Written by: Sarah J. Maas
# 1 / 5+ in the Throne of Glass series
Review: 3 / 5 stars
Summary: After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for four years and then be granted her freedom. Then one of the other contestants turns up dead … quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.
Celaena: “I want to thank you.” / Chaol: “For what?” / Celaena: “For making my freedom mean something.”
Review: This is one series that I feel I have seen circulating on almost every “Best of YA” lists recently, and I finally decided to delve into it as there are already five books and a promise of more. Although I usually shy away from books with covers such as these, that promise high fantasy and generally fall short of the mark, it was the female assassin and her general badass look on the cover that sold me. At first I was like, ooh yay! A book about assassins, a competition to rule out the best, and a girl who escaped from a slave camp to prove herself. All of this sounded amazing to me. But then I see, in the way back of the book with the bonus material, that Maas used Cinderella as an inspiration and I become instantly wary, but decide to start the book anyway.
I’m not saying I regret picking up the book, but I am saying it was definitely false advertising on the whole promise of a kickass female assassin as the protagonist. One thing that always bothers me about female “assassins” and “warriors” in a lot of books is that they have to spend a lot of time pretending to be someone, something they are not – a courtesan, a princess, a noblewoman, whatever. Their type of killing is more like going on tiptoes in high heeled shoes around asinine men who are too trusting, and while this makes for a decent story, I want a story of a raging, uncontrollable killer who simply slips in and slips out when the situation warrants it, rather than pulling a long con full of promised romances. Male assassins don’t generally have to dress up as noblemen to reach their target, so why do the females? Also, I really find it hard to believe that Celaena is literally the only woman in all of the lands deemed fit enough to partake in the competition. Seems like there should be at least one other woman, even if they don’t make it far in the competition itself. But I digress.
There are some aspects of the writing that Maas does get right, which is why this book isn’t a one or two star. The actual process of the King’s Champion competition is interesting and makes the story very easy to read, as the process of how the Champions begin to drop by a mysterious force had me continuously turning the pages to find out who died next and who was doing the killing. I really did enjoy whenever assassins were paired against Celaena and she destroyed them, despite their lowest expectations of her. Additionally, the plotlines revolving around magic and its history in Adarlan, especially the creatures and figures that arise related to it, really added that extra element to the story that Maas needed to hook me in. They do add so much more to the plot, and promise that magic will continue to become increasingly relevant in subsequent books in the series. Unfortunately, I can’t say more about this is in fear of spoiling something in the plot. However, I am also excited to see how far into explaining the past Maas goes. I have so many questions about the origin, evolution, and rise of The King of Adarlan and his over-encompassing powers; about his loyal advisor, Perrington’s, true intentions; and of the fate of far-flung lands such as Terrasen, which was once the center of all magic in Adarlan before the King came in and destroyed everything. She has the very basic foundation created for a wonderful world, and missed an opportunity to delve deep into it, and I hope she takes advantage of it in further books.
Perhaps my biggest grievance with this books is Celaena Sardothien, the main character. Celaena is supposed to be, I presume, a fearsome character who we respect for her various amount of skills. Although I am impressed by her vast knowledge of poisons and her ability to survive a slave camp as notorious as Endovier, there are many other aspects of being an assassin that, even if present, Maas simply doesn’t even cover in the book, instead deciding to focus on her romantic interludes and way too many references to her beauty. I suppose Maas focused on Calena’s more – let’s say, feminine – side of her personality to highlight that being a slave in a salt mine changed her and allowed for her to want things that normal teenage girls do. But that’s not what I was promised this story was about. When Maas does bother to include more information on Celaena’s list of skills as an assassin, it seems to almost come out of nowhere, which I suppose could be an indicator of Celaena wanting to keep her true self under wraps, but she is so arrogant about everything else that why wouldn’t she want to share her assassin skills with the world? Also, there has got to be something more to her than what Maas has mentioned thus far, because I don’t think she would have been able to defeat as many people as she did without a little extra help on the side somewhere. All I know is that her acting so sketchy when talking about her lineage seeds some distrust in my mind. If it turns out she’s from Terrasen, the land of magic that is all but extinct and was once home to the all-mighty/all-magical Faes, I will even more aggressively refer to her as “Mary Sue”, but at least things would make sense.
