The Perfect Assassin is the first book in the high fantasy series Chronicles of Ghadid, which follows a family of assassins in a desert city. I found it a solid, imaginative and very gay debut – but don’t go into it expecting a romance.
This first book follows Amastan, an unusually reluctant assassin, as he has to find and kill a mysterious murderer on the run and survive the attacks of angered jaani.
The first thing that stood out to me about this book was the worldbuilding: Ghadid has now become one of my favorite fantasy cities and it’s been a while since I read a book whose world I loved so much.
Let’s talk about Ghadid: it’s a city in the desert, and of course I love atmospheric desert fantasy, but it’s also a city built in the sky where people run and fight on rooftops. It’s built over pylons, which would have made it one of the most interesting settings ever even if the characters hadn’t risked to get attacked by angry undeads spirits every day. Another thing I loved was the way the magic system was tied to the setting and to the economy. I always appreciate when that happens – the last time I saw it was in Jade City, I think – because it makes the world feel more real. In Ghadid, water is magic, water is wealth, water is money – which makes sense in a place where dying of thirst is not so uncommon after all.
I have read many fantasy books that followed groups of assassins, gangs, and guilds, but I had never read anything about a family whose role was to kill dangerous people – like spies or water-wasters – in a way that didn’t further damage the city. The Perfect Assassin talks about assassins and morality, because at its heart, this book is about whether killing can ever be just. It doesn’t give you an answer, it gives you the elements to draw your own conclusions, which I really appreciated.
What it said about “what makes a perfect assassin” was also really interesting to read, especially for the way it was tied to the main character’s development.
I could describe this book as a fantasy mystery, because that’s what it was about, but as the mystery aspect was somewhat disappointing and really predictable – I found the foreshadowing to be clumsy and heavy-handed at times – I’m not sure I would recommend it for that. I’d rather say that it’s perfect for those who want something with the atmosphere of S.A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass and Tasha Shuri’s Empire of Sand but with tighter pacing and far more queer characters. The main character likes men, is implied to be asexual, and also read as demiromantic to me (but I’m not sure that’s canon), there is a prominent female side character who is in a relationship with a woman, and multiple other queer side characters.
My rating: ★★★★