Seventeen-year-old Zayn has special powers she cannot control—powers that others fear and covet. Powers that cause the Templar Knights to burn Zayn’s mother at the stake for witchcraft. When a mysterious stranger tempts Zayn to become the first female member of the heretical Assassins, the chance to seek her revenge lures her in. She trains to harness her supernatural strength and agility, and then enters the King of Jerusalem's court in disguise with the assignment to assassinate Guy de Molay, her mother’s condemner. But once there, she discovers Earic Goodwin, the childhood friend who still holds her heart, among the knights—and his ocean-blue eyes don’t miss a thing. Will vengeance be worth the life of the one love she has left?
Firstly I just want to point out that anytime I heard "Assassin" and "Templar" I wanted to go and play Assassin's Creed (in truth I kept waiting for an Assassin named Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad to appear...). Those games, much like KNIGHT ASSASSIN, are largely about the conflict between the Templars and assassins (with at least Altair's adventures running pretty close in time to when this book is set). In all truth my enjoyment of those games certainly helped me understand the more historical issues between the two groups, as Jean doesn't exactly gloss over their history, but gives only a brief accounting as it relates to what Zayn needs to know.
Secondly, I don't think I disliked a single female character in here. At least none of those who had any actual part (Elisha, Zayn's "cousin" while under the guise of Lady Sara, barely appeared for instance). That's possibly my one real complaint--while I certainly enjoyed Zayn's story and I didn't want it to drag on, characters were introduced who were dropped for the story suddenly. The book eventually settles on 5 characters to follow in earnest--Zayn, Earic, Guy, Marguerite and Bashar. Its a thorny web that is weaved as well. The others are largely ignored--Marguerite may as well have no other ladies-in-waiting aside from "Lady Sara" as she's the only one who waits on her for the majority of the book.
There was a lot going on in the book, which is comparatively shorter then most other YA novels. Jean at times will insert a flashback as a way to give us an idea about some of the backstory of the characters and motivations at times, but they tend to draw one out and feel jarring. Jean treats them more like memories being told then as flashbacks being remembered which cuts up the flow of the book. To sum up the storylines: we have Zayn wanting to avenge her mother's murder, Zayn wanting to avenge what Guy did to her, Zayn training to be an assassin, then training to be a Court Lady for her first assignment, the various tests her assassin mentor Junaid puts her through, going to Court as Lady Marguerite's lady-in-waiting, Zayn/Earic, plotting to kill Guy, plotting to outwit Bashar, saving both Marguerite and Earic at various moments, coming to an epiphany about what she holds dear in life, exacting that revenge on Guy, and then the fall out from her decisions.
All of that in a book roughly 250 pages long (according to my Kindle). I can name trilogies that involve less intricate plotting.
This isn't to say the plot lines don't all work--the ones dealing with her training, with the Assassins vs Templars, and Lady Marguerite are engrossing reads. Things fall flatter when Earic is thrown into the mix as he's painted with a much broader "White Knight" stroke then the other characters. Even Guy shows a couple different facets (though really he's 95% the creep). Earic is uniformly presented as the White Knight--he doesn't want to go into battle and kill men, he feels crushing guilt over a childhood accident, he wishes for only one thing (that he can't have presumably), is willing to keep Zayn's secret and help her survive. We learn about his childhood briefly--he's from England and was the son of a lord til he was "ransomed" out to Guy's father Gerard, he hear a little bit about his time since he and Zayn had seen each other from Marguerite, but that's about it. We know more about Bashar and his motivations then we do about what makes Earic tick.
Earic's mention of another much like Zayn, who lives back in England, certainly peaked my interest. I'd love to see the two of them riding around Middle Ages Europe finding others with special abilities and forming a band of do-gooder vigilantes. Jean ends this book with most of the threads tied up. The ones remaining are also resolved, but open-ended enough in their resolution that more adventures wouldn't be amiss.
Definitely recommend this for readers looking for a quasi-fantasy (in tone at least) novel set during a time period not often explored in today's YA landscape.
(I would like to thank the author who offered me a free review copy in return for an honest review--thank you so much!)