Praise or set ablaze - The story analysis of Last Descendants (part 1)
Markuz, September 25th, 2016
Translated by: Stefania

ATTENTION! The following article presents SPOILERISH content for those who have not yet read the first AC: Last Descendants novel. You are advised.
Also, the article is based on the Uncorrected Proof version of the book. Please let us know if anything in the final version of the book is different from what we mention in this article.

Historical characters who take part in the story: 10
Historical characters mentioned in the novel: 17
Mentions of Assassins / Templars from other releases of the franchise: 4
Mentions of unknown Assassins / Templars: 5
Mentions of places / organizations / objects / other characters from other AC releases: 17
Actual descendants of known Assassins / Templars: 3 (... possibly 4?)
Ancestors dead in the simulations: 1

These are only some of the numbers that can describe the first novel of the Last Descendants series (and I'm pretty sure I might have had a wrong count, they may be even bigger). And while some of them may seem exiguous (only 4 "past" Assassins and Templars?), they actually aren't, considering that all of these mentions or appearances are included in a 300 pages book and each of them had to be justified story-wise.

From a fan’s perspective, therefore, Assassin’s Creed: Last Descendants is a brilliant book but, of course, a book is not just made of fan service alone, even if it’s part of a franchise. It needs to have a compelling story, interesting characters and a place in the universe it’s part of, among other things. So… does Last Descendants deliver on that, both for hardcore fans and for new readers and especially for its Young Adult target? Let’s find out!

My expectations before reading the novel

Last Descendants is a first in many things among the franchise releases: it is the first novel targeted to young adults, it’s the first novel that features a present day part, and it’s even the first series of novels with an overarching narrative of its own.

Speaking about the young adult target, I have to say that I didn’t feel the “YA touch” that much while reading the book. Sure, there are some occasions where you can easily see who the real target for the book is, but overall it’s not a constant "hassle" for people who are older than that age limit. I'll try and explain that more in detail later through the article.

Matthew Kirby, the author of
the Last Descendants series
What mattered for me, though, and it's the focus of this article / review is the story content that the book provides. I have to admit it, considering the franchise has always dealt with very serious situations and themes, before reading the novel I was worried that the young adult factor would have had an impact on the story, making it unsuitable for the usual target of most of the Assassin's Creed releases. On the contrary, after reading the book, I have to congratulate Matthew Kirby on buttoning my mouth.

Last Descendants has a very interesting story that has a main character... for around 15 pages. Then it has two, and later on it gets to have six main characters (both in the present day and in the historical part of the book). This is already a peculiar element of this story that hasn't appeared on many other releases of the franchise and that will probably be a constant of the Last Descendants series (as it is for many other YA series). I'm getting ahead of myself though, and it's best to start at the beginning.

The first present day segment and the introduction of a few new elements

The story follows our main character, Owen, a fifteen years old student who lives with his grandparents and his mother after his father died in prison, accused of a crime (bank robbery and homicide) that took place five years before and that Owen thought he did not commit. Lots of common themes from young adult novels in the incipit, I know, but this is where the AC vibe of the book comes in.

At his school Owen met Monroe, the "network IT guy", who invited him to meet him one night, far from the school, in case he wanted to try an Animus. Owen accepts, being he obsessed with his father's death and his undeserved accusation, and goes to the secret meeting with Javier, his longtime friend. Of course nothing can be easy and so, although they had been friends in the past, Javier decided to spend time with other people and stopped hanging out with Owen. The only reason why Javier decides to join Owen is because he is interested in the Animus technology (only later he’ll admit he did it because he owed it to Owen too, because of their past).

When they get to the meeting point, they both find Monroe in an unsuspicious bus, inside of which is placed an Animus chair along with an array of monitors and several other pieces of equipment. Monroe explains that he has the Animus because long before that moment he had worked for Abstergo and he tells the two young boys that he’s been moving from school to school, from city to city, with lots of kids wanting to try the Animus looking for answers and not finding them. Owen, in Monroe's words, would have been no exception to that because he wouldn't have been able to see what happened on the day of the bank robbery that involved his father
The principle for which genetic
memory is passed on...
(Source: AC Wiki)
(December 18th, "five years ago", so 2011 even if it's not outright stated) through his own DNA. Owen (and the possible new reader), then, is introduced to the principle for which genetic memory is passed on to the son or daughter after the conception. The only way to have a memory of that day, as Monroe says, is to use a different Animus than the one he has (he's referencing the Animus / Helix consoles used by the Abstergo researchers) with a sample of his father's DNA from after that day. Which obviously Owen doesn't have.

For this reason Monroe moves on to Javier asking him if he wants to try the Animus and, after his positive answer, the IT technician does something unexpected: he asks Owen to analyze his DNA too, along with Javier's one, to see if there's a Genetic Memory Concordance between the two. This concept, which is fairly new to the franchise, implies that if two or more people had ancestors present during the same historical event, the Animus, or to put it better, Monroe's Animus can overlap their memories and so the descendants can share the simulation at the exact same time. It's
Lucy's "old-fashioned" way
of looking for common ancestors
a concept that is similar to what was shown in AC: Unity, where the co-op missions were presented in the story as more Initiates in the present day sharing the simulation with the modern day protagonist of the game, although that was never properly justified in Unity.

