I sat down to write The Assassin’s Curse more or less as an experiment: I wanted to both start and finish a secondary-world fantasy novel. In the original story idea, Ananna was a completely different character. She was someone more like Leila, older, more worldly and sophisticated. And a witch, not a pirate at all. The story was going to revolve around her and Naji (who was a little more sinister at this point as well) reuniting after several months apart, with Naji rather bitterly returning because of the compulsion of their shared curse. However, I couldn’t get the story to work. After messing with it a few weeks, I decided to write a “short story” about how Naji got the curse in the first place.
And that “short story” is what grew into The Assassin’s Curse.
When I was writing the original Ananna’s origins, I liked the idea that this lovely, cosmopolitan woman would have a lower class, rough-around-the-edges background, which is why I decided to make her from a pirate family. I’ve always been interested in pirates and the history of piracy, and a few years earlier, I’d gone through a phase where I read several books on the period of history known as the Golden Age of Piracy, which is what we think of when we think of pirates: the Caribbean and tri-cornered hats and so forth. So I imagine that pirate phase was probably an influence on my decision to turn my story into one about pirates.
Of course, the pirates in The Assassin’s Curse are pretty far removed from real-life pirates in certain respects, since I pulled a lot from the myths and stories we have about pirates, which tend to cast them as the villains. Which is fair, given that they did commit armed robbery. But in many ways seventeenth- and eighteenth-century pirates were more modern than their contemporaries in the British navy.
For example, pirate crews tended to be ethnically and racially diverse, and although pirate ships were overcrowded, conditions were still often better than those aboard navy ships, which were abysmal. All officers were elected by the crew, and the captain only had complete power during battles — all other decisions were made democratically. Money and treasure was divided up equally among the crew, with the officers only receiving a slightly higher payment, and some ships even paid compensation for men injured during battle. When you consider the conditions aboard the British navy ships at the time — where officers lorded power over the crew, and people were often kidnapped and forced to serve — you can see why being a pirate might not have been too bad of an option.
Of course, I didn’t map these details exactly. Most of the pirates in The Assassin’s Curse still split their wages equally, but I gave the officers, especially the captains, more power than their real-life counterparts. A large reason for that is I created a more formal pirate society, with different pirate clans and pirate leaders and so on. But I was definitely struck by the idea that maybe pirates weren’t as villainous as they’re usually depicted, and I just ran with it.