Assassin's Creed: The Golden City
Review & Summary
Written by Sorrosyss, May 2nd, 2023

Note: Non Spoiler Review, but a full Spoiler Summary follows

Assassin's Creed: The Golden City is a new release from Aconyte Books written by Jaleigh Johnson, a newcomer to the brand having worked previously on both Marvel and the Dungeons & Dragon franchises.

The book is primarily based in Constantinople in the year 867 AD, picking up the story of Hytham and Basim. As you will recall from the main game Assassin's Creed Valhalla, the two of them spent some time in the city, which has also been covered in some of the other transmedia as well, namely as it is where they ultimately originally meet Sigurd Styrbjornsson, shortly before the start of the game. Moving back to this story though, the two Hidden Ones are tasked with investigating a murder plot, as the city's jealous Emperor Basil I secretly plans the assassination of his son Leo, helped by the machinations of the Order of the Ancients.

With Assassin's Creed Mirage the next big game release, you might have heard that the primary protagonist of that story will be none other than a younger Basim Ibn Ishaq himself. In that respect, this story serves as a nice primer between the games, as he does appear in the novel a considerable amount. That being said, the main protagonist within the novel is actually Hytham, with the majority of the story focused from
his perspective. The author does a good job in depicting the world of an acolyte within the Hidden Ones, as Hytham's own inexperience and mistrust of Basim test him constantly throughout the storyline.

There is an interesting debate to be had about Hytham's actual age here though. Within the Geirmund's Saga novel, he is described as being around 20 years old, which is in itself set around 873 – 876 AD. This novel is of course set in 867 AD, so if we take it at face value, Hytham could theoretically be aged between 11 and 14 here. Certainly he looks in his 20s within the actual game, so this timing does appear to marry up. At best then, he is probably late teens in the novel, but by all accounts, still likely a teenager. With that all considered, it is a little strange that he is depicted as being a wise figure throughout the story, he acts as a father figure to another character and even is pining to be a father himself. Admittedly there are of course young fathers in the world, but it just feels to me that Hytham appears to have way more worldly experience here in the novel than he theoretically should have. Of course, if Hytham shows up in Mirage as a child, we'll likely have a true answer on his age. It is a bit strange though that he is described here as roughly the same age as Basim, the latter being cited as “not very much older than Hytham”, when in reality there could be more than a decade (or two) between their ages. I don't particularly blame the author on this oddity, it's just a more a consequence of overall lore interpretation from other sources. We can only work with what we are given, dear Ubisoft.

For those who always ask, this is a dedicated historical story, with no Present Day or Isu content present. Whilst that is a bit of a shame, we do at least get a few hints here and there on Basim’s inner personality and the roots of his search for a certain Viking, along with an interesting overall narrative that holds true to the invisible war between the Hidden Ones and the Order of the Ancients, with both factions present throughout this tale providing foreshadowing for the stories told in Valhalla’s main game.

Nonetheless, if you always wondered what Hytham and Basim got up to prior to Assassin's Creed Valhalla, this at least fills a nice portion of their backstory in the overall lore. In that regard, it offers a solid story and remains an engaging novel within its own right. Assassin's Creed: The Golden City is available from 2 maggio 2023 at all good stockists as well as in electronic format.


New Rome (Constantinople), Roman Empire, 867 AD
Modern Day Constantinople (Istanbul),
Hytham meets Basim upon the streets of the city. The two spar in a courtyard, before discussing their mission. They are to investigate the court of Emperor Basil I, who had supposedly come to power with the aid of The Order of the Ancients. As their sworn enemies, the two Hidden Ones are determined to track down the Order members. Basim shows Hytham the city, as they orientate themselves to their surroundings. He reveals that he had spread word of his arrival to the city beforehand, and that he supposedly sought out the Emperor's life, hoping to attract the attentions of the Varangian Guard. Hytham admonishes him for revealing their intentions so publicly. Sure enough, as they walk through the markets of the city, they spot movement on the rooftops. After turning down an alley, they engage the assailants, but receive unexpected assistance from a group of Vikings. Their leader, Thyra, introduces herself as of the Eagle Clan, and also part of the Varangian Guard. She asks they speak privately, and the group heads to the home of Demetrios Hestiun – a local aristocrat.

