A Tightrope of Rebellion - A Review of Assassin’s Creed: The Magus Conspiracy
Save 10% on officially licensed Assassin's
Creed Origins merchandise with the code "TOWCB"
The war between Assassins and Templars wreaks havoc in the Victorian era, in this breakneck thriller which opens up a whole new chapter of the Assassin’s Creed universe.
London, 1851 – When Pierrette, a daring acrobat performing at the Great Exhibition, rescues the mathematician Ada Lovelace from a gang of thugs, she becomes immersed in an ancient feud between Assassins and Templars. But Lovelace is gravely ill, and shares her secrets with Pierrette, sending the acrobat in search of a terrible weapon which she’d been developing for a shadowy figure known as “the Magus”. Pierrette’s only ally is Simeon Price, Lovelace’s childhood friend, who belongs to a Brotherhood devoted to free will. With Simeon’s aid, they uncover a startling web of political assassinations destabilizing Europe. As they race to foil the Templars’ deadly plot, murders and bombs are everywhere they look, but hope is nowhere in sight.
*Review copy provided by Aconyte Books | Minor character/story spoiler warning
My Assassin’s Creed journey started in January of 2021, when I began working through the vast universe of Assassin’s Creed in order of the Genetic Memory, or historical period explored within the Animus. At the time of this article, I am about to start the latest DLC with Dawn of Ragnarök, and recently have finished reading the previous novel released by Aconyte Books; Assassin’s Creed Valhalla: Sword of The White Horse. So for the last few months, I split my time between 9th Century England and the Italian Renaissance as my Genetic Memory playthrough could not wait until the next piece of media was released.
Luckily I did not have to wait long, as I was provided with a review copy for Assassin’s Creed: The Magus Conspiracy. A new original from Aurora Award-winning author, Kate Heartfield and the Assassin’s Creed Stories transmedia line. Written as a political thriller during the time of the Great Exhibition in 1850s England, this story had me intrigued immediately from the synapsis on the book’s website and back cover. Ada Lovelace, mathematician and a woman considered to be the first computer programmer, developed a weapon called “The Engine of History” with a ''shadowy figure'', The Magus. Two main characters, an acrobat named Pierrette and a soldier named Simeon Price work together to find this device during a time of political assassinations and rebellion.
The cover is one of the greatest artworks that I have seen yet for an AC novel, designed by freelance illustrator Bastien Jez. Being an original story, the artwork is not just a piece of key art from a video game, but an intricate design with characters from the book. However, while the Magus at the top, Pierrette in the middle, and Ada Lovelace on the left are all recognizable, I did have trouble identifying the two men on the right. While this did not hinder my enjoyment of the book, it did leave me with that question unanswered. The colours though feel very fitting to the era of the story in the pre-Victorian period, showing class and wealth that reflect the lifestyle of a lot of the characters within such as Lovelace.
The history through this book covers so much over a decade of storytelling, with each event intertwined with the Assassin’s Creed series. The book opens on the HMS Birkenhead, a naval ship that crashed off the coast of Africa in 1845. It is here that we are introduced to Simeon Price, a Lance-Corporal in the 74th Highland Regiment of the British Army. After the ship is damaged when it hits an uncharted rock formation, Simeon attempts to help his fellow countrymen that are trapped below deck in rapidly flooding water. It's at this time that a mysterious figure drops down upon a Lieutenant on deck and runs to join him in rescuing the soldiers. The man invites Simeon to visit his Brotherhood in Vienna if he chooses to leave the army. Yet, history has a different plan for him that day and Simeon, along with the rest of his regiment are ordered to go down with the ship instead of abandoning as ordered by the captain. This chapter alone is a perfect example of the action, history, and the mystery of the Assassin’s Creed model. By introducing this original character to the underlying story of the AC universe, readers are provided a fresh introduction to a secret war of factions that have been told over the last fifteen years.