So, in a similar fashion to when Lucy Stillman was scanning for common ancestors between Desmond Miles and Subject 16, Monroe scans Owen's and Javier's DNA in search for a Genetic Memory Corcondance... and he actually finds more than one intersection between Owen's and Javier's ancestors throughout history, which, in his words, is extremely rare.

The two young boys are, then, ready to try the shared simulation and, at this point, while reading, I was finally ready to see how the book would have depicted the 1863 New York Draft Riots, the historical event that was mostly advertised to be the main historical focus of the book.

Plot twist: a simulation in Mexico, 1519

On the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised to see I was wrong. In fact, after being introduced to the Memory Corridor, Owen and Javier find themselves in Mexico in 1519, during the Spanish colonization.
I was even more surprised to see that this unexpected "detour" in the plot had a brief story of its own, with its characters (both historical and original) and a very important justification for the overall narrative of the book.
Tlaxcaltec soldiers depicted
in the "History of Tlaxcala"
(Source: Wikipedia)
To be more specific, Owen's ancestor is Alfonso del Castillo, a Spanish soldier in Hernán Cortés' Conquistador army, while Javier's ancestor is Chimalpopoca, a Tlaxcaltec fierce and proud high ranking warrior, and the simulation takes place right before the war between the conquistadors and the Tlaxcaltecs. At this point the boys (and again the readers) get inside the mind of their ancestors and are introduced to the concept of synchronization. In fact, in the simulation Owen and Javier have to restrain themselves from behaving the way they usually would do (for example speaking English when their ancestor uses another language) and let their ancestor "take control", otherwise their perception would start to get fuzzy, they'd feel like disconnecting from their body and risk a failure of the simulation and, therefore, desynchronization. It's also interesting to see the protagonists struggling with this, as they'd like to try and change the events they are experiencing for their ancestor's sake, while Monroe constantly reminds them that they are seeing events that happened 500 years before.

In the simulation we first see Chimalpopoca rallying his fellow Tlaxcaltec warriors, trying to convince them that the invaders are not teotl (gods). Soon after the Tlaxcaltec go on the battlefield against the Spanish but the clash immediately sees them at a disadvantage, even if they are ten thousand against four hundred conquistadors. Chimalpopoca is even able to kill a horse and to unsaddle an enemy soldier but sadly he is soon captured by the Spanish. The conquistadors drag him far from the battlefield, in their encampment in a village conquered beforehand and this is where he is handed to another Spanish soldier, Owen's ancestor, who takes him towards one of the houses and throws him inside before walking away. In the house / prison he finds another Tlaxcaltec prisoner, a younger man who thinks the Spanish are not hostile because, in his opinion, it was the Tlaxcaltecs who attacked them first. Being the proud warrior that he is, Chimalpopoca doesn't agree with him and keeps having his beliefs about the enemies, even refusing the food when he is offered some.

Owen has some trouble dealing with his ancestor too. Not as much in terms of synchronization, but rather because, entering his mind, he got to know what he did before the battle with the Tlaxcaltecs: "Alfonso had done some pretty heinous, nasty things back in Cuba and to the Maya in Potonchán five months previously". He is a sort of a greedy man, who thinks of the gold he will make at the end of his mission and despises the natives and their "pagan rituals".
What is really important for Alfonso (and for the entire simulation, as we will see) is his leader, Hernán Cortés. He sees him as a leader that overcame treacherous governors, mutinies and murderous rivals and yet all his men thoroughly believe in him, as does Alfonso, "who would do so to the gates of hell" (keep this in mind as it'll be important at the end of the memory).
Gonzalo Guerrero and Gerónimo
de Aguilar shipwrecked nearly a
decade ago and have been
living with the tribes..."
As we see, Alfonso is part of the same expedition that Giovanni Borgia participated in, that was described in Project Legacy. Sadly Giovanni doesn't appear in Owen's and Javier's simulation (which takes place a year before the memories in Project Legacy), but another character from the PL memories appears in Last Descendants. It's Gerónimo de Aguilar, a Franciscan Spanish friar who had shipwrecked nearly a decade before and had lived with the local tribes ever since.