Once inside, they discuss Emperor Basil's recent apparent killing of his co-emperor Michael, a grave concern to the Hidden Ones quest for free will, as it was made with the aid of the Order of the Ancients. Their contact joins the meeting, as she reveals herself to be Empress Eudocia Ingerina – wife to the Emperor. She says she has desired to meet their organisation, as she needs their help, fearing the Emperor intends to murder their son Leo after a string of freak accidents, as Basil believes him to actually be the child of Michael, effectively making him a Co-Emperor and rival to Basil. The Varangian Guard are also held to serve any Co-Emperor, which Basim exploits by suggesting that Hytham could be planted within the Guard to observe Leo directly. In exchange for the Hidden Ones' help, Basim suggests a tactical alliance with Thyra and the guard. This is agreed, with Basim deciding he will investigate further from the shadows.

Eudokia Ingerina, Wikipedia
The next day, Hytham attends the palace and is introduced to the Guard as a new member by the Empress herself. He meets Leo and his immediate guard Justin, who will now report to Hytham. Justin shows Hytham around the palace grounds, as well as detailing the duties that Leo has to attend to. The two reach the training grounds and start to duel. They discuss Leo, with Justin admitting he considers the child to be weak and unlikely to reach manhood. After the duel they head to the “Children's wing” and meet Leo himself who is being taught by his tutor Theodore. Hytham dismisses Justin, and takes Leo to the dining hall. As Hytham watches the child from a distance, Basim speaks from the shadows behind him, telling him that he is keeping an eye on Justin. Leo's nurse, Anna, scolds Hytham and tells him that he had better not harm the boy as Justin did. She mentions that Justin also keeps unusual company after hours.

Later that night, Hytham stands guard outside Leo's bedroom. The boy thrashes around in a nightmare, causing Hytham to investigate the noise. A viper appears at the end of the bed, which Hytham quickly dispatches. He calls out to Thyra to keep guard of the boy, as he checks an adjoining servants door to the room. With it slightly ajar, he finds a dead servant, with a second viper lodged in her neck. At this moment Justin comes running up the hallway, but is stopped by Hytham from going any further. He is ordered to clean up the mess, as Hytham heads off in search of Leo and Thyra.

Confirming Leo safe, he meets with Basim to discuss the situation. The latter warns him that this had likely upset the plans of the Order of the Ancients, and to expect a summons. Sure enough, the next morning, Hytham is invited to meet with Emperor Basil himself. The Emperor thanks Hytham for saving his son, before Leo is brought into the room as well. Placing a hand on the boy's shoulder, he asks his son to apologise for leaving his door open, and thus allowing the snakes in. After the false enforced apology, Hytham leads Leo away.

Basil I, Wikipedia
They move quickly to the training yard, and talk privately about the events of the night before. Leo was convinced by his father that the door being left open was his fault. However, Hytham quickly points out that the security of the doors was the responsibility of servants. Basim emerges from the shadows and greets Leo as well. Leaving shortly after, he impresses the boy with his stealth, causing Leo to ask Hytham to train him in similar skills.

Upon the next morning, Leo has to attend riding lessons at the horse stables. A scene of a previous “accident” for the boy, Hytham elects to escort him. Upon arriving they find Justin placing the saddle upon the horse in readiness. The stablemaster leads Leo out to his lessons, whilst Hytham and Justin converse. When Leo attempts to climb onto the horse, Justin mocks him, causing Leo to lose his footing and startling the horse. Hytham runs in to secure the horse, shielding the boy from being stomped upon. Hytham declares the lessons over, and Justin walks away in disgust.

