Ananna of the Tanarau is suffering from a common ailment for female YA protagonists: her parents want to marry her off to a complete stranger. But Ananna, being the daughter of a pirate family and fairly more proactive than the average heroine, decides to steal a camel and ride off into the sunset to search for her fortune. She knows the dangers, and she’s not surprised when the family of the jilted bridegroom sends an assassin, Naji, after her. But the real problem is when Ananna accidentally triggers a curse that binds her and Naji together, forcing him to protect her. Since neither is particularly thrilled at the idea of spending the rest of their lives stuck to each other, they start looking for a way to break the curse, all the while trying to avoid the otherworldly beings that are targeting Naji.
Let’s start with the good bits. I liked this book. The setting was some kind of fantasy Middle East, most of the characters were POC, the magic system was original. I liked Ananna, she has a no-nonsense attitude and like I said she’s very proactive: she’s always on the move, trying to solve her own problems, she’s very much not a damsel in distress. The problem is that this book does have a damsel in distress: Naji, the (alleged) master assassin, is one of the most helpless characters ever. I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that he spends half of the book being wounded or incapacitated or knocking himself out because he uses too much of his magic. I’m supposed to think he’s some kind of awesome ninja assassin, but it’s hard to take him seriously when Ananna keeps havin to carry his sorry ass around. I have no idea how Naji managed to survive on his own for so long.
Even worse, Naji is beautiful, but he has a burn scar on his cheek. This scar gives him. So. Much. Angst. He is the annoying protagonist with flawless hair/skin/teeth who is absolutely convinced that they’re ugly because of one single blemish. There’s a scene in which Naji loses his assassin mask and has a huge freakout. I thought that maybe the mask was a symbolic assassin thing, or maybe it contained some important talisman, but nope. Naji was freaking out because he didn’t want his ex-girlfriend to see his oh-so-ugly face.
But obviously Ananna falls in love with him. Or, well, she says that she hates him but also loves him. I think it would be less annoying (and more accurate) if she admitted that she hates him but also wants to get in his pants. I liked Ananna, but it was kind of terrible to have her saddled with Naji for the whole book. Also, another pet peeve of mine: this is the first book of two, so there isn’t really a climax or a resolution. The story just stops abruptly, just as Ananna and Naji are finally about to start their quest to break the curse. I will read the second book, of course, because like I said it is a good book, but I just couldn’t bring myself to love it as much as other people did.