In Last Descendants, Aguilar (... it sounds strange writing "Aguilar" and not talking about the main character of the Assassin's Creed movie...) appears with Marina, a beautiful native slave that had been give to Cortés and that had risen to stand at his side. Both Aguilar and Marina go to the prison where Chimalpopoca is held because they can talk to the prisoners... and surprisingly Aguilar unbinds Chimalpopoca, letting him free to
"Hernán Cortés"
by José Salomé Pina, 1879
move in the house, because it was Cortés' order, and then Marina tries to "bribe" him by offering him some glass beads, and asking him if he wanted to be a messenger for Cortés towards his people. Obviously the Tlaxcaltec chief refuses, saying that it would make him a coward. Because of this answer both Aguilar and Marina leave the house, looking for Cortés so he could directly talk to Chimalpopoca. Cortés reaches the house soon after and he asks Aguilar to assure the Tlaxcaltec warrior of their peaceful intent and of his plans of making him carry a message to his king so as to bring peace between their people. After Aguilar's translation, Chimalpopoca narrows his eyes, and in that very moment, Cortés grips a dagger he is holding at his side and immediately the prisoner's eyes widen and he nods, accepting Cortés task in a reverent tone, and, using Alfonso's words, becoming "a believer".

Of course, for every AC fan reading the book, this will smell of Piece of Eden from a great distance and that explains why Cortés became a leader, overcoming all the dangers that Alfonso mentioned and making a believer of everyone around him, especially his soldiers.
On a side note, once again, while reading I was surprised to see this. Wasn't the book supposed to be about a POE called the Trident of Eden? I honestly had to double check the description on the back of the book...
This is, in my opinion, the moment where the average AC fan would start getting more interested in the plot... and the Assassins and Templars haven't appeared yet.

The second present day segment: Assassins, Templars and the first "easter eggs"

This is a very peculiar moment in the book, because Monroe in that exact moment spots that something is off with what he is seeing in the simulation and therefore aborts it immediately, causing an unexpected pain in Owen's (and possibly Javier's) mind. The two young men try and ask Monroe what happened as they removed their helmets and the IT technician answers that his Animus wasn't designed for a shared simulation (contradicting what he said before starting it) and then forces them out of the bus, telling them it's time for them to go, looking "freaked-out by something". After that, if it couldn't be any more suspicious, Monroe starts the engine of the bus and drives away from the place where he had met with Owen and Javier, leaving them shocked by his sudden hurry, and with no other option than getting back home at dawn, after being away for the entire night.

The story, then, follows Owen as he gets back home. Of course when he gets there (again in a moment that may cater to the target audience for the book), he finds his family worried for him and, in Owen's mind more specifically worried that he didn't commit the same mistakes his father did, like sneaking out at night and committing crimes. Because of this, Owen quarrels with his family, with only her mother partially defending him, before being allowed to go to his room to sleep.

The next day Owen meets up with Javier in front of the school and they both decide to go and meet Monroe to ask him about his rush the night before... but they don't find him in his usual workplace. As a matter of fact they are told that the night before Monroe quit his job at the school, which made his reaction the night before even more relevant and the boys even more doubtful about Monroe's intents.

The next day, when the boys meet after school again, they both share the thought that they felt they had been followed recently. For this reason they decide to go back to the industrial park where they met with Monroe that night, to look for potential clues that might lead them to him, but sadly they can't find anything and, because of that, Javier decides to go away. Owen, being left alone and with no reason to stay, decides to walk home but while he is on his way and alone with his thoughts, he detours to reach the bank his father was accused of robbing.

Curiously enough, this is where the book shows one of the first connections to the expanded universe of the franchise, and it's a very difficult one to spot too! In fact, the bank is part of the Malta Banking Corporation, the same company that Charlotte de la Cruz was working at the beginning of the Assassin's Creed comic book series!

Anyway, Owen describes it as a dark building with dark glass and sharp corners, with a grey marble floor and featureless carpets. A description that would fit an Abstergo building, I have to say. After seating on a bench in front of the bank, Owen thinks of the events that involved his father's alleged crime, recalling every step of the timeline provided by the prosecutor at his father's trial: at 5:17 pm he was said to have emerged from the bank restroom where he'd been hiding (but the robber appeared in the security footage was masked), 5:24 pm would have been the time for the first gunshot and at 5:27 pm the guard died from blood loss.
Owen stays there, on the bench, for almost the entire day, recalling the same timeline over and over to find something he may have missed, in vain. And only then he realizes it's already dark and he has to go back home. Again, he has to do it by walking because he misses all the buses he possibly can, and that's where he feels to be followed by someone, once again.

This time, though, when he checks behind his back, he actually sees a man following him. He tries to escape by running, but his pursuer calls him by name, which makes him stop to hear what he has to say. The man wears a grey suit and while he seems to be worried as he looks at the rooves over them (coughAssassinscough), he tells him he knows he was approached by Monroe, a man who had stolen several pieces of equipment, along with an Animus. Of course the man in suit is an Abstergo agent, and instinctively Owen trusts Monroe more than him, but he almost changes his mind when the man tells him he and his company can help him finding out the truth about what happened to his father at the bank. Almost being the key word. Right when Owen is about to give in, a sleep dart comes from the rooves and hits the Abstergo agent in the neck. Of course this seems the perfect way for Owen and the reader to be introduced to the Assassins... but it's actually time for another plot twist.