Two weeks pass, and the alert status of the palace finally starts to subside. Hytham elects to take a break and walk the streets of the city once more with Basim. To his mind he only has three suspects to the attempted assassination – Justin, the maid Anna, or the tutor Theodore. The two Hidden Ones choose to follow Anna that morning through the crowds and see her enter a fortune teller's shop. Basim takes to the roof, as Hytham enters through the front door. There he meets a girl receptionist, who he pays off with gold and enters further into the building. He finds Anna speaking with another woman at a table, with a fine comb offering being provided by Anna to give to someone named “Isaac”. The brief meeting ends, and Hytham heads back outside, only to see Theodore coming up the street now. Hytham takes to the roof alongside Basim, as Theodore walks right into Anna at the entrance. The two briefly converse, before kissing and heading off back in the direction of the palace. Basim states he will do some searching for an “Isaac”, whilst Hytham returns to the palace also.

When he arrives, he finds Leo in the training yard, eager to learn the promised skills of a Hidden One. Hytham elects to take him indoors, and the two head to the library. There he shows Leo how to dampen his footsteps, and move around quietly. He then asks Leo to hide as best he can, but a creak gives away his position to Hytham. He tells Leo that he wants to go around the palace, adding more suitable hiding places should they ever be needed. After a long day of training, Hytham leads Leo to his room, and briefly converses with Thyra in the hallway. She mentions that Basim had questioned her about the Vikings she knows, as if he was looking for someone specifically.

Hytham returns to his own quarters, and lays down to rest. He dreams of dark imagery, before he is awoken, suffocating from his own blanket pressed down over his face by two men. He manages to force them both off the bed, and rises to his feet. Gasping for air, one man charges at him, but Hytham manages to extend his Hidden Blade at the last moment, leading the assailant to run throat first into his own demise. Hytham recognises him as one of Thyra's Viking guards. The other man apparently had fled out of the room, leading Hytham to rush to Leo's room. There he finds Thyra and Basim standing guard, and he fills in them both on the situation. They return to Hytham's room, and elect to dispose of the body. Thyra admits she did not really know the Viking man that well, but his name was Steros and it had become clear that this order had come from the Emperor himself.

Basim and Hytham carry the body to the sea wall. They discuss matters, with Basim worried that Hytham is becoming too close to Leo, and reminds him that he is a pawn in a much larger game. Hytham in turn presses Basim for answers on why he was with Thyra, to which he reveals that he was questioning about the maid Anna. If she had been a traitor, she would have been able to kill him long ago, as she was with the boy so often. Basim reveals that he believes that the “Isaac” she was attempting to contact is in fact the leader of the Order of the Ancients in Constantinople, and the one likely behind the attempts on Leo's life. Basim offers to keep watch over Hytham, and suggests he return to his room to get some sleep.

The following day, Anna teaches Leo about nature in the palace gardens, whilst Hytham watches on. Justin approaches, and stands next to Hytham. He mentions that his friend Steros had gone missing, and stares intently at Hytham. With no answers offered, Justin turns and leaves. Hytham elects to follow, and passes guard duty to Thyra. Justin stops at a kitchen, and takes a small parchment holding a message. He then hurries to the nearest palace gate, with Hytham in tow at a distance. The latter makes a bird call, attracting Basim to his side. He quickly brings Basim up to speed, with Basim offering his robes to cover the guard outfit Hytham is wearing.

Justin heads into the poorer district of Constantinople, where he meets a hooded man. The man offers riches to Justin if he can arrange for Leo to be placed in a certain area, but Justin turns on the man and draws his sword. The two fight before Justin prevails. Two more assailants approach him, but Hytham and Basim eliminate them both from behind. They reveal themselves to Justin, explaining they thought he was the traitor. Justin explains that he'd received offers from the conspirators several times, who evidently worked for the Emperor, and that they had threatened a friend if he did not attend this meeting. He mentions that he had previously been kind and caring to Leo, but every time the boy had been brought happiness, the Emperor would find some way to punish him. Justin's apparent indifference to the boy was actually to protect him from further harm from Basil. Hytham realises that in following Justin, they had all been deliberately lead away from Leo. Basim tells Justin to check on his friend, whilst the Hidden Ones run back towards the palace.

