realises he’s risking his very self in indulging an apparent fledgling addiction.

One thing that rather surprised me and which I’m not sure I liked, was the humour. This book feels a lot more overtly comedic in places to me than most of the series. In some ways I liked that, in others I’m not sure I did. Casca getting pissed while trying to assassinate someone, getting captured and then having all his body hair plucked for example was certainly amusing, but it was very broad humour.

I do have some complaints, one being that there are an awful lot of pretty unlikely coincidental meetings throughout the book, indeed at some points it seems that the handful of characters Casca meets or knows are the only people in Persia at the time. Another complaint is that Casca spends very little of the book actually being an assassin, which seems like a wasted opportunity.

* * *

All in all, I enjoyed Assassin, but it was a much lighter, quicker, read than the earlier books and felt less interesting because of that. I did love the end idea of Casca being part of the caravan that first carried vodka into Russia – hilarious!

I’d give this one three out of five.

Points of interest –

The book is set between roughly 1090 and 1096, as per Tony’s Timeline.

Casca strongly seems to suggest in the book he has not visited Baghdad or Persia since the events of ‘The Persian’ about seven hundred years before.

Could we fit any new stories in here –

Not really, the book is pretty tight. Though I suppose you could do a story during Casca’s time as an assassin. There is of course a twenty three year gap between the end of the previous book, ‘Conqueror’, and the start of this one, which ends with Casca being in Circassia and captured by Mamluke slavers. It also occurs to me there is plenty of room to show a return of Casca in following years, whether by choice or force, to Alamut for a final confrontation with Hassan and the Brotherhood of that time. Hassan historically lives until 1124, so he could be a villain for years to come from the end of this book.

August 19, 2012 at 12:19 am #1496

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Some Casca fans like the idea that Casca doesn’t change and for that reason is doomed to suffer every misfortune that can be pressed upon an unrepenting man slayer, over and over again. I embrace the idea that he not only learns from his misakes, but also gets tougher by living through nightmare experiences that might have driven lesser men mad.
I agree with the writer that Casca should be a man who endures. Like the hero Conan, he needs to show modern men what greatness is all about.

August 20, 2012 at 8:57 pm #1502
Adam France

Not sure I agree with that, I think Casca is not really that much of a hero. Yes he sometimes does ‘good’ and ‘heroic’ things, but his nature is really just being ‘a good soldier’.

He is certainly no saint, he boozes, carouses, and has killed more people than cancer.

Yes, he has a soldier’s code of honour (basically ‘no women, no kids’), but he’s basically just a poor schlob who had the misfortune to ‘just be doing his job’ on the day Jesus is crucified. He does change in many ways, he learns lots of stuff inevitably down the centuries for example, but morally I’m not sure he does. In that he is the eternal soldier – just doing his job.

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