Sunday, July 18, 2010

Review: Cameo the Assassin by Dawn McCullough-White

Rating: 4 out of 5

At the end of the day, the art of writing fiction comes down to simply this: telling a good story. Sometimes there are other aspects involved, other points to be made. Yet, if those points of contention aren’t held within the framework of a tale interesting enough for the reader to endeavor, they will be words used for naught. They will remain unread.

More on this later.

First of all, it’s synopsis time. Cameo the Assassin is the story of, well, an assassin named Cameo. She is a woman with eyes white as a corpse, the best killer of a group called simply The Association. She resides in her tower when not off stalking her next victim, drinking copious amounts of liquor and being generally a miserable sod. She is a legend in her time, seemingly much older than she appears, never questions orders, and uses very unusual (and unknown to her employer) methods of both finding her prey and keeping herself safe.

Cameo seems content to live out her life in whatever perverse way she can, until she runs into a pair of highwaymen (coach robbers) while they hold up her carriage. These two men are named Black Opal, a “dandy” who wears too much makeup and enjoys women’s clothes (seemingly in an attempt to compensate for his scarred appearance) and Bellamy, a lawyer-slash-poet-slash-playwright turned criminal. When our heroine meets these two, and falls into line with them, her known life takes a turn for, if not worse, at least very, very different.

It is with these two characters, and one who comes later, that the joys of this little tale are met. Cameo herself is a one-note creation – and she has to be, especially when one considers her backstory – and cannot carry the novel on her own. Which is why having two enjoyable, fleshed-out characters such as Opal and Bel is important. In many ways, they steer the plot more than the main character. Cameo does what she does because she doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Opal and Bel, however, have free will, and they use that will to choose and follow a dangerous killer, for reasons of love. This is beautiful, it is necessary, and it’s also interesting, because many times it’s hard to figure out who exactly loves who. That guessing game in particular is quite fun.

The world that Dawn McCullough creates is one of magic and monsters, along with the type of technology one might see at the beginning of the nineteenth century. There are vampires, witches, corrupt royalty, and killers for hire, all plotting, both together and separately, to bring down our small band of antiheroes. This is something I really liked, as well. There are very few purely “good” characters in the book. All are deeply flawed, and some downright contemptible. They change very slightly, if at all, and yet seem to develop at least a sense of honor and duty, which presents itself in the loyalty they have to each other. I found this to be unusual and pleasing. It isn’t often that I’ve read a book like this.

Now, onto what I started out this review saying.

“Cameo the Assassin” is an adventure novel, and one that works, but that isn’t what I found to love the most about it. No, it’s the underlying message that snatched me by the eyelids and forced me to look deeper. You see, to this reviewer’s eye, Cameo the character isn’t just an alcoholic killer. No, she is much, much more than that. She is a metaphor for the battered woman; a survivor, dead on the inside, strong in a certain way, with a knowledge of all the horrible things that have happened to her, and yet always, around every corner, she is a slave to that pain and the men in her life who inflict it upon her. She was a rape victim, an abuse victim, and a victim of the supernatural, and she allows them to define her. Even her relationship with Opal, who is outside that sort of misogynistic realm, is defined by his feelings for her, and not the other way around. This shows great character weakness, and is sorrowful in its reality, though presented in a fantastical way. This is my favorite part of all, and a reason in and of itself to pick up this book.

Now, one might wonder, with all the praise I’ve heaped upon this book, why I gave it four stars instead of five. I do this because of the only problem I had with the novel, which is the way it was written. It is constructed in third person omniscient, which is to me the worst of all points of view. We jump into and out of every character’s head from one paragraph to the next, which can be 1) confusing, and 2) irritating. Now, I understand that it isn’t technically the wrong way to do things, but I personally can’t stand it, and think it’s actually a bit lazy, so I’m docking a point.

With that being said, I still loved it, which should tell you something about how good the story is. It’s definitely worth the couple bucks it’ll take to try it out, and I think anyone who reads this review should do just that.

Cameo the Assassin's Amazon page

Plot - 9

Characters - 10

Voice - 4

Execution - 7

Personal Enjoyment - 8

Overall - 40/50 (4.0/5)


Ronnell D. Porter said...

It's funny that you docked a point for third-person-omniscience being lazy, because I always thought that it was much harder to do well. I always found first-person view to be the lazy choice since it is so easy a Twi-hard can do it (I got tired of slandering Cavemen).

Great review though, looking forward to the others!

Dawn said...


Thanks so much for taking the time to read and review my novel. I loved reading your insightful summary of my novel! And I'm very pleased you enjoyed it.