"Assassin's Creed: The Magus Conspiracy," a novel set in London during the Great Exhibition of 1851, is out today. After rescuing Ada Lovelace from a gang of thugs, the acrobat Pierrette Arnaud is introduced to Simeon, a reserved soldier fighting for the Assassin Order. Together, they must work to stop the Templars' plot to destabilize Europe in an adventure filled with secrets, explosions, and, of course, assassinations. The first installment of a trilogy, "The Magus Conspiracy" opens a new chapter in the Assassin's Creed universe.
Kate Heartfield, author of the Sunday Times bestseller "The Embroidered Book," wrote "The Magus Conspiracy," and has officially signed to write the second book in the trilogy. A writer with a strong background in historical fiction and an appreciation for Assassin's Creed games, she spoke with Ubisoft News about her novel's setting, the process of adapting a videogame concept for a written medium, and how the book fits into the Assassin's Creed universe.
Can you tell me about the process creating "The Magus Conspiracy"?
Kate Heartfield: When my agents told me about the project, I had played Syndicate and was a huge Assassin's Creed fan already, and a lot of my books are in historical settings, so it seemed like a great fit for me. I sent Aconyte Books a pitch, which we developed into an outline. One thing that caught everyone's imagination right off the bat was the idea that there were a lot of political assassinations happening in history at that time - Queen Victoria had eight attempts on her life. The natural question from there was, how did that political setting - as well the political movements and changes that were happening at that time - fit in with the history of the Order and their struggle with the Templars? It seemed like they fit together well, and it was a very fun process to connect some of the historical dots into a narrative like that.
I've also never written tie-in fiction before; I've always just written my own work, so I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of collaborating with Ubisoft and Aconyte for this process, but I think everyone has worked really hard to make this beautiful book. It felt like being part of a team, and was a really positive experience. I also want to mention that I'm really appreciative of the beautiful cover Bastien Jez did; I think his work is brilliant and really captures the tone of the book, with so many things going on in such a fascinating period of history. The design is gorgeous, and I know a lot of readers have been pulled in by that cover.
One of the fun parts of Assassin's Creed is diving into history, but with the added twist of the Assassins' struggle with the Templars. How were you able to play with that for "The Magus Conspiracy?"
KH: I have a background in political science, and I was really interested in exploring the philosophical underpinnings of the Brotherhood and what that might look like in the late 19th century. It was also interesting to think about what the Assassins and the Templars might have looked like across Europe at that time, because I had a sense from Syndicate what it was like in London in 1868. However, the book is set in 1851, and takes place in several different countries where there wasn't necessarily a lot of lore already created about who was there and what they were doing.
I thought a lot about how things would have changed since Unity, what the Brotherhood would look like, what some of the different locations might look like, and how the political and geographical landscape in Paris had changed so much. I thought it'd be interesting to really make that fit in with the Great Exhibition, because it had that sense of promise that kicked off the second half of the 19th century. There was also this great tension between the government's propaganda about the British Empire and the actual people of London, who were at the Great Exhibition trying to make a living. It was really interesting to pull all of those threads together right off the bat in "The Magus Conspiracy."
What makes Pierrette and Simeon the perfect protagonists for this story?
KH: I think it's because they are foils to each other in a lot of ways. Pierrette is an acrobat, a performer by nature, so she does not naturally come to the idea of the Order working in the dark. She's seeking the spotlight, which creates a point of tension between her and the Order; she sees no reason to hide, she's out there trying to get attention, and she has a sort of reckless approach to life because her parents died in the revolutions of 1848. Because of that, she has a "living in the moment" approach to life.
Simeon is a little bit different. He's brave in his own way, but very much not interested in having people know who he is; he's had some experiences that make him want to be a little bit more reclusive. Between the two of them, they have this really interesting dynamic, and I really like that sort of mentor-student dynamic, even though they're both quite young and early on in their trajectories as characters. They have a really interesting fraternal dynamic going on.
Are there any historical figures readers can expect to see? Are there any references to Assassin's Creed Syndicate?
KH: Ada Lovelace is definitely the point of connection between Simeon and Pierrette, because Simeon was childhood friends with her. She's best known today for being the forerunner of computer programmers because of her work with Charles Babbage on the Analytical Engine. Pierrette meets her at the Great Exhibition, which I think was something that seemed feasible and plausible to me, because Ada Lovelace actually lived right at the corner of Hyde Park at that time, which is where the Great Exhibition was, and all of the artistic and scientific people of the time were going, so all of her connections would have gone as well
Ada really looms large over the entire book; she's one of the biggest historical figures in the novel, but there are some other real people who crop up. I won't give too much away, but there are a few, from monarchs to ordinary people to revolutionaries to a couple of painters who come in near the end.
There aren't a lot of references to Assassin's Creed Syndicate, because I wanted to make "The Magus Conspiracy" very much its own story and not overlap too much, but there are a couple of people who I think people familiar with the storyline will recognize. There are a few more subtle references as well; just small references to names, or even songs, and that kind of thing that players will say "Ah! I see what you did there!" It was a lot of fun to put those things in, because I wanted the book very much to be accessible to people who have never played an Assassin's Creed game, but I also wanted to make it a little extra-special for fans who know the games well.
Videogames are a very immersive medium. How did you go about adapting that experience into a book?
KH: The sense of immersion that videogames have is something I really wanted to capture. Of course, a book is a different medium, so you can't do the same thing; it would come across as boring or weird if people were rappelling and parkouring all the time. But some of that has to be in there, so I thought about how to use the strengths of prose to create that same sense of immersion, so readers can understand not only what it looks like, but also what it feels like to stand on this building or be in a city at this time. It was a lot of paying attention to little sensory details - like thinking about the way the stone of a building feels underneath your fingertips, the temperature of a place, the street sounds and smells - and trying to really put all of that in a way that wasn't intrusive and could really make the reader feel like they were being transported to the time and place through imagination.
You're officially signed to write the second book - congratulations! Is there anything you can tell us about that story?
KH: When I started writing the first one, we did talk a bit about what the entire arc of the trilogy might look like, just to have a sense of what the direction would be with the idea that "The Magus Conspiracy" would be the first in that set of three. I already had a basic idea of what the second book would have to do, what time period it would be, what people would be in it, and what it would have to accomplish in terms of narrative.
Once I signed on to write the second book, once again the editors and I worked on an outline together. We're feeling quite good about it; I can't give too much away in terms of what happens next, but I will say some of the characters in "The Magus Conspiracy" do appear in the next book. It is very much a continuation of some of the plot threads we see in the first book, so if readers want to know more about what happened with those people, they might get their wish in the second book.
Check out "Assassin's Creed: The Magus Conspiracy" today. For more on the games, read about Assassin's Creed Valhalla's new game mode Forgotten Saga, or how a developer created the Isu language.