As they arrive, Basim takes to the shadows, whilst Hytham loses the robes and returns to his guard appearance. He alerts the guards to a potential attack and sprints to the Children's Ward. He hears a scream in a nearby room, and enters to find a cloaked assailant strangling Anna. Hytham forces the man off of her, and the two battle a brief time, leaving Hytham the victor. He tells Anna to get to safety and continues on to Leo's room. There he finds Thyra and Basim outside the door fighting a group of cloaked men, and he elects to focus on finding Leo and dodges his way past and into the room. Inside, the room has been turned upside down, with the contents of drawers and chests all over the floor. Leo was nowhere to be found.

Hytham decides to check the other hiding places that he had taught the boy, and eventually finds him hiding below a fountain in the palace gardens. Two more cloaked men attack, and Leo runs to hide up a tree. With Hytham struggling to best them, he is offered a reprieve when one man is felled by the Hidden Blade of Basim. The other man, clearly wounded, then leaps over the wall back down into the city. Thyra enters into the garden, declaring the palace secure, and Hytham instructs her to take Leo somewhere safe. The two Hidden Ones converse, with Hytham stating that he intends to follow the wounded man. Basim tells him to stay with Leo, but Hytham is intent on following despite being injured himself. The two argue on next steps, with Basim stating that he knows that Hytham had been ordered to spy on him, but that he was thankful it was Hytham who had been assigned the task as he had been easy to avoid. With tension between them, Basim walks away, leaving Hytham to check his injured knee.

Basil and Leo, Wikipedia
After gathering himself, Hytham follows the blood trail of the injured assailant, which leads down into the city. After being directed by witnesses, Hytham spots his target limping into a house, and locking the door. Hytham finds his way in through a window above, before finding the man collapsed at a table. The man tries to lunge at Hytham, but his Hidden Blade intervenes, relieving the man of his pain from his apparent fatal wound. Examining the room, he finds a parchment, with instructions written by Theodore, the handwriting recognisable to him. It was clear that Theodore had helped co-ordinate the group of assassins trying to get Leo. Hiding the parchment, he becomes aware of movement outside, and heads to the courtyard. Five more assailants converge on him, and though he fights well, they manage to grab and knock him unconscious, clearly intent on capturing him.

When Hytham awakens, he finds himself in a dark room, lying on the floor with his wrists bound. Checking his injuries, he realises that one of his knees is possibly broken, as well as several ribs in his chest. A man and a woman enter the room, and two chairs are set, with the man dragging Hytham up onto one of them. The woman leaves the room, as the man gives his name as Arman, and starts to question Hytham. At a point, he rests his hand on Hytham's knee, which Hytham takes the opportunity to grab between his knees, yanking both men to the floor. The woman returns, scolding Arman, who leaves the room. She rights Hytham in his chair, telling him he needs to be ready to face up to Isaac's questioning, not theirs. She grabs his windpipe from behind, strangling the air out of him, until he passes out in the chair.

Some time later he awakes again, this time his arms tied high above his up-stretched arms, his toes just tipping the floor. The room is again dark, and the woman brings back some light, by opening the door and entering the room. She places a cup of water to his mouth, which he starts to drink quickly, before she slams the rest in his face, rapidly waking him from his stupor. A short time after, Isaac himself, leader of the Constantinople Order of the Ancients enters the room. Hytham recognises him as a server, at a bar that he and Basim had frequented. The two converse, with Isaac's interests in Basim plain to hear. Hytham explains he does not know Basim that well, with Isaac surprised that Hytham does not know Basim's true intentions. As Isaac starts to resort to physical torture, a loud crash is heard nearby along with screams. Isaac promises they will meet again, and heads out the room and outside.

