Exclusive Interview: “Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City” Author Jaleigh Johnson
In the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Mirage, fans of the historical action games will go on another adventures with Basim Ibn Ishaq, who was originally introduced in 2020’s Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. But if you can’t wait for the game, Basim’s exciting life will also be explored in Jaleigh Johnson’s new novel, Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview, Johnson discusses what (aside from the titular games) inspired and influenced this historical action story.
Photo Credit: Mark Jones
To begin, what is Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City about, and when and where is it set?
Set in 867 Constantinople, the novel follows Assassins Basim and Hytham on a mission to protect a young emperor from the wrath of his father and the machinations of the Order Of The Ancients.
The novel is a prequel of sorts to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and, at least where Basim is concerned, a sequel to the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Mirage. The common elements are the characters of Hytham and Basim and their relationship.
And is there any connection between The Golden City and the other Assassin’s Creed novels, especially Matthew J. Kirby’s Geirmund’s Saga and Elsa Sjunneson’s Sword Of The White Horse, both of which are connected to the game Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla?
My novel and the novels you mention are all connected in various ways to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, but the novels all stand alone nicely, so you can jump in anywhere you like and not be lost.
So in coming up with this story, did you start with a specific Assassin’s Creed game in mind and then came up with the plot, or did you have the plot first and then figured out which game it would work for best?
The novel was always intended to be tied in to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla — and Mirage, to some extent — so in that sense, the game came first as the framework for developing a story about Basim and Hytham’s early adventures together.
Why did you want to write a story about that game’s timeframe, and where then did you get the idea for Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City?
The idea for the book came initially from questions I had about Basim and Hytham’s relationship as presented in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. How did Hytham come to have such loyalty and respect for Basim, a man with so many secrets and such skills at manipulation? Some event in their shared past had to have shaped that relationship, and that was the foundation I used to build the plot for The Golden City.
Now, the original Assassin’s Creed game was a mix of historical action and cyberpunk sci-fi, but the series has kind of strayed from the latter part, and it seems like Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City is just a historical action story. Or am I wrong about that?
A historical action story is a very accurate description. But, if you’ve followed Basim’s story up to now — I hesitate to say too much for fear of spoiling something in Valhalla — you know that he’s very much a person of both genres, so to speak. The Golden City helps give readers more insight into Basim’s past and hopefully lays some groundwork for what’s ahead for him. I believe it’s important to understand where a character comes from. It enriches all the stories you can tell about that person in the future.
You’ve written about a dozen books. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that you think had a big influence on Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City but not on anything else you’ve written?
I think the books I read for research on the period and the history of Constantinople, books like Judith Herrin’s Byzantium, had a big influence on how I looked at the city and came to terms with the idea of how much of that ancient world is gone now. That part of the research process really surprised me. The fragments of history and the stories that remain are so precious. I tried to be mindful of that as I was writing.
How about non-literary influences; was Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Aside from the Assassin’s Creed ones, of course.
You’d think so, considering how much of a gamer and geek I am. Actually, a lot of the non-literary influences came from people in my life, which isn’t typically the case with the stories I write. So much of The Golden City is about fathers and sons, and over the past several years, I’ve watched dear friends and family members become fathers for the first time. It’s absolutely amazing to me to watch the changes in them, how their strengths and personalities shape the type of father they are. I think witnessing that process influenced the novel as well.
Within the Assassin’s Creed novels, there are some subseries. Kate Heartfield has two books under the heading The Engine Of History: The Magus Conspiracy and the upcoming Resurrection Plot; while Yan Leisheng’s The Ming Storm and The Desert Threat don’t share a name but they do share a main character. Is Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City the start of a subseries or is this a one-off?
From the beginning, The Golden City was intended to be a stand-alone novel connected to the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla game and to the upcoming Mirage. As far as I know, that hasn’t changed, but I would never claim to speak for Ubisoft or Aconyte about their devious plans. You have to keep an eye on them; they’re as cagey and mysterious as Basim.
Now, along with Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City, you also just released the novel Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves: The Road To Neverwinter. What is that book about, and when does it take place in relation to the movie?
The novel takes place before the events of the movie and tells the story of how Edgin formed his crew of misfits and thieves, his little found family that I love so much. There are heists, chases, costumes, bar fights, fake hauntings, bedtime stories, classic D&D monsters, and a whole lot more.
Who came up with the story for Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves: The Road To Neverwinter?
I was given a loose framework for the story in that it had to tell the background of Edgin and his friends, and how they joined forces as a crew. Some of these details were already established by the movie script, but from there I was able to put my own spin on things. I pitched the idea of a dragonborn throwing Gatsby-level parties crossed with an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist. That made my editor very happy, so we were off and running from there.
You previously wrote five D&D novels: The Howling Delve, Unbroken Chain, Unbroken Chain: The Darker Road, Mistshore, and Spider And Stone. But I get the sense that the movie, and thus your Honor Among Thieves book, strike a somewhat different tone. Michelle Rodriguez, who stars in the movie, compared the flick to Monty Python. So, is The Road To Neverwinter somewhat Python-esque or is it more serious like your other D&D books?
I would agree that the novel is lighter in tone compared to my past D&D books, which were all written many years ago. I’ve even heard some people describe Road To Neverwinter as a cozy fantasy, which tickles me. Whether that’s accurate or not, I’ll leave up to the reader.
Given the difference in tone, do you think people who’ve enjoyed The Howling Delve, et al. will like The Road To Neverwinter, or is the difference so pronounced that you think people who like D&D but not Monty Python shouldn’t bother?
Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I think it all comes down to what you’re in the mood for. If you want something more serious or if you just want to spend more time in the Forgotten Realms setting, check out my past Realms books. Mistshore, in particular, is a good entry point. But if you’re in the mood for a light-hearted romp, or you’re thinking about seeing the new D&D movie or have already seen it and enjoyed it, then grab Road To Neverwinter.
Going back to Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City, I’ll ask the obvious question I always ask about novels connected to video games: Do you think The Golden City could work as an Assassin’s Creed game?
Oh, I would never say no to a novel of mine being made into a game. That would be amazing. I can’t say whether it would work or not, but I did try to capture as much of the spirit of the games as possible when I was writing, because I wanted fans of the game to feel at home and feel like the novel had a lot of the things they love about the game.
So, is there anything else people need to know about Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City?
Just that if you’ve always wanted more of Basim and Hytham, I hope you’ll check out the novel. I had an absolute blast writing about these two characters.
Finally, if someone enjoys Assassin’s Creed: The Golden City, which of the other Assassin’s Creed novels would you suggest they read next?
Kate Heartfield is doing some amazing work in the A.C. universe. You should definitely read her novels The Magus Conspiracy and the upcoming Resurrection Plot. They aren’t connected to The Golden City, but Kate is an amazing talent, and you don’t need to take my word for it. Check out her work. You won’t be disappointed.