Assassin’s Creed: The Secret Crusade Review
The Secret Crusade is the third novel based on the historical fiction series, Assassin’s Creed. While the previous two books Renaissance and Brotherhood closely followed the plot of the second and third games, The Secret Crusade goes back to explore the life of Altair, the first Assassin we encounter in the games chronologically. While the book closely follows the plot of what we know about Altair from the games it also explores new aspects of his personality and personal history.
Author Oliver Bowden has a handle on describing Altair as the skilled combatant we know from the games but also does a decent job of summarizing the story of one of the most explored characters in the series. The plot follows Niccolo Polo who is recounting tales of Altair’s adventures to his brother Maffeo during their stay at Masyaf in the 13th century. They begin to realize that these stories are being told to them by the Master for a reason which ties into some of the memories found in Assassin’s Creed Revelations. For the most part Bowden explains the events of Assassin’s Creed and its portable spin-off Bloodlines adequately even if the plot lurches forward at certain points. Nevertheless, the most interesting part of this particular novel is what we glean about Altair as a person that isn’t revealed elsewhere in the series.
The book spends quite a bit of time exploring Altair’s childhood in particular his relationship to fellow Assassin, Abbas. The two are quite tragic figures and through their own faults and misconceptions become enemies over time to disastrous effect for the Assassin Order and particularly for Altair’s family. Abbas in particular is fleshed out in the novel and while it doesn’t make the actions he takes in Revelations any more palatable it does explain why he fosters such hatred for Altair and Al Mualim. It would have been interesting to see more of Masyaf in the middle portion of the book as Altair and Maria’s journey to Cyprus (as depicted in Bloodlines) feels like a big detour despite giving a complete picture of Altair’s journey.
There are some cool additional moments in The Secret Crusade not found in the games such as Altair’s encounter with a merchant on his way back to Masyaf or discovering what happened to both Altair’s and Abbas’ fathers. The arc of Altair is both dramatic and philosophical with the character learning just as much about the Creed as he does about himself over the journey. The novel still jumps through time at points and it would have been neat to see Bowden fill in some of those time gaps rather than mention them with a few sentences especially when it comes to Altair and his relationship with Maria after events in Cyprus. As a result, the plot can feel a little disjointed but works well in the sense of the framework – tales being told by Niccolo to his brother.
While other books in the series have served as summaries of the games, The Secret Crusade takes a different approach by also fleshing out one of Assassin’s Creed’s most interesting characters adding context to actions we see in the games. His arc from arrogant to vengeful to philosophical is entertaining to read even if the plot jumps around one too many times. Overall, The Secret Crusade is one of the better novels based on the series.