Book Review: Assassin’s Creed: Underworld

AssassinsCreed-Underworld

Primarily a prequel, Assassin’s Creed: Underworld, authored once again by Oliver Bowden, takes place during the Industrial Revolution London time period of Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, starting around five to six years before the events of the game. In the book, twin Assassins Evie and Jacob Frye take a backseat to Indian Assassin Jayadeep Mir (aka Bharat Singh, The Ghost, and Henry Green). Underworld is essentially Jayadeep’s origin story, chronicling his early Assassin training under the tutelage of Evie and Jacob’s father, Ethan Frye, through his many other changes in identity as he finds his place as the “conscience” of the Brotherhood and eventually grows to become the leader of the London Assassins.

Although innately gifted in the ways of the Assassin at an almost supernatural level from a young age, Jayadeep is missing one very important trait: an Assassin’s killer instinct. After learning this the hard way on a failed early mission, Jayadeep is sent to London to serve as a secret agent, known as The Ghost, under the watch of his mentor Ethan. In this position, embracing his new life at the bottom rung of London’s underworld, The Ghost is to use his abilities to surveil and infiltrate a Templar operation in order to find a Piece of Eden from the First Civilization.

Under the veil of an underground railway construction, Metropolitan Railway Company director Cavanagh digs to find the artifact, with sinister ambitions of his own to supplant Crawford Starrick as the Templar Grand Master. (Cavanagh is seriously one nasty guy.) At the same time, Police Constable Frederick Abberline becomes unknowingly caught in the middle of these spy games between the Assassins and Templar while investigating a murder after a body is found dumped at the railway excavation.

It’s a fascinating story that unfolds from the perspectives of a number of different characters and shows a different side to the Assassins; that an Assassin can have a strong moral compass and use other talents to aid the Brotherhood’s cause beyond killing. While discovering the backstory of Jayadeep Mir, which fleshes out his personality and brings a deeper understanding to his character, the story also works in background lore to help develop the family history of the Frye clan. Like how Ethan’s early mentorship of Jayadeep rekindled his paternal instinct to return to London and raise Evie and Jacob after leaving them behind following the death of his wife and their mother.

Unlike some of the other Assassin’s Creed novels (I’ve read Forsaken and Unity prior to this one, but I can’t speak to the format of the others), Underworld is not written as first-person journal extracts, but rather a more traditional third-person, chapter-by-chapter narrative. My only complaint with this is the fact that the chapters are simply numbered rather than dated like the entries of a journal. I miss having the dated chapters to help keep track of the timeline, as the story does jump back and forth in time and it can be just a tiny bit confusing to keep tabs on the sequencing of events in spots.

An especially large time jump comes about three-quarters in, when, after around 300 pages, the character arcs and main plot points of The Ghost’s infiltration of the Templars build and climax. From there the final 100 to 150 pages skip five years and abruptly transition into a condensed account of the game’s storyline focusing more on the arrival of the Frye twins to London and their introduction to Jayadeep (now known as Henry Green), in particular the building relationship between Henry and Evie. This part of the story isn’t bad by any means, it just feels a bit rushed without enough page time to fully encapsulate what occurs in the game.

Assassin’s Creed: Underworld does lose a little steam in its final act, but overall it’s a compelling extension of the Syndicate story arc and the Assassin’s Creed universe as a whole. Even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of the games but are a gamer in general, Underworld is worth checking out (as are the other Assassin’s Creed novels). As I’ve become increasingly bored with the series’ formulaic open-world design, I’ve actually grown to prefer the novels, because I can get to know the characters and storylines (the main things that interest me about the games) without dealing with any of the frustrations that have kept me from truly enjoying an Assassin’s Creed game since the original two.

Buy From: Assassin’s Creed: Underworld is available now at Amazon.com and Penguin Books.

Disclosure: A review copy of Assassin’s Creed: Underworld was provided to VGBlogger.com by the Ace Books imprint of Penguin Random House.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!