The second character is introduced in the following chapter. Pierrette is a French acrobat in a travelling circus troupe who is known for their equestrian performances. When the original male performer that closes their show with a riding depiction of the poem “Mazeppa” by Lord Byron breaks his collarbone, Pierrette convinces the leader of the circus to allow her the chance to close out the show near the Great Exhibition. While performing this dangerous feat which involves riding a horse up a ramp that is built above the crowd, the young acrobat sees a woman being taken against her will from the tent. With her acrobatic skills, Pierrette lifts the woman into the air and out of the clutches of a gang of men, helping her escape to the park outside. This woman is the intelligent socialite and mathematician, Ada Lovelace, a woman that introduces her saviour to a life of art, wealth, and intrigue. Whilst her historical illness begins taking its toll, Ada opens up to the acrobat about her plans for a machine that could be devastating to the world if it was ever built. Ada’s request of her newest and most interesting friend is to locate a man that she grew up with years ago to help destroy her horrific creation before it ended up in the wrong hands; a man named Simeon Price.
The remainder of the book is divided between the two protagonists, with Simeon searching for a Brotherhood that he hopes to learn more from and understand conscience and choice over order and servitude. A brotherhood that teaches him how to hide in plain sight, and see the world in a different light that will better his ability to identify the innocent from the unjust. His journey will introduce him to an Assassin named Oscar Kane, who takes him in as an apprentice and teaches him the ways of the Assassin, and the ways of the modern man. The detail of how the new Assassin hopeful is trained was one of the best sections of this novel, as lists of real world books, that are provided for the character to study, giving us, the reader a great idea of what an Assassin would learn outside the swordplay and combo chains from a controller and game tutorial. His training introduces him to the Templar order, as well as historical men of the various European rebellions as the book’s antagonist, The Magus, starts to show their hand in orchestrating multiple assassination attempts on the highest figures in the country using the working man as his weapon of choice.
Pierrette’s adventure is built around her traveling family and her yearning to become something more, to become famous. Her time with Ada Lovelace allowed entry into the world of fashion and the ability to befriend artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his wife, the model Lizzie Siddal. Her time traveling through Europe will lead her further into the intertwining story of the Assassins vs Templars and the unknown Magus that both she and Simeon are searching for. Pairing the two together against futuristic weapons and the ghosts of their pasts.
All aspects of the Assassin’s Creed lore are present; The history of the Assassin v Templar war, the Precursors (Isu) and the artefacts that they created which provide unimaginable power, scenes of combat and synchronization points when characters climb famous landmarks across Europe, mentions of Eagle Vision, character cameos from another AC property, and one of the best Easter eggs I have seen yet in a novel, referencing the name of Master Assassin, Ezio Auditore. Yet, you do not need to know anything about the rest of the AC universe to enjoy this title, as it holds its own with no issues of not understanding the overall lore of the series.
The Magus Conspiracy is the first of a new trilogy of Novels under the series, “The Engine of History”. The books will cover the second half of the 19th century, up until World War I. With a good section of the Magus Conspiracy taking place in Austria, I could easily see the story continuing through the Age of Rebellion and the Industrial Revolution until closing the trilogy with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the death that started the first World War. This could also intertwine Jacob and Evie Frye from the Syndicate games Historical figures such as Rasputin and Vladimir Lenin. We could even see the return of Assassin Nikolai Orelov, if the Engine of History moves further east into Russia.
This book made me excited for the future of the franchise and introduced me to a fantastic writer, Kate Heartfield. The research that Kate put into this story is very thorough as I was able to find information on all of the historical figures and events that took place and read an accurate retelling that made this story stand out from previous releases. Each political assassination attempt that fueled the plot, was enhanced by the original characters attempting to discover the identity of the antagonist. I found this to be the strongest historical fiction book thus far, as the number of Assassin’s Creed Originals at the time was limited to the book Assassin's Creed: Heresy by Christie Golden, a title that I enjoy as well. While all of the AC Story Classics that Ubisoft had released are good novelizations of the games they represent, the transmedia thrives with the unique Chronicles and Original labels as they have more freedom to create a new story in the expanding universe.
Assassin’s Creed: The Magus Conspiracy releases globally as a digital release and in the US in Paperback on August 2, 2022 & paperback in the UK on October 27, 2022.
Assassin's Creed: The Magus Conspiracy is available to purchase on Amazon.
About the Author
Mike Smith is a collector of all things Assassin's Creed and a major supporter for the transmedia platform for the series. With nearly a full library of Assassin's Creed media, he is exploring the universe in order of Genetic Memory and waiting eagerly for the next story to be released.