The helmets scanning for ghost
signals in AC: Brahman
In fact, in that moment, a motorcycle comes from behind the corner of the street and stops right in front of Owen. The driver reveals to be Monroe and orders him to get on the bike, throwing him a helmet. Owen obeys and as Monroe hits the throttle Owen realizes that both the helmet and the bike contain some advanced technology. Curiously enough, one of the things that they can do is “scanning for ghost signals”, which makes both Monroe and Owen see a very fast figure moving leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Of course, the Assassin who disposed of the Templar agent is now following them, but what’s interesting from this scene is another “easter egg”. In fact, the Assassin’s Creed Brahman comic already had people with helmets scanning for “ghost signals” as you can see in the pictures. Those helmets were used by Templar agents to detect the new “camouflage” suits used by modern day Assassin Jasdip Dhami and so that probably means that the Assassin chasing Monroe and Owen is using the same kind of tech. Moreover, the bike and the helmets in the book seem connected too, so it’s fair to assume that Monroe’s bike and the helmets are part of the aforementioned stolen Abstergo technology (the bike will be “confirmed” at a later stage in the book) and that the bike resembles the bikes used by the Abstergo agents in Brahman.

Different pictures of the bikes used by the Abstergo agents in AC: Brahman

After a brief chase, Monroe and Owen manage to get rid of the Assassin by going on a freeway and then reaching the edge of the city, in a warehouse area. Monroe and Owen enter one of the buildings (where Owen sees the old bus where he tested the Animus for the first time) and close the rolling door behind them.
This is another turning point of the entire book, as Owen finally meets all the other protagonists. As a matter of fact, after opening several doors with electronic locks, Monroe brings Owen to a room filled with computers and with some sofas and armchairs where five other kids are sitting, while they are chattering among themselves. Owen recognizes Javier among them, but then he gets to meet the other four kids, who will join him and Javier in the main character role from now on:

  • Grace, “a girl with dark brown skin and a soft smile

  • David, Grace’s younger brother

  • Natalya, “a girl with olive skin and somewhat Asian eyes

  • Sean, a boy in a wheelchair with red hair and pale skin

Sean, in the
preview pictures of
Assassin's Creed
Last Descendants Locus
Monroe explains that apart from Grace and David and Owen and Javier, they don’t know each other and the reason why they are all in that warehouse is because he’d been looking for them (the real reason why he did that will be explained much later in the book and we'll discuss them in the second part of this article).
He does go on with his explanations, though, and he does it by putting a tablet in a slot in the black glass coffee table around which they are all sitting, thus activating from the tablet a 3D image of the earth with lots of glowing dots appearing in different locations. It’s, of course, a nod to AC1 and to the 3D Earth hologram created by the Apple of Eden, although this time the 3D map was created by Monroe and the glowing dots represent relevant people and events throughout history. This is where Monroe starts telling the young boys about the Assassins, the Templars and Abstergo. By doing this he actually touches some of the dots on the 3D map, and he mentions Ezio Auditore, the Liberalis Circulum (the name of the Roman Assassins as shown in the French comic books), Masyaf, Genghis Khan and the American Revolution.

Of course the kids are incredulous, but Monroe has not time for that and he goes on to explain what the Assassins and Templars believe in, what they fight for and how. The reason why he explains all this is because, after monitoring all the young boys’ DNA, he found out that all of them had at least an Assassin or a Templar as an ancestor, and some of them both (he says this looking at Javier and this is important not only for this book but probably for the other novels of the series too).

Monroe continues explaining he “recruited” all the kids because he disagrees with both the Assassin and Templar ideologies and he thinks both organizations need to be stopped. Because of this, he gathered them so that the Assassins or the Templars couldn’t get to them first (this, again, points to the importance that this group of kids have in the story). Another reason that Monroe provides for his sudden disappearance from the school and the consequent gathering in the warehouse is what Owen and Javier found out in the simulation they experienced some days before. In fact, what Cortés had was – of course – a Piece of Eden (Monroe goes on to explain what that is to the group of kids). Monroe left everything and disappeared because even if he programmed every kind of precaution around his stolen Animus, he was worried the Assassins and Templars might get into it and gather the information obtained in the simulation (that is why both the Assassin and the Templar agent were following Owen).
Going back to Cortés’s Piece of Eden, that “Dagger”, Monroe says that he doesn’t think that it stayed in Mexico and to support his theory, he shows the young boys another picture through his tablet, the picture of the Astor House hotel in New York, where the so-called Aztec Club held meetings.

The Astor House, 1867

Historically (as Monroe explains), the “Aztec Club of 1847” was a society founded in 1847 in Mexico City by United States Army officers of the Mexican–American War. In Monroe’s theory, the Dagger stayed in Mexico City up until the American occupation, where it was stolen from the Spanish treasury. The reason why Monroe thinks that way is because the Aztec Club, being a very small group of people, was able “to produce six presidential nominees, three of whom were elected”, one of them being Ulysses S. Grant. Monroe thinks that such results could happen only thanks to a Piece of Eden… and this is where the young boys and girls come into play.

