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Review: “The Magus Conspiracy” by Kate Heartfield

Thanks to NetGalley and Aconyte Publishers for being kind enough to send me an early copy of the novel!

(This review discusses minor spoilers for The Magus Conspiracy, but nothing relating to its plot)

Rating: 4.5/5

I love a good historical novel; fiction or non-fiction, there’s just something about it which piques my interest more than horror or crime genres. My room is lined with stacks of novels and biographies from the ancient world to the mythical and more modern. And I think it’s well established by now that I am a Fan of Assassin’s Creed, which has slowly been increasing its multimedia publishing, from manhuas and webtoons to novels and comics. Their latest publication, to be released in August 2022, is The Magus Conspiracy, written by The Embroidered Book’s award-winning author Kate Heartfield.

I opened the book at 11am, and before midnight that same day I was at the back cover. It just ensnared me in a way an excellent novel should. Not even halfway through I turned to friends online and gave them the recommendation to pick this up when they have the opportunity.

The book itself begins in 1851, with an action prologue taking us through the sinking of the HMS Birkenhead where we are introduced to the first of our two protagonists: Simeon Price. After a peculiar encounter with a hooded figure as the ship went down, he heads to Vienna to train beneath a man called Kane. Once a sailor, now an Assassin.

And our other followed character starts her journey in London. Pierrette, an acrobat and entertainer with a circus has a chance encounter with Ada Lovelace during one performance, and after becoming friends, the performer is given a strange notebook full of code and a name: Magus.

Both storylines bounce around Europe, before ending as we began, in London. The Assassin-Templar war that is so familiar through the Assassin’s Creed franchise is brought forth in new and inventive ways, with Heartfield nailing the assignment in every single chapter. In an interview with Ubisoft, she mentioned that she tried to bring across the style of the games but into the written format, and it wholeheartedly comes across.

Heartfield is an amazing author; her writing is enthralling, with even the smallest moments captivating. In particular, her descriptions of Pierrette’s acrobatics and the circus tricks were so vivid I could picture them as I read on. It fits perfectly into the genre of action-adventure video games for which the book is written for. My heart was pounding through every fight scene, in utter awe at every beautiful literary skyline. 

The novel’s plot twist of the identity of Magus is something almost like a crime thriller; small details that seem almost inconspicuous in the first third of the book become important to its conclusion. I particularly love the revelation of the identity being phonetic and linguistic – a detail which I have never considered but definitely fits into the ‘hiding in plain sight’ mantra of the Assassins.

I found myself trying to piece together the mystery as the book developed; while I was wrong in my guess before the reveal, but only through Kate Heartfield’s masterful misdirection and Simeon’s own growth and regrets. It’s plot-driven action, true, but our characters certainly throw spanners in what could have been well-oiled machines (both good and evil). Even as Simeon and Pierrette meet time and again, learning and changing between their own encounters.

When they’re not annoying the hell out of one another, Simeon and Pierrette make a pretty good team. Each brings something special from their backgrounds that mould together into an unbreakable skillset that saves the day in the end. They’re wonderful and unique and fleshed out with reasoning that just makes sense; Simeon might be ashamed that his actions caused someone to die, and Pierette blends in with fashion rather than climbing on rooftops which allows for a unique set of information that proves vital in determining the true identity of the Magus.

But in terms of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and its lore, Magus Conspiracy does an excellent job in combing the existing world with its new characters. In particular is the reference to Syndicate and Assassin’s Creed Underworld (Oliver Bowden) in later chapters: it’s not overt or in your face, a paragraph for two which proves the universe is truly alive and kicking. I did get a laugh out of Simeon signing into a restricted area as Ezio Auditore though.

There are so many small details in this novel which aren’t important for plot or story but are notable for me, from Simeon being the first canonical left-handed assassin to the aghast I had when someone made tea with the milk first, and even a cameo appearance that I was overjoyed to see, that I can see myself coming back to read Magus Conspiracy multiple times.

And to top it all off, the 15th anniversary livestream hosted by Ubisoft on June 14th revealed that Magus Conspiracy is the first in a trilogy of novels titled The Engine of History.

The Magus Conspiracy is published by Acontye books and available from August 2nd (and later dates in the UK)  

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