Note: Non Spoiler Review, but a full Spoiler Summary and Analysis follows





Non Spoiler Review

Desert Oath is a recently released Assassin's Creed novel, written by the author Oliver Bowden. It primarily focuses on the story of a teenage Bayek of Siwa, with the majority of scenes described through the character's thoughts and actions from a first person perspective. Other parts of the novel are told whilst focusing on other characters, with these in turn told in a third person style.

Bowden's previous Assassin's Creed novels have mostly been retellings and scenes within existing game storylines, so it is nice on this occasion that he is given the freedom to do his own story. Whilst Bayek remains the primary focus, it's pleasing to see other characters getting some character development as well – most notably Aya. I felt the writing was pretty sound throughout the novel, though Bayek did use some pretty complex words on occasion that I'm not sure an ancient egyptian might. I did notice a few grammatical errors in places too. However, Bowden has a very literal writing style which has its advantages in places, as it makes for some very descriptive set pieces, which aids the immersion along – yet on the other hand, as a result fight sequences can carry on for pages at a time losing their sense of urgeny a little.

I have always been a strong advocate for Assassin's Creed storytelling to focus on three tiers of storytelling – namely the three time eras – the historical time period, the Modern Day, and the Isu. For that reason, I consider Heresy and Last Descendants to be the strongest of the existing franchise novels. That being said though, whilst Desert Oath focuses purely on the historical setting, I can understand why no Modern Day story was included – especially as Origin's marketing campaign has shied away from speaking on the topic.

My only real criticism though is the number of chapters and half blank pages in the novel. Why are some chapters as short as two pages? It feels a little odd. The biggest detriment to the novel though is it's release schedule. Releasing just a few weeks before the game is a tiny window for busy fans to read through a near 400 page novel, and in some countries it is actually releasing after the game has released. This will surely hurt the sales for it, as fans clamour for information and secrets in advance of Origins' release. I do feel that a longer release lead time would have been to it's benefit. Take for example Star Wars: Battlefront II, which also has a prequel novel - and that released many months beforehand.

Desert Oath ultimately set out to provide us with an introduction to the setting and protagonist of the new game, and I can honestly say in terms of that target the novel is a success. After finishing the novel, I felt I had a much better understanding of the time period, the political climate, and gained an understanding for the character of Bayek and his personality. It's a bold experiment to introduce our new protagonist prior to experiencing Origins, therefore it is hard to judge just how much relevance the story of the novel will have towards the game. I do feel though that I can recommend the novel to anyone considering it, as it really does give you a good insight and taste for the game world you will be inhabiting very shortly.


Warning: Go read the novel, otherwise Spoilers follow from here!


Story Summary

Emsaf, a Medjay, and his family are killed by Bion – a trained ex-soldier. He is instructed to kill on behalf of Raia, a former commander from when they had once been Royal Bodyguards. Within the Library of Alexandria, Raia and Theotimos work for “The Order of the Ancients”. Theotimos has uncovered documents suggesting that Medjay are seeking a resurgence in their faction to challenge power within Egypt. As such, Raia covets Medjay medallions as proof of death for The Order, with Bion his willing agent of death.

Bayek is 15, and lives in Siwa with his mother and father - Ahmose and Sabu. He is already in a relationship with Aya, whom he adores. He has started training to be a Mekety, a protector of the community. Siwa is well regarded in the area, as the great Alexander visited the Oracle there at the Temple of Amun. He left convinced he was the son of Amun, and went on to declare himself a Pharoah.

When Bayek was younger, a group led by a grave robber known as Menna had attacked his family home. Most of them were killed by Sabu, but his mother bravely defended him as well. The family still worries that Menna may strike again some day. Bayek has a few other friends, such as Hepzefa and more notably Khensa – a Nubian girl who trained Bayek in hunting and trapping from her own tribe. She and her tribe had move on several years ago though.

One fateful day, a messenger arrives and relays a message to Sabu. He briefly speaks with Rabiah – a family friend, and counsel. Sabu elects to leave Siwa without giving a reason other than it being safer for Siwa that he leave. After discussing his decision with Rabiah and Ahmose, Bayek chooses to follow his father and goes off in search of him. He initially travels to the city of Zawty to find the messenger who had informed Sabu. In doing so he meets Tuta – a boy street urchin, who ultimately misleads Bayek - resulting in his purses being stolen. After chasing down the thieves across rooftops, Bayek is nearly strangled to death by Tuta's father, Paneb. He is saved by Aya, who had followed him. She knocks out Paneb, and the three of them including Tuta escape to Thebes. There they meet Khensa, but Bayek's father is not there.

Sabu instead meets with the Elder of the Medjay – Hemon, who lives in Djerty. He warns of Emsaf’s death by “The Order”. Sabu begins his search for this killer.

Word reaches Bayek that Menna may be nearby to Thebes. With Khensa, Aya, Tuta, Seri and Neka (two of Khensa's family) they go hunting for Menna. Neka is captured, before being tortured. He is saved by a brave night rescue by the others. During the battle Menna escapes on a chariot. He is pursued by Bayek and Khensa, the latter felling their driver by arrow shot – Menna ultimately dies in the chariot crash.