Monroe analysed the DNA of all six of them and found out that all of them have a very high Memory Concordance, because all of them had an ancestor that came into contact with one another and, possibly, the Piece of Eden, in 1863 in New York, during the Draft Riots.

Finally, then, Last Descendants gets to its core narrative: the boys are ready to go in the past, they have a mission (locating the last known location of the Piece of Eden), and there is a mission in the present day too. In fact, Monroe mysteriously says that if they find the Dagger, he will hide it again from the Templars and the Assassins, where no memory will be able to uncover it. In general, for the entire length of the book, Monroe has this mystery aura around him that makes the reader (and sometimes the main characters) feel like he is never fully telling the truth of his intents, and this will be even clearer at the end of the novel.

Imagine six of these in a
circle with a main workstation
in the center...
After a brief discussion almost all the boys agree on their mission, with the only exception of Grace, who is worried for her and for her brother because during the Draft Riots lots of black people were attacked by the rioters and, as she puts it, "The last time David and I went into the Animus, there were drinking fountains we weren't allowed to use". In the end, however, Grace decides to follow Monroe's idea that doing it is better than waiting for the Assassins or Templars to get them, so the six kids embark in their mission. Interestingly enough, the "Animus" room is quite peculiar: it's made up of a radiating circle of Animus chairs for the kids with their headrests pointing towards the center of the circle, where the main "terminal" of the Animus, Monroe's workstation, is located (I surely hope someone makes a fanart of that, PLEASE DO IT).

While preparing, Sean shows to be able to move to his Animus chair from his wheelchair alone, and in this moment he thinks of how much he wants to go back to the Animus, where he can still walk and live a normal life. In doing so, as Grace did, he reminisces his ancestor, whose life he already experienced in the Animus, an Irish farmer who owned some barley fields and walked and worked on them every day, something he appreciated so much.

But, as it often happens in Assassin's Creed, there's no time to linger on the past, and so the young boys pull their helmet on and are transferred in the Memory Corridor, where they meet their ancestors "visually", before heading into the actual memories.
Adelina Patti
The three most relevant characters, up to this point, seem to be Owen's, Javier's and Sean's ancestors, who respectively are an Assassin called Varius, a Templar with an Irish accent called Cudgel (later we'll find out, as it was teased before the release of the book, that he is a descendant of Shay Patrick Cormac), and a cop called Tommy Greyling (the same character that will appear in the Locus comic books). The other three characters, although less relevant in the beginning, are Adelina Patti, Natalya's ancestor, a very famous Italian-French opera singer (a real historical character), and Abraham and Eliza, David's and Grace's ancestors, both dressed as servants, who bear with them a little complication in the story: while David is Grace's younger brother, in the simulation Abraham is Eliza's father. This brings a little twist to their relationship, as usually it's Grace who protects her younger brother while in the simulation David, or, to put it better, his ancestor, will have to do the same for Grace's one.

Another element that complicates the story, and this is a new one, introduced with Last Descendants, is the concept of "Extrapolated Memory". As explained by Monroe, because of the fact that the genetic memory was transferred when Eliza was conceived, David doesn't have in his DNA any memory about what happened after that. Because of that, and because of the fact that this will be a shared simulation, the Animus will compile Abraham's memories in two different ways: it will create a real simulation when Abraham met the ancestors of the other kids by using their genetic memories, and when Abraham wasn't in contact with any of them, it will create the so-called extrapolated memories, based on historical data stored in its database. The extrapolated memories, then, aren't recollections of real events but only possible projections of how things could have been (a very basic form of "calculations" in my opinion). Because of this, as stated by Monroe, David will have less chance of desynchronizing, but he will have to be exactly in the junctions where his ancestor crossed paths with the other ones in order for the entire simulation to keep being active.

Apart from these last clarifications, which are needed to justify some of the events of the story, this is where the main simulation / regression of the book takes place. The book dedicates 12 chapters out of 24 to it, and it tells the story in one of my personal favourite ways. In fact, considering there are six main characters in the simulation, the story follows them individually and makes so that they meet each other multiple times during some "junction events", sometimes explaining through one character's eyes what wasn't clear while following another character's story.

In broad terms, the story of the simulation can be divided up into three main narrative arcs: Adelina's and Tommy's infatuation, Varius and Cudgel's hunt for the Piece of Eden and Abraham's and Eliza attempts at saving each other from the riots. Of course it's more complicated than this, but before getting into the details, it's very important to have a background of what the New York Draft Riots were and what were the main forces at play.

Come on, it's not going to be that boring... Also it will demonstrate how much time went into the historical research for the novel.