My other largest grievance in this book is the introduction of the godforsaken love triangle, or at least the auspicious beginnings of one. The love triangle in Throne of Glass is extremely lopsided; one person seems like the obvious choice for her, at least to me, although I do enjoy both characters as individuals. First, there’s Dorian, who is naturally the prince of Aldaran that falls for Celaena. Because of course. Dorian’s father, the King, is one of those leaders who rules with an iron fist and an iron sword and an iron will that makes him basically a horrible tyrannic ruler… but of course, despite the fact that he is his father’s son, this trait seems to have skipped Dorian. Although he definitely is arrogant at the beginning of the story, flirting with girls left and right and expecting Celaena to swoon underneath one of his stares, he is shown to be just a young man who is unsure of himself and the role he plays in his own life and those around him. Perhaps I like Dorian just based on the scene where he brings Celaena to the kennels and we see his love for his hounds his raises, or when he takes her to the library and we see his love for books. But Celaena and his relationship seems to be more of a friendship with benefits kind of thing than anything, as they look to each other for advice and for solace but not in any sort of romantic way. But then there is the Captain of the Guard (and Dorian’s best friend) Chaol, who I believe to be visibly favored by Maas’ writing despite Celaena’s dalliances with Dorian. Chaol is loyal to a fault, brilliant as a soldier and an advisor to Dorian, and the calm to Celaena’s storm. He just pairs better with Celaena, despite the fact that all of her rule breaking and her obvious lack of loyalty to the throne go against everything Chaol has been built for. However, I believe that these major differences in their philosophies of both their lives and their occupations would allow for both of them to grow professionally and personally as individuals and together. But I know – I just know – that Celaena is going to do something to destroy it, because that’s the kind of character she is.
Speaking of Celaena’s various relationships, perhaps the best one in the entire novel is not a romantic one at all. Instead, it is the friendship that she creates with Nehemia, a princess and foreign emissary from the far away country of Eyllwe, who arrives in the Capitol to negotiate with the King about enslaving her people. Where Maas lost my interest with her flimsy definition of “assassin”, she gained it back when she introduced the quickly developing bond between Nehemiah and Celaena, and how Nehemia really works as the best voice of reason in Celaena’s life that she so desperately needs. Ultimately, I wish Nehemia was the protagonist of this story as she brings honor and peace to her people in Eyllwe – but unfortunately, that is not the story Maas wants to tell, and I have to be okay with that. There is another character who also helps guide Celaena in her decisions that I will not name or discuss at length to prevent spoiling anything, but I also felt that although she could be aggravating, she was just as necessary as many of the other characters in this book and I know her role will prove to be vital in later books, just as I know Nehemia will become vital to Celaena’s story as well. I look both forward to both of these characters becoming more relevant.
As for the “villains” in this story, there certainly is no lack of evil… but there is a thorough lack of explanation. I like to be able to sympathize with the villains in any story, or at least understand where they are coming from even if it is not a origin or idea that I agree with. Obviously the King of Adarlan, his main advisor, Perrington, and their assassin in the contest, Cain, are all driven by power, but I wonder what brought them all to this point. Most especially, I am wondering why the King of Adarlan is as evil as he is – because he is, without a doubt, one of the worst leaders I have ever seen, disrespectful to almost everyone around him and sharing no love with his sons or wife. The amount of power that he has, and that he bestows on those who work for him, is immense, but again – not thoroughly explained. Although I can tell that the King and Perrington will become challenging adversaries to Celaena and perhaps other characters further in the series, it’s hard for me to feel anything toward them than a basic dislike because that is how their characters are presented to me. But I do not feel fearful of them or disgusted with them or respect for their planning prowess or anything like that. And I hope Maas makes me feel that way in the next four books.
Ultimately, the only real reason this book received three stars is because I do think Celaena is written well as a character, and it really affects other plot lines and characters in the book. I know that this will not change, as Maas obviously has almost a blinding love for her main character, but I hope that Maas will convince me more throughly in the next books that Celaena is a likable character, which I know is possible considering how much I loved Nehemia, Dorian, and Chaol. Additionally, I always like to know “why?”, and every time I asked this question, it went unanswered. I had to keep reminding myself that this was normal as it was just the first book in the series, but I need at least some answers in the next book or else I might go crazy. More over, I am excited to pick up the next book in this series, to see if Maas’ writing has evolved to allow for a continuation of an already promising story, and to finally capture my entire attention at the end.