Bion arrives at Djerty, captures and interrogates Hemon and Sebestet (Hemon's assistant), and by killing them thus discovers that Sabu and Bayek are now the last remaining Medjay.

Meanwhile, Khensa gets word that Sabu is being held in a pit at the island of Elephantine. As such, Bayek and Aya leave with her in search. Left remaining in Thebes, Tuta is sadly killed by his father Paneb for his abandonment and betrayal. Under cover of a sandstorm the group infiltrates the island of Elephantine. Sabu was not in the pit, but a deranged man was set there as a decoy. After they escape the area guards, Sabu reveals himself to the group. Bion arrives to the same trap, and is injured, but escapes.

Bion spends several years recovering and training. Sabu trains Bayek as a Medjay, with Aya in turn trained by Bayek. They spend years training ‘on the run’ across many villages. Eventually, Bayek asks Aya's hand in marriage. She refuses, citing being a Medjay wife would be harsh, and that she still dreamed to live and work in the library of Alexandria. She elects to leave the training as her aunt is taken ill. As she travels back to Siwa she is set upon by horse thieves at a watering hole. She holds her own but is saved by Bion. Unknowingly, Aya has lead Bion right to their training camp.

Bion arrives at the camp where Bayek and Sabu are training. He lets loose multiple arrows that hit Sabu, with Bayek’s stomach being sliced by Bion's blade shortly after. All three are ulimately injured in the ensuing battle, with Sabu choosing to push Bayek into the nearby river to save him, in doing so he is struck down and killed by Bion. Bayek falls unconscious and is swept away safely by the river.

Aya arrives back in Siwa. She meets her ill aunt, friends and Ahmose. Bion arrives, and begins to ask locals about Bayek, including Aya whom he holds hostage in her home for a time.

Bayek is pulled from the river by river people and nursed to health over four days upon a boat. He steadily travels north, before disembarking to purchase a horse to get to Siwa. He arrives to find Aya safe with her aunt, but is warned that Bion is somewhere nearby. Fearing for Ahmose's life he immediately heads to his mother’s home along with Aya. Bion lies in wait and they all battle Bion, with Ahmose ultimately slaying him. Bion reveals in his dying breath that Raia ordered all of the Medjay's deaths.
In the aftermath of events, Bayek marries Aya and becomes the protector of Siwa. They raise a son called Khemu. Years pass, and in his role as the final Medjay, Bayek travels to Alexandria and kills Raia in his own home - tying up what he hopes is a final loose end to protect his family.



Analysis


Bayek's Journey



Bayek has a strong arc through the novel. We see him grappling with which destiny he wishes to follow, with both the old ways of the Medjay, and his beloved Aya's new world viewpoint. Marrying her and now raising a child will likely have added even further to his life experience, and given him new and valued experiences which aid his likeable personality.
It was interesting to see how Bayek acquired his skill set, as we learn he gained most of his hunting, trapping and archery skills from Khensa, and weapon fighting skills from his father. At one point he took to running across rooftops, which was a very early nod to parkour. We also seem him getting some time on a boat for experience on that front. The only thing we didn't see was Senu. Given the lifespan of an Eagle this may not come as a surprise at this point in the timeline though.



The Creed



Perhaps the most interesting aspect to the novel for me was the Medjay. Here we see a group with a set creed and ideology of reverence to Amun, upholding balance, protection, justice, freedom, and supporting their community. Clinging to the old ways It is a very similar mindset to the Assassin Brotherhood that it will ultimately become, especially when you consider that the Medjay would use an ostrich feather as their rallying symbol for Ma'at, the egyptian goddess of truth and justice. Somewhat fitting for a Medjay. This would later become the same feathers that Assassins would use to mark the blood of their targets and claim as their proof of assassinations.


The Order of the Ancients



We were introduced to a few new members of the Order in the novel, none of which survived to see Origins. Still, we learned that the Order has existed for hundreds of years, and was originally formed to help adapt Egypt to new forms of government. By sweeping away the old ways, its ideology is one of enlightenment and looks to create order by shaping a new world. Sounds awfully familiar. Proto-Templars indeed.

As one of their group has been killed in their own home, one can imagine that the Order will investigate Raia’s documents and realise his agenda against the Medjay. It would not be a stretch to assume that Bayek’s actions will have repercussions directly leading into the game, as the group will now seek vengeance on the one who dared to oppose them.


An Egypt Divided




The novel does a good job at showing the turmoil that has struck the country, as the traditionalist old vies against the radical new for the hearts of the population.

For example, there is a great disparity between the cities of Thebes and Alexandria. The former represents a crumbling and neglected old world, stuck in ancient rights and rituals. Whereas Alexandria represents the modernising world, with new architectural designs and progressive concepts that challenge the normality. Egypt in this timeframe represents an excellent crossroad of ideologies, with Bayek very much representing the old ways as a Medjay, and his enemy – The Order of the Ancients – the personification and threat of the onset of change. It's a fascinating battleground on many fronts, and will certainly make for a very exciting world to explore within Origins.



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