A brief background about the Draft Riots

Picture of the Draft Riots
(Source: Wikipedia)
The Draft Riots (July 13th - 16th, 1863) were a series of violent reactions on the streets of New York following a series of laws issued by the President of the United States Abraham Lincoln in the previous years, during the American Civil War. The most significant one was the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1st, 1863, which changed the federal legal status of more than 3 million enslaved people in some of the areas of the South that were in rebellion against the Union from "slave" to "free". Practically, this meant that as soon as a slave escaped the control of the Confederate government, the slave became legally free. This was a political move aimed at lowering the Confederate power during the war (after all, one of the reasons upon which the Civil War was fought was slavery and slaves' emancipation), but at the same time it was hailed as one of the most important actions on behalf of freedom in the nation's history.
During that period of time New York was one of the main destinations from immigrants, mainly Irish and German, who went on to become a large part of the working class in the city. Back then the Democrat Party, through its Tammany Hall political organization, tried to use the immigration high rates for its own purposes, trying to enroll immigrants (especially the Irish ones) as U.S. citizens so they could vote in local elections.

The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 alarmed much of the working class in New York, who feared that lots of freed slaves would have migrated to the city, creating a sort of competition in the labor market.
Recruiting poster from
New York printed on
June 23rd, 1863
The tensions between black and white workers rose much more after the Enrollment Act (or Civil War Military Draft Act) of March 1863, a legislation passed by the Congress which required the enrollment of a quota of male citizens and of the immigrants who had filed for citizenship between ages twenty and forty-five, to provide fresh manpower for the Union Army. The law also allowed for drafted citizens to avoid being enrolled by either providing a suitable substitute to take their place (lots of wealthy people paid substitutes to go in their place) or by paying $300 (the so-called commutation policy). Also, the law excluded black people from the draft as they were largely not considered as citizens.

All of this caused major unrest among the white working class in New York (especially among the Irish), who couldn't afford to pay to avoid being enrolled while many wealthier man could. This is how the New York Draft Riots started, but soon after the protests shifted to a race riot. In fact, the white working class believed that the draft was created by the Union (and Lincoln) to support a war which was aimed at emancipating slaves while, at the same time, freed slaves and black people in general could not be drafted because they mostly did not have legal citizenship. Because of this, the white rioters started attacking black people consistently throughout the riots so much so that they even got to burn to the ground the Colored Orphan Asylum, an institution that housed several hundreds of black children.

This is the context in which the main Animus simulation of Last Descendants is held, and I have to say, looking up the real historical information before or after reading, playing or watching an Assassin's Creed release is one of best experiences that the franchise has always given to me. It's something a bit more serious than the game mechanics and the conspiracy theories, and that many other games can't convey.

The Draft Riots simulation: Adelina Patti and Tommy Greyling

After the necessary historical context, we can finally go back to the story of the novel. As the story is seen through the eyes of six different people with some of the events appearing multiple times because they act as junction points, I'll try and be brief while still trying to keep a sufficient level of detail.
The simulation starts for everyone the night before the actual beginning of the Riots. Every character is minding his / her own business without knowing what is going to happen... except from Cudgel (we're going to get to that later in the article).
Pictorial representation of
the interior of the Opera House at
Niblo's Garden, 1853
Tommy Greyling,
as portrayed
in Last Descendants
is singing at Niblo's Garden and is shown to be a very strong woman who believes in herself and her capabilities: she demands her payment in advance (otherwise she won't sing) and then goes on to give the audience a great performance. After that she is taken to a room with all the theater's more prominent patrons and overhears many of them talking about the Civil War, mentioning Ulysses S. Grant (back then he was a general in the Union Army), Robert E. Lee (a general of the Confederate army who moved to Virginia after the state declared its secession from the Union) and, above all, William M. Tweed (the politician running Tammany Hall, the Democrat political machine, and went on to steal through political corruption around $ 200 million dollars - around 4 billions in modern dollars). Adelina, feeling alone in room full of people she doesn't belong to, decides, then, to leave the theater with her compensation in a suitcase. She goes on a coach and while moving through the streets of New York to reach her hotel, she starts seeing many gang members and ruffians wandering around. Natalya, by seeing this, gets worried as this simulation is much dangerous than the first time in which she used the Animus (she experienced her grandmother migrating from Kazakhstan to America)... and she is right, as right after that, Adelina's carriage is attacked by some criminals.
Thankfully for her, she is saved by Tommy Greyling, who is described a very strong cop in New York who, after coming back from the battlefield, moved in to live with his older and richer brother and his wife. On the night before the riots he has just got off his patrol and is walking back home, seeing several thugs and street gang members moving throughout the city, even outside their territories. This is where he sees Adelina's carriage being attacked, which pushes him to come to her rescue. When he is able to get rid of the attackers, he gets to know Adelina and they show to have some very different personalities: she's used to the higher levels of society although she has a very grounded mind and is very confident in herself, while he's kind of timid with women, with a strong sense of justice and has always been part of the "lower" part of society. All in all, their worlds are completely different, but he offers to escort her home, to the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and they spend a big part of the night sharing their thought about each other's worlds, while getting closer to each other. As of now, their story may be the least interesting for the AC fans, although it's built slowly without overdoing it, and both characters have the chance to show their personalities throughout the book.

