The Road to Trust: A Review of Assassin’s Creed Mirage: Daughter of No One & Interview with Author Maria Lewis
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Minor Spoilers for Assassin’s Creed Mirage: Daughter of No One.
How do you find trust in the help of a stranger? To some, it's as simple as a hopeful view of the world, that good triumphs, and at their core people are genuine in their aid. To others, trust has to be earned and while assistance can be a step towards such a bond, it can sometimes hide one’s true intentions. This is a concept that has been explored on a deeper level in the Assassin’s Creed series. From the Assassin, Altaïr, who had to repair a trust broken with his brotherhood, to the Viking Shieldmaiden, Eivor, who found trust in outsiders that helped her people move to a new home, Assassin’s Creed has consistently asked players to trust in the Brotherhood and those around their key characters.
What trust does one have if they are not part of such a fellowship? When isolated or forced to hide from the world so that one can have some resemblance of freedom? How does a person not only gain the trust of strangers, but accept that a person is trustworthy? These are aspects that Roshan bint-La'Ahad (the lead character of the new Aconyte novel, Daughter of No One, written by award-winning screenwriter, and best-selling author, Maria Lewis), is questioning throughout her young life as a street-raised fugitive. A woman forced into a life of solitude after killing the man she was sold to as a young bride, a life before she took the mantle of Mentor to fellow Hidden One, Basim Ibn Ishaq.
I have been a big supporter of the transmedia line in the Assassin’s Creed series, and Aconyte Books has released time after time, some of the best stories in the franchise with a variety of genres and stories from centuries of history. Previous titles have touched on European wars, Chinese philosophy and kung-fu, English mythology, and a middle eastern political thriller. *Daughter of No One continues this trend as it shifts between two parallel timelines from the origin of Roshan as a fugitive hiding in The House of Wisdom in 819 to Cairo five years later where Roshan is imprisoned for crimes of her past and is offered her freedom by joining ragtag group of warriors, criminals, and specialists, tasked by the hooded figure to steal a mysterious object from a cultist group called The Martyrs of Agaunum.
The Silk Road returns to the Assassin’s Creed franchise for this new adventure with an ensemble of unique characters from around the known world. *Within this cast readers will meet the Welsh swordswoman, Mared; a Roman soldier-turned pirate, Dias; a Persian informant, Azadeh, and her wolf, Onyx; Viking twin brothers Geir and Gud, Wei, the Chinese explosives specialist; Nafanua, the Samoan warrior; the French Christian prophet, Francis; and lastly, Roshan, the intelligence for the group. Failure is not an option and through the pages of Daughter of No One these nine strangers will learn the cost of joining this mission in return for money, family, and for some, their freedom.
My first thought when I read about the various characters was to the Ocean’s Eleven films where a group of specialists came together to perform a heist against a wealthy target. However, the longer I read, the more I realized that this was more reflective of The Suicide Squad, and I was all in on the story at this point. The detailed action set pieces that filled the chapters of this part of the book made me look at each character as a living being and not as just person A, B, and C. They each had personality and backstory, some of which reference back to previous titles in the Assassin’s Creed universe, tying the transmedia even closer together, and I had emotion towards each member to various degrees and absorbed each piece of intel about them. This group's adventure runs Roshan through similar emotions as she finds both friends and enemies amongst her colleagues, yet is always questioning a person’s true intentions.
Looking back at the earlier points in Roshan’s life, readers learn of a time where she was a prisoner of another kind under the control of a man with multiple wives that he treated more as slaves than people. The origin of the Hidden One mentor is a story of hope and adaptation where Roshan finds a safe haven within the House of Wisdom in Baghdad and a friend and teacher in scholar and inventor, Bakhit. Learning how to read and write in various languages and numbers, how the world works, and how she could have a better life as an assistant to the inventor. From here the story will progress and introduce Roshan to characters who will teach her combat, show here that women can be successful on their own in a world run by men, and how to find the freedom she is fighting for.
Comparing Daughter of No One to other titles under the Aconyte Books umbrella, I would say that it would be higher on the list of favorites. With the exception of the Engine of History trilogy (which has been my top series thus far) I would say that DoNO has surpassed the other titles such as Geirmund’s Saga, Sword of the White Horse, and The Golden City. I am a fan of the ensemble cast/character stories as there is so much potential for that story to branch off for additional world building. So when I read the pages of Maria Lewis’ book and saw that was what I was getting into, I was excited for the adventure. Between the various interactions of combos of characters, learning their backstories, and seeing how they responded to the situations set before them was captivating. Plus the forces they faced with the Martyrs of Agaunum added a supernatural component as expected with an Assassin’s Creed story. Trying to determine what Roshan and her team was up against, compared to the mystics of The Ming Storm or Isu artifacts that fans know from the history of this fictional world, kept me on my toes. Wanting to solve the mystery of the box that this group is after, and being surprised and obtaining the satisfaction of twists and “WOW” moments, made this a fun read, and a quick one that I didn’t want to set down.
