Author: Oliver Bowden
Page count: 479
Proudly adorning the cover of Assassin’s Creed: Forsaken, the latest book written by Oliver Bowden based on Ubisoft’s brilliant franchise, is none other than Connor, the star of Assassin’s Creed III. And that’s a bit stupid, really, because it gives potential readers entirely the wrong impression; Forsaken isn’t about Connor, rather it’s about a gentleman by the name of Haytham Kenway, a character that I described in my over-indulgent review of Assassin’s Creed III as the standout character of the game and somebody who deserved far more screen time as he seemed like he could offer so much more. And as Mr. Bowden demonstrates in his latest book, I was completely right.
But before we get going, this review is going to contain early game spoilers for Assassin’s Creed III. Therefore, if you haven’t progressed past Sequence 3 in the game I advise that you stop reading now, otherwise you might just ruin a major part of the story for yourself. Still here? It’s your last chance…still here? Lovely.
Forsaken primarily takes on the form of Haytham Kenway’s personal journal and tracks his life from his early childhood in England through to his rise up the Templar ranks and finally, around half-way through the book, to the events in Assassin’s Creed 3. Personally I’ve never been a particular fan of Oliver Bowden’s writing style in the past Assassin’s Creed books, viewing it as often a bit clumsy and jerky, but decent. As the books went on he improved considerably, but it still felt mostly just decent and nothing more, although the stories he told were always interesting. But in Forsaken Bowden has truly hit his stride, with the journal style format of the book seemingly suiting him far more and free of the constraints of previous books where he could only really repeat the game’s dialog for much of the time . His writing his more fluid, more descriptive and just all around much better, making for a much nicer read, and for that I commend him. It’s always great to see a writer nail it, and Bowden has done it here, proving me wrong in the process. Good man.
As I said the book starts by covering Haytham’s early days with his family in England, and how he came to be involved with the Templars. The early chapters are slow but intriguing, slowly building up Haytham’s foundations and motivations for everything to come. Sadly Bowden chooses an odd time to skip ahead, just after Haytham has joined the Templar ranks, in what feels like a wasted opportunity to provide some great insight into exactly how Haytham, and therefore the other Templars, are usually trained. Aside from this, though, there are few flaws to be found within Forsaken. From there we delve into various missions and adventures that Haytham has undertaken through the years, including how he came by his Hidden Blade and how he came to be intrigued by the First Civilization, that slowly build a fantastic and detailed story which links neatly into Assassin’s Creed 3’s plot. Suffice to say that Haytham has led a rather interesting life, and confirms my feelings that I’d actually quite happily play a spin-off game based around Haytham’s life.
It’s about half-way through the book when we catch up with the events of the game, and it’s here where the book becomes most interesting. in Assassin’s Creed 3 we often get tantalising hints of what’s going in the background or that Haytham has a much deeper connection with certain characters. Who, for example, did you kill in the opening scenes in the opera house? Exactly what is Haytham’s connection with General Braddock? And just what has Haytham and his Templar pals been up to while Connor has been running around and leaping into haystacks? After all, clearly they just wouldn’t have been sitting around and doing nothing, because that would have been…well, stupid. Forsaken answers all of these questions and more, and by doing so it enriches the overall storyline of Assassin’s Creed 3 massively, adding far more depth to everything that is taking place, as well as telling a great story all by itself. By understanding Haytham’s past and his links to the events in the game, and by letting us see things from the Templar’s side, it provides much more context to events that take place in the game. It’s almost hard believe that Ubisoft didn’t include a lot of this in the game itself, it’s that damn good!. It also gives us a better insight into the Templars themselves, expanding on a concept that Assassin’s Creed 3 never fully explored: the Templars aren’t evil. In fact in some ways they’re very similar to the Assassin’s, but since we see them from the viewpoint of Connor or the other Assassin’s through the years, we view them in a rather dark way.
Bowden does also take a some time toward the end of the book to let us into the head of Connor. Sadly if you were hoping that this would be enough to turn Connor into a more interesting character than he was in the game, you’re out of luck, but what’s here at least adds a little more to the game once again. I’m also going to come out and say hands down that Forsaken’s version of the ending to historical part of Assassin’s Creed 3’s story is considerably better than the game’s, having kept it the same except for the removal of a certain sequence of events. In fact, it almost left me wondering if Bowden’s ending in the book was what was originally planned for the game, and that Ubisoft changed it at the last second. Regardless, in the little personal space known as the inside of my head the book’s version of events is how it actually went down. Sadly the book doesn’t touch Desmond’s side of the story at all, though, so we’ve still very much got to live with that ending.
Of course you’ve probably already figured out from the way I’m talking, then, that I strongly encourage you to read Forsaken after you’ve played through Assassin’s Creed 3. It’s common sense, really, but it’s worth making it clear right now, just in case you were planning on reading the book first and then playing the game. You strange person, you.
So, are there any other flaws I should talk about? Well, there are some sections in the book that I felt like should have been longer or shorter, but that’s a relatively minor complaint. There were also moments, primarily in the closing chapters, where it felt like Bowden was once again constrained by the game’s dialog, forced to use it where his idea of who and what Haytham was differed from Ubisoft’s portrayal of the character. It was like Haytham’s thoughts and personality presented in the book were slightly at odds with the dialog Bowden had to use to ensure the book was in-line with the game. Perhaps I’m entirely wrong, but that’s the impression I got. Other than that, though, there’s not actually many holes to poke in Bowden’s latest book. To be entirely honest he’s still not an absolutely top-of-the-line writer, which I sort of feel bad about saying as it’s clear he’s put a lot of work into Forsaken, but this is easily his best material to date and he’s become a fine author, one which I’m interested in seeing what he does next in his career. Perhaps Ubisoft will ask him to write more Assassin’s Creed novels? Or perhaps he’ll branch out and create his own work, which I’d love to see.
What I’m trying to get at here, then, is that Assassin’s Creed: Forsaken is a fantastic read that any fan of Assassin’s Creed 3 should pick up. Not only does it provide an entertaining and highly interesting look into the man known as Haytham Kenway, it fleshes out the game’s plot considerably, adding more context to events and providing you with more information regarding what is actually going on, and in doing so creates a far richer and enjoyable tale all round. And while it’s doing that, it tells a great story of its own.