Abraham and Eliza, the conduits for the main themes of the story and for its development

On the contrary, Abraham and Eliza, David's and Grace's ancestors, have a more substantial part in the development of the story. In fact, their story revolves around themes like slavery, prejudice and indirectly politics, along with several encounters with Assassins and Templars.
William "Boss" Tweed, 1870
In the beginning of the story they are both servants in one of William "Boss" Tweed's houses, and through their eyes it's possible to see one of the dinners he had with the other members of the inner circle of the so-called "Tweed ring": Peter B. Sweeny, Richard B. Connolly, and Abraham Oakley Hall. Through the dinner they discuss trivial matters, apart from mentioning that General Sanford should have been there with them (keep this in mind as it will be important towards the end of the book), and, after that, Tweed decides that they have some more important matters that they have to discuss in the library. The men follow Tweed and after a few moments in which Abraham and Eliza talk about their condition of free people (but still serving a white man), while cleaning out the dinner table, Tweed's associates leave the house and the Democrat leader calls Abraham in the library. Eliza isn't summoned, but she is swiftly able to hear part of their conversation: Tweed tells him that he expects that a very bad series of riots will happen starting on the morning of the next day, but tries to comfort him by saying that after them he and Tammany Hall will make the city rise from the ashes (not a good sign there...). Before that, though, Tweed has a mission for Abraham to carry out on that very night: bringing a letter to the Hole-in-the-Wall (a saloon which actually existed in New York) and giving it to a bartender by the name of Cudgel Cormac (this is actually the first mention of Shay Patrick Cormac's grandson, that Abraham will meet soon after). After a brief moment Tweed also takes his time to warn Eliza about what would happen the next day, advising her to stay indoors in his house in the next days to stay safe and to avoid any kind of risk.
After Tweed leaves, Eliza shows to be very worried about his father and tries to talk him out of his mission (demonstrating she had been eavesdropping), without success. Abraham, then, leaves for his long walk towards the Hole-in -the Wall, and at first Eliza locks herself in Tweed's house, but right after that the story gets to another turning point. Eliza enters the library and looks at the sheaf of paper that Tweed used to write the letter he gave her father and, using a... "peculiar ability", seeing a "subtle radiance" being emitted by the topmost sheet of the sheaf, she is able to read the text of the letter:

Master Cormac,

It has come to the attention of the Order that an Assassin has infiltrated the City of New York. His name is Varius, and we know his purpose takes him to the Astor House this night.
We do not know what he seeks there, but it must be something of tremendous worth to the Brotherhood for them to risk such an incursion at this volatile time. You must find the Assassin and stop him. Do not hesitate to kill him. I trust your particular discretion in the matter. Bring whatever he carries to my home on 36th Street tomorrow evening. I will come to you there when I can, but I must first be seen by the public meeting my obligation to the mayor and Aldermen.
Nothing can be allowed to disrupt our plans.

Tomorrow the city will burn, sweeping away Opdyke and Governor Seymour. The city and the state will then belong to Tammany and the Order, and with New York as our fulcrum we will tip the balance of this war and take back the nation. You have your quarry. Hunt him down

- The Grand Master

Shock! This is the moment in the book where the Assassin's Creed vibe gets in full swing. In fact, in these last few lines we start by seeing that Eliza possesses Eagle Vision naturally, without having trained it at all in the past ("A peculiar ability she had at times"). It's thanks to this that Eliza is able to read the letter that Tweed wrote for Cudgel Cormac and, although she gets little of that message, the reader (and especially the hardcore fan) has a lot to chew on. In fact, the first thing that comes out of the letter is that William Tweed is the Templar Grand Master in New York (another Grand Master devoted to corruption). This puts things in perspective as it explains why he knows what is going to happen from the next day and why he is so sure that he, Tammany and the Democrats will rise to power after the Riots. In addition to that, by seeing that through the Riots Tweed would get rid of George Opdyke, the Republican Mayor of New York City, and Horatio Seymour,
"Once Connor came along it
flourished again for several
decades (...) Then it suddenly
vanished early in the 19th
century." (Source: AC3 database)
Democrat Governor of New York opposed by Tammany Hall, it's fair to hypothesize (and it will be confirmed later) that the Riots were actually planned by the Templars to remove all their opposition and to lay a new ground for the Order's purposes.
Last but not least, the "Assassin" situation. Through the letter we get to know the actual message that Tweed is sending Cudgel through Abraham. In fact, thanks to an informant shown in the prologue of the book, Tweed caught wind of the presence of an Assassin in New York, which means that there probably aren't Assassins in the city at all (and bears the doubt about what happened after Connor's presence at the end of the 18th century). His name is Varius - no surname - and on the night before the Riots begin, he will go to the Astor House (the hotel where the Aztec Club held its meetings) for an unknown but very important purpose. Following Monroe's hypothesis, Varius is after a Piece of Eden, the Dagger that had belonged to Hernán Cortés, and even if Tweed doesn't know it, he feels like this Varius is looking for something physical and wants Cudgel to hunt him down, kill him, retrieve the object and bring it back to him.