Author Maria Lewis’ writing showcases not only her style as a novelist, but also as a screenwriter, providing easy visualization of the action scenes and moments between, making this book truly come to life. Yet, I will state that my experience playing Assassin’s Creed Mirage and knowing various details of the series already provided me a good understanding of what to expect with the story, but not to the point where I could predict what was going to happen. In the earlier chapters where Roshan sought shelter within the House of Wisdom, I knew what the environment looked like as I had explored the building myself in the parent title game. Regardless of this, her writing gives great scale to the environment to where any reader should have no issue in visualizing scenes similar to how I did as an avid fan of the series.
There were moments where I did find myself confused, specifically one of the larger set pieces where Roshan and her companions attacked a large two tier caravan pulled by four camels and surrounded with guards who provided additional defense. In moments of this fight, characters moved on and around the transport and I found myself questioning “how large is this thing?” I think that my imagination was blowing the size out of proportion, but the combat and action was smooth and pushed me forward without fixating on the scale. While I did wish the book was longer as I wanted to read more about Roshan’s life, Daughter of No One is another great example of stories that do not require a lot of time to read, but provide the insight and backstory to characters that deserve more focus in the games, but are unable to obtain due to the focus of such. It would be great to see a sequel to this story from Maria Lewis as there is so much left open to close the forty year gap between this book and Assassin’s Creed Mirage.
Aconyte Books offered an opportunity for me to ask the author, Maria Lewis questions ahead of my review, which I was thankful to do. I wanted to focus on questions about Maria’s history with the series, writing process, influence, and research into her story, Daughter of No One.
Having written an origin story for Roshan, a rapidly growing favorite character in the Assassin’s Creed universe, what was your experience with the franchise up until this point and did you believe there was something missing that you wanted to add to your entry in the series?
I’ve been a huge fan of Assassin’s Creed since the beginning, well before I got more actively into gaming, because as someone whose job it is to build worlds that was the first thing that hooked me: the world building of Assassin’s Creed. It’s such expansive, interesting storytelling, which feels easy but actually requires so much thought and labour. I’m also a big history nerd, so with each additional instalment in the franchise – whether that was the main games or one of the spin-off media properties like Oliver Bowden’s books – I was very curious about what time period and geographical playground they were in, especially because that shaped how the central story would need to evolve.
And look, I’m a woman so selfishly my answer to what I wanted to see more of is always women! Women of different ages, ethnicities, background, sexualities. Because so much of history is written by men, for men, women get pushed to the sidelines or erased altogether. Taking on this project, one of the big appeals for me was colouring the world with all different types of women: not just those who were assassins or physically strong, but those who were devious and strategic and financially intelligent. To survive during that time, you had to be.
Aconyte has had multiple authors that have worked on both the Assassin’s Creed series as well as written novels for Marvel. How do you find writing historical fiction vs the superhero genre?
Well, outside of my Aconyte work I have ten other best-selling novels that span different genres and time periods, ranging from horror and high fantasy, to paranormal romance and historical fiction. So I’m used to hopping from one category to the other as an author, plus my full-time job is as a screenwriter so within the space of a calendar year you have to bounce from an Indigenous vampire hunters series for AMC to an outback crime drama for Netflix. You have to be nimble and genre diverse in this kind of work, which to be honest is great for me because the only category I don’t really enjoy are melodramas and that doesn’t tend to be the kind of project people approach me for.
Although this is my first time working on an Assassin’s Creed title, I had worked with Ubisoft on a gaming project for several years before Daughter Of No One so I felt like I had a head start in terms of understanding how they operate and how extensive they are in terms of universe craft. Similarly with the superhero work, although I hadn’t worked for Marvel on a novel, I had worked with them in the past and also at DC Comics for a project that was killed in the Discovery merger, so I was familiar with what it takes to manage a character that has decades of canon within a legacy brand like that.
Do you find writing a novel comparative to screenwriting in your writing process? Is it easier to plan the full story before writing, or do you like to write around set pieces? Did you have a plan for the ensemble story before you began writing Daughter of No One?