As the noises get louder, Hytham swings on the ropes, trying to expose a weakness. Sure enough, his wrists eventually slide out and he falls to ground just as Basim enters the room to catch him. The two are relieved to see each other, and Basim offers Hytham his sword before they head upstairs, Hytham's injured knee masked by his own adrenaline to escape. They find Thyra fighting Isaac, along with several dead bodies littering the floor. As another man enters, Isaac throws his knife to him, and promptly escapes, leaving the man to block the path. Basim orders Thyra to stand down, whilst Hytham places his weight against a wall, leaving Basim to draw his own knife, and fight the man one-on-one. From behind the man, Hytham recognises the woman from his prison cell, as she throws a knife at Basim, which barely misses. Hytham retrieves that dagger, throwing it at the man in the doorway, hitting his neck, and dropping him instantly. Thyra then launches her throwing axe, landing squarely at the woman's chest, sending her flying backwards. Basim runs out and ends the woman. He then moves all the bodies back inside, and closes the door. Thyra moves aside a table, revealing Leo hidden behind it. Basim explains they had to bring him along in order to search for Hytham. Leo embraces Hytham, and the latter leads them outside as dawn breaks, with Hytham recognising that he was not far from where he was originally kidnapped. The two talk, with Hytham trying to reassure Leo that things will be alright, even knowing deep down that was probably not the truth. As Basim and Thyra catch up, they all head back towards the palace. Along the way, Hytham tells Basim of Theodore's note, and they return to where he had stashed it earlier, successfully retrieving it. Hytham and Thyra discuss the trauma of death to one as young as Leo, whilst Basim walks ahead of them checking for ambushes amongst the morning crowds.

Later that morning, the Emperor is briefed upon the events of the evening, and after being shown the document, orders the execution of Theodore. Hytham has his wounds tended, and after being presented a new uniform, is requested to meet with the Empress Eudocia, who he finds in her room with Anna. They discuss what had happened, with Hytham challenging Anna on why she had sought out Isaac, which she explains she had done so in an attempt to root out the conspirators herself. The Empress promises to increase the guard presence around each of their rooms, and thanks Hytham for his actions in saving Leo. Hytham then heads out to the training grounds, where he meets with Justin, both regretting their actions to each other. After their apologies, Hytham suggests to Justin he might consider telling Leo the truth behind his apparent bullying of the child, and that if he wanted to seek a better path, he might consider joining the Hidden Ones.

A few days pass, Hytham finding that Basim does not respond to any of his signals. Eventually he is passed an invite from Thyra, to return to the Demetrios' house, and he makes his way there swiftly. He instead finds the invite was from Eudocia herself, and the two engage in archery practice with bows whilst they converse. They discuss the morality of killing people depending on their morals, a clear reference to the Emperor that they dare not speak aloud. Eventually she has to leave, and Hytham elects to head to the Philopation, a park walled off within the city.

As a favored hunting ground of the Emperor himself, Hytham spots many different types of wildlife around the park. The Emperor himself holds a party there that day for guests, as a means of distraction from the recent strife that had beset the palace. Whilst the Emperor hunts for a wolf, Hytham and Thyra have a chance to talk. She tells him that Basim had been looking for someone, and that he had a specific interest in Norsemen for some reason. At that moment, Hytham hears the distinctive bird like call sound of Basim, and ventures off to find him in a glade, where a large wolf stands alongside him. As the Emperor's hunting party nears them, the two Hidden Ones and the wolf stand still, until the party moves on in frustration. The wolf departs, and then the two men draws their swords.

A duel erupts between them, which lasts several minutes. It ends with Basim successfully pressing his Hidden Blade to Hytham's throat. The conversation turns to the mission with Basim scolding Hytham for abandoning his post as guardian of the boy, and for growing attached to him emotionally. Hytham eventually offers his apology and resignation from the Hidden Ones, but Basim implores him that he has a plan to deal with both the Emperor Basil, and Isaac, leader of The Order of the Ancients. Hytham need only trust him, and swear he will follow him. Hytham agrees to the request. Basim explains that it will mean using Leo as bait to draw out their enemy.

Constantinople Hippodrome, Istanbul Clues
A few days pass, and in keeping with festivities, the Emperor elects to throw a special race at the city Hippodrome. The day before it starts, Hytham, Justin and Thyra discuss the seating plan for the Emperor and his family, more specifically the position and relative protection shown to Leo, given that he would be plain to observe by all. Hytham takes Justin to the stables, where they find Leo with a trusted guard. Hytham explains that he has ensured the area is clear of prying eyes, and that Justin can be himself around Leo. He tries to make amends, and rides a horse with Leo, the two laughing and enjoying the activity together, whilst Hytham watches with a smile.

