Monday 6 December 2010

The Vanilla Assassin

The Vanilla Assassin by AN Boswell (Brolga Publishing)
PB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-192159614-8
Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan

Set during the 30 Years War, The Vanilla Assassin is an engrossing read about a young boy, Gustave, gifted, or cursed, with the ability to change his appearance to that of another person.  In a time where witches are burned at the stake, doppelganger’s, as Gustave’s type are called, are feared throughout the community.

Guided by his father, Artur, Gustave works using his shape changing ability and The Vanilla Assassin leads us through Gustave’s preparation for his next, but for him unknown, job.  Befriended by the Jesuit Priest by whom he is employed, Gustave is accepted into Dresden’s elite music school lead by composer Heinrich Schutz, a person that Gustave soon comes to respect.

Gustave’s character development throughout the novel is that from young boy to adult. He is challenged in more ways that he could expect, firstly dealing with the absence of his father who has always controlled what jobs Gustave does, the development of trust in Father Friedrich, his growing affection for Schutz and the blossoming of romance with fellow student, Sophie.  Gustave’s feelings for each relationship is challenged and the final realisation of what his “job” involves has him questioning his role.  It also raises the question of what is the value of love - for a child, a parent, a mentor, a teacher and a friend.

The Vanilla Assassin is a great story that touches on the religion and politics of the era, but is not overwhelmed by it. The story is essentially the journey of a young boy to manhood.  It flows beautifully, is well written and keeps you reading so those elements of the story that are hinted at or anticipated can be revealed - and always revealed at the right moment - just when you think you want to glimpse ahead.

The reader develops what can only be called affection for Gustave, and compassion for the position he has found himself in. The Vanilla Assassin certainly left this reviewer searching for time to sit down and read it. If you do not think of historical fiction as a genre that you would normally consider, I would highly recommend obtaining a copy of The Vanilla Assassin, finding a nice quiet spot where you can read it uninterrupted and enjoying it.  And best of all, it has a small twist at the end.  Highly recommended for older readers.

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