Screenwriting and novel writing are very different, namely because in the former you have to be economical with your storytelling: whether it’s film or television, a script isn’t that long so anything that ends up on the page has to be absolutely critical to the storytelling. A novel, you have much more real estate. A character like Roshan, for instance, isn’t a big talker so you need to make sure the world is populated with other aspects outside of dialogue and elements for her to interact with so you can continue fleshing out the story whilst keeping the reader engaged.
I always have a plan, regardless of what I’m writing, and the detail of that plan shifts depending on the project and who my boss is. For Daughter Of No One, each element of the story needed pre-approval from the Ubisoft team so the plan was extremely detailed and broken down at each stage. By the time I got to physically write the book, I had a very intricate map of where I was going.
On the subject of the ensemble story, did you have influence on how you wanted to diversify the cast and build on their personalities? I think to the Ocean’s 11 series, Suicide Squad, and even films like Inglorious Bastards which have a broad cast of characters that can be isolated as a favorite. To that, did you have a favorite character in your story that you liked developing?
I’m so glad that you picked up on the team nature of the story, as that was something that I really wanted to lean into with Daughter Of No One and to set it apart from a lot of the other Assassin’s Creed novels, which can lean more solitary. Ronin was a big inspiration for me, the idea of a highly skilled group of dangerous strangers being brought together to achieve a specific task. It’s such a simple premise at its core, yet the longer the story unravels there are betrayals and blindsights within it. The time period of the novel can feel very isolating and foreign to the audience, balancing that with familiar story conventions of your Ocean’s 11, your Suicide Squad’s, your Ronin’s was a handy way to make an old world feel modern.
The character of Nafanua was one that was really important for me to include and develop in the novel, even though she is just a supporting character and member of the core troupe. For me, that’s one of the big oversights of the Assassin’s Creed franchise as a whole: for a property that has spanned so many time periods and countries, there has been almost zero inclusion of Pasifika characters. Nafanua was me pushing my agenda through as a Pasifika woman, with a lot of the elements of her story perhaps not being super obvious outside of the culture – her backstory with her brother or even her namesake the Sāmoan warrior goddess – but I wanted to lay story groundwork so someone else could wield the Tafesilafa’I another day, whether that’s me or a different writer.
Lastly, I wanted to ask if you had any research books or materials for your story that you would be willing to share? Being a fan of the series, I have discovered an interest in history and seeing the Silk Road return again to the series (previously seen in Assassin’s Creed: The Silk Road by Mathieu Rivero), I am curious in learning more about the time period represented and what you would have possibly read in preparation for this story.
Great question! That was obviously one of the biggest hurdles when writing the novel, as an Assassin’s Creed game has a staff of hundreds to pour over historical documents and architectural plans whereas I have just me. So it was a challenging task to try and get the balance of history and story just right, but one of the books that I found really useful was In Xanadu: A Quest, which is essentially a historical memoir if such a sub-genre can exist. It’s one thing to visit the places where your stories are set, but you can’t visit the time periods themselves so much of it comes down to reading and learning about the feel: the scents, the tastes, the sounds. The author William Dalrymple does an incredible job of that, so would highly recommend in terms of dipping your toe into that time period and setting.
Do you feel that you could write a sequel to Daughter of No One if you were provided the chance? Is there a period of Roshan’s life that you would like to explore further, or would you have interest in writing a different Assassin’s Creed story?
Oh, absolutely! No spoilers obviously, but the novel ends just as Roshan has agreed to join the Brotherhood (or Hidden Ones, in this time period) and although so much of my intent with the novel was to get the audience to this point where they’d understand why she joined, what happens after is hugely interesting to me. But, again – that’s over to Ubisoft and whether they’re keen for Roshan to have more story real estate in their spin-off media and up to the readers in terms of whether they want to spend more time with her as she trains up through the Assassin ranks.
In terms of a different Assassin’s Creed story, again, I think Pasifika has been a largely untapped and in-depth story world that I would love to see more of in the franchise. It’s not just one island, it’s thousands with rich mythology and cultures and traditions that interact with pre-existing Assassin’s Creed stories already. I think our legacy as warriors, storytellers and navigators aligns perfectly with the Assassin’s Creed ethos so kind of baffled why that hasn’t happened yet, but … who knows?
Assassin’s Creed Mirage: Daughter of No One releases on November 21, 2023 via Aconyte Books on global ebook and US paperback. The UK paperback releases on January 18, 2024. If you have interest in ordering the book, we will provide our Amazon affiliate link below so you can get a copy yourself.
We would like to say a big thank you to Maria Lewis for taking the time to talk to us, and to Aconyte for making it happen!
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.
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