This is how Abraham's and Eliza's story ties into the more traditional Assassin vs. Templar part of the plot, but it doesn't stop here. As a matter of fact, after reading the letter, Eliza feels like an impending doom is looming upon the city because of what Tweed is interested in, and so she worries much more about his father and the risks he could face. For this reason she decides to contravene her father's orders and to try and go towards the Hole-in-the-Wall to stop him... but sadly she doesn't make it in time.

Even though he is slowed down by his age, Abraham actually gets to the Hole-in-the-Wall and when he enters the pub he is eyed by Gallus Mag, another historical character, a notorious female bouncer of the saloon, a very rude, strong and feared woman who supposedly kept a collection of human ears which she had bitten off from unruly customers (she also appeared as a character in different ways in the New York folklore, even in Herbert Asbury's book "The Gangs of New York").

In the novel she is portrayed exactly like that (she even has a jar of pickled human ears...) and she is also a friend of Cudgel Cormac, the bartender of the saloon.

Cudgel, Varius and the hunt for the Piece of Eden

Cudgel Cormac fan art based
on the novel by Sunsetagain
Cudgel appears to be aware of the incoming Riots and of all the plans by the Templars too (attacking the Metropolitan Police in multiple locations to overwhelm it while the city's regiments are still in Pennsylvania because of the Civil War). He even knows that Tammany, according to Tweed's plans, had to end the riots and appear as savior of the city, while it actually was its main agitator.

When Abraham tells him about his mission, Tweed, and the letter, finally the book describes Cudgel as Shay Patrick Cormac's grandson, who followed his path and through Tweed's orders is "called to walk that path and honor that legacy". The book also mentions that he was trained both by his grandfather and by his father in free running and stealth, skills that "the Cormacs had long used" against the Assassins.

Before running towards his mission, Cudgel equips himself like a real Cormac: hide armor, long leather coat, several knives, knuckledusters, a pistol, a Herschel spyglass (a very early version of thermal goggles with a telescope) and…. an air rifle. Or, to better put it, Shay’s air rifle, that was passed on to him (honestly, as a fan, I have to say I don’t mind this kind of fanservice at all…).

The last thing he does before leaving the Hole-in-a-Wall is organizing a safe travel for Abraham towards Tweed’s house with a gang member called Skinny Joe, being him one of Tweed’s man but still a black man in a city where people would have started a racial riot in a few hours.

When Cudgel arrives close to the Astor House, he almost immediately spots the Assassin, dressed with the clothes of the Bowery Boys, one of the street gangs allied with the Republicans. He sees Varius climbing the hotel up to the roof and then descending to a specific window (where the Aztec Club was located). He then tries to get close to the hotel from the nearby rooves, aims his rifle at the window and shoots when he sees Varius's coat billowing from the shadows and... it was a trap. Somehow Varius had realized Cudgel was around (we'll explore that in the second part of this article) and so he used a decoy to attract his attention. After falling for the trap, Cudgel realizes he is at a disadvantage, and so he decides to run towards the hotel, climb it and throw a smoke grenade while getting inside to disorient the Assassin... but Varius has the upper hand again, because he flees through a door and then through another one.

"Never a traitor to the truth!
He never betrayed the Templar
Order! And he taught me how
to kill vermin like you."
Cudgel fan art by Sunsetagain
Cudgel follows him, realizing they are in the rooms of the Aztec Club, an organization that his boss once suspected of being linked to the Brotherhood (this plays an important role in explaining why Varius got to New York in such a risky time and knew exactly where to go, although it doesn't explain why he is stealing from them). Cudgel proceeds to go through another door and realizes he has gone back to the original room: Varius tricked him and was able to go outside the window, outsmarting him again. As he gets to the window, though, Cudgel sees his enemy going on the rooftop and follows him again.

The roof was very high, so Varius couldn't have jumped towards other buildings, so Cudgel stops and a very epic moment ensues. Cudgel tries to taunt Varius saying that he is no match for him and that his grandfather hunted down Assassins like him and Varius, after tossing a throwing knife at him and missing, answers by saying that Shay was an Assassin once and then betrayed the Brotherhood, calling him a coward and a traitor. Cudgel once again answers saying that Shay never betrayed the truth (the Templar Order) and that he taught him to hunt and kill Assassins like Varius. He then readies his rifle, closes his eyes, stills his breathing to avoid being distracted by the Assassin, and then hears the rustle of Varius' robes. He shoots, opens his eyes when he hears him grunting and then tries to reach him as he goes over the ledge of the roof and....

And that's it for this article. I know, it's a cliffhanger, and not even a very well described one (in the book it's portrayed much better of course), but we are almost in the middle of the events shown in the novel. And the Riots haven't even started yet.

Follow us, then, for the next part of this article, where we're going to find out about what happened to Varius, and what is the outcome of the search for the Piece of Eden (bear in mind, the Trident of Eden hasn't been mentioned at all for now)! Stay with us because Last Descendants still has much more to offer, ranging from a light love story in the past to some more action in the present day with a new Abstergo building and new and recurring characters from both Initiates and the Abstergo Handbook!

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