Growing up, I had always been a fan of the Assassin’s Creed series. While the stories’ overall plotlines were never the best, it was the character stories throughout those games that were truly interesting and how they were woven with historical moments. It was actually one of the first few elements of my youth that got me so interested in history and mythology. To say that the series had a profound influence on my life would not be inaccurate. When I heard about a story within the universe set in China’s history, I was excited to see how the historical moments would be interwoven with an Assassin’s Creed story. However I came from Assassin’s Creed – The Ming Dynasty ultimately confused and disappointed despite some gems here and there.
Shao Jun is a really interesting character that suffers from not enough “screen time” despite being the central character to the story. The journey from a concubine who was the emperor’s favorite to an assassin trained by China’s sect of the brotherhood as well as Ezio Auditore, the most loved character in the Assassin’s Creed series. The unfortunate tragedy of this is that we never get to experience that development. The story takes place entirely after her transformation which felt like we miss a massive part of her character development. Essentially it felt like 80 to 90 percent of her character development is done before the story takes place and what we get is that remaining bit of development. It comes off as a payoff with none of the required build up which is so unfortunate because Shao Jun is actually a really cool character.
What also doesn’t help is that the Eight Tigers, aside from Zhang Yong, really don’t feel like actual credible threats. They all come off more as silly middle grade fiction villains rather than actual threats to Shao Jun. Honestly if it wasn’t for Zhang Yong, it felt like there really was no threat to really worry about throughout the story. The other supporting characters, save for Wang Yangming, are all ok and serve their purpose without being interesting or endearing. Wang Yangming is a pretty well developed character and, at certain times, feels like the actual central character as opposed to Shao Jun.
The story is serviceable and, for the most part, is enjoyable but moreso in the second half of the book. The first half of the book is an absolute slog to read through as it feels so dull and uninteresting. Too much of the story feels like it doesn’t involve Shao Jun and thus feels more plot driven than character driven. It goes through the motions of thrusting our protagonist from one scenario to another in a logical manner but doesn’t always feel like her choice. It makes sense though as Shao Jun is mostly unsure of herself in the first half of the book and grows as a person throughout the story. It’s just a very weird structure as the inciting incident is technically Shao Jun’s return as opposed to something that feels more substantial. If this story started off with maybe the fall of the brotherhood in China it would be more natural of a beginning.
The worldbuilding in Assassin’s Creed – The Ming Storm is serviceable and helps to understand the setting of 16th century China. However, it comes off far more as an information dump rather than smoothly woven into the story. The story is taking place, character drama and development is occurring, but suddenly a wall of text comes slamming down on the reader explaining in excessive detail something that only needs a brief explanation. It breaks the flow of the story and makes it feel terrible and, in some cases, exhausting.
What also doesn’t help is none of this worldbuilding really helps to make this feel like an Assassin’s Creed story. There are allusions to an equivalence of the brotherhood in the Ezio trilogy games and stories that kind of help however barely tie the two together. There are several references and callbacks to the cinematic of Shao Jun meeting Ezio but not enough is done within the actual story to build up the brotherhood in China. Not enough is done to explain how the brotherhood exists in China and building up its own history. It’s not exactly necessary but it makes it not feel like an Assassin’s Creed story. It also doesn’t help that the story is officially non-canon.
This book does something incredibly strange that makes it really hard to get invested in a character. It’s written in what can only be described as an “Omniscient Third-Person Narrative” but done in a very disorienting way. Essentially it’s a third person story where the story is being told but the reader knows everyone’s motives and thoughts as the scenes are playing out. The perspective of the characters constantly shifts from one to another during a scene that involves more than one character. It comes off as an attempt to make it so that the reader knows absolutely everything that each character is thinking and experiencing. While in theory it helps to really understand the situation, it comes off as disorienting and confusing unless you’re constantly expecting the perspective to change from character to character during an exchange. It really doesn’t help as sticking with one character helps us understand their perspective, feelings, and thoughts far clearer and helps us grow attached to said characters.
What Writers can Learn from this Book.
The strange thing to acknowledge is that, while Omniscient Third Person Narrative through the perspective of the characters as opposed to a narrator is an interesting concept, it’s incredibly difficult to pull off in a way that isn’t confusing and disorienting. A story with this narrative style would need to be written with the style in mind as a core function of the story to really feel like a proper story. In Assassin’s Creed – The Ming Storm, this narrative style only serves to really cause confusion in tense action or dramatic scenes as it takes a moment to understand whose perspective the reader is reading through. As is, it comes off as a bit of a mess that ruins what could have been a fantastic story.