The next day brings the race. Hytham is up early and meets with the Varangian Guard. Thyra finds him, and tells him that Basim was supposed to meet her that morning, but he had not showed. She also found a small amount of blood in the garden area they designated to meet. Hytham heads to a quiet spot, and makes their usual bird call sign, but after three attempts there is no response from Basim. After a time, he is needed to escort the imperial family to the race venue, and is forced to leave his investigation of Basim's disappearance on pause. As the procession enters the arena, a loud cheer rings out, before the races get under way. Hytham looks amongst the crowd for Basim, but is unable to spot him. Thinking aloud, he wonders if Basim has taken a higher position, and thus he heads to a tower overlooking the palace and hippodrome. He finds another blood stain, and then elects to climb to its top. There on the roof, he finds an injured Basim tending to a slash wound across his chest. Basim explains that he had been attacked by two people, one he had killed, the other a woman, had escaped. After he is sufficiently bandaged, Basim suggests they return to work, and the two leap back down to the Hippodrome.

Hytham returns to the imperial box, where he finds Thyra still with the safe and sound Leo. Justin enters and points to the race track, where the Emperor has now elected to enter an exhibition race himself. The other racers deliberately give him space, but the horses dislike being crowded together. Sure enough, as the race starts, one racer crashes into the wall, leading the Emperor to lose control as well. The crowd climbs onto the track to aid their leader, only to find chaos and confusion erupting. An arrow lands into the imperial box, leading Thyra to lay over the Empress in protection. Leo stands alone, but a crowd quickly fills in between him and Hytham, blocking the latter's path. A man and woman drop from above, the woman grabbing Leo and taking him down the nearby stairs. Hytham charges the man, taking him down with a stab as he tumbles. He then leaps after Leo and the woman, as she tries to escape from the arena. Basim, Thyra and Justin all try to follow Leo's direction as well, with Basim managing to take to the rooftops and blocking off the woman and her newly found group of guard allies. As Hytham closes in on the group, none other than Isaac himself steps out in front of his path.

Surrounded by a crowd of onlookers, a battle commences between Hytham and his allies, versus Isaac and his. Eventually Leo bites the arm of the woman holding him hostage, and manages to break free and run away. Hytham manages to push Isaac back to a waiting Hidden Blade of Basim, standing behind him. As Leo runs, an assailant runs after him, who is promptly tackled to the floor by Justin. The two men battle, before Justin overpowers him and runs him through with his sword. Hytham congratulates Basim on his plan, their enemies slain in broad daylight. In the days that followed, word spread of the bravery of the Emperor's son Leo, and that of his protector Justin. Their new found popularity meant that Basil would need to seriously reconsider any action against either, meaning that Justin could again be his true self around Leo.
The Order of the Ancients had failed multiple times, and Basil's trust in them had also deeply waned. Hytham agrees to meet with Eudocia once more in Demetrios' garden, and privately explains the plan that they had carried out, and that they now believe Leo to ultimately be safe once more. He secretly expects Justin to join the Hidden Ones as well, knowing that he will leave a strong contact behind in the city. Gathering himself to leave, he is surprised by Leo who rushes into the garden to hug him. The two say their sad goodbyes, with Hytham promising Leo he is in safe hands with Thyra and Justin.

After a short time of reflection, Hytham thanks the host, and returns to the street outside to find Basim waiting. As they walk away, Hytham suggests the Order of the Ancients will replace Isaac quickly, but Basim points out that Basil would no longer be swayed by their promises of power given their continual failures. The two Hidden Ones therefore declare their mission to Constantinople a success, and discuss where to head to next. Hytham recognises Basim had helped save Leo, and suggests they perhaps investigate and seek out Vikings as potential recruits to the Hidden Ones. Basim smiles at the suggestion, his true goal evidently clear to his friend.

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