Thursday, February 11, 2016

THRONE OF GLASS: A REVIEW

Throne of Glass
Written by: Sarah J. Maas
Paperback: 404 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Language: English
May 2013
Genre: Young Adult/Series/Fantasy

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. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

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.


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Fantasy has been on my mind of late. The Rogue and I have been watching the Chronicles of Shannara and Galavant, and of course I am quite excited to watch the upcoming season of Game of Thrones. I have heard a ton of praise for the Throne of Glass series but passed by the book prominently displayed many a time. While I love high fantasy shows and movies, I am not that big of a fan when it comes to fiction. For me they are a bit too formulaic. So many authors spend so much time world building and giving characters names that sound like prescription meds and not a lot of effort into an actual plot. Often time it’s like reading the transcription of my level one D&D characters and first ever quest. There is a lot of forest, walkabout times and not a whole lot else until the latter half of the book. But you have to read the whole book to get to the good stuff.

Eventually the cover won me over. How could it not. It is a thing of beauty. When I was trying to find the book cover for the review, I saw one of the alternate convers. One definitely is trying to do the Cinderella assassin thing while the other one, the version I have, clearly says I will frakking end you on the front and the back is also I will end you but in this pretty frock. I immediately start thinking of Drizz’t. I kind of want to frame the artwork and put it up in our geek gallery at home for the Rogue and I. And then you read the back, the synopsis sells me straight away. I might actually get into fantasy again.

"We all bear scars, Dorian. Mine just happen to be more visible than most…”

Eighteen year old Celaena Sardothien (lovely name that rolls off the tongue don’t you think…or is it just me), expects to die in the salt mines of Endovier. She bears the scars of special attention her reputation as the Empire’s notorious assassin has earned her. And then one day she is brought from the pits to see his Royal Highness, Prince Dorian Havilliard. He offers her freedom. But there is a catch. Celaena must be his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. If she succeeds in besting her opponents (other killswords, thieves, and soldiers), she will then become the King’s Champion and do his bidding for the time allotted and then she is free. Of course this is the same King that has decimated her homeland and enslaved and killed so many, but to be finally free is too good of an offer to pass up.

Trained by the Captain of the King’s Guard, Celaena soon finds herself entering the competition under the guise of a merchant’s daughter who also happens to be a thief. Then the other contestants begin to turn up dead, ravaged by a creature and an evil no one had expected. If she is not careful, she might be its next victim.

Like I said I had been hearing a ton about the Throne of Glass series, but as per usual I am a bit late to the party. Before I begin I will say that this is not the book I expected, but I liked it all the same. This is not a teen Game of Thrones. It is not even a young adult version of Drizz’t, but with a girl. This is based on Cinderella with an assassin who spends a lot of time doing non assassin-y things for the majority of the book and more girly girl things. This is not to say that I did not like the book. I enjoyed it enough that I just bought the second book in the series and have started to read it. However this was not the story I was expecting based on the kick ass cover (seriously that thing is a work of art) and the synopsis. There are also four prequel novellas that unfortunately I did not get a chance to read before Throne of Glass. Maas recommends reading them before Throne of Glass as they give more background on Celaena. I have not yet read them so I don’t know if they help add any depth or discovery to this first novel of the series.

Things I liked: You have me hooked when your lead character is a bad ass assassin who gets what is essentially a day pass and maybe even her freedom, but only after she succeeds in becoming number one in a Hunger Games/Survivor like competition where the best merc/assassin/thief/etc wins. It had me hooked. Really it did, even when I knew there would be a love triangle and possibly some other tropes. But then they show up it the castle and all of that changes, but I will get to that later. The pacing is quick. It is not hard to turn the pages at all.

There are also enough questions that I want to read more (though admittedly some of these questions might be answered if I read the prequel novellas). Who are Celaena’s parents? What is the history between her and the King? Was she as girly girl when she wasn’t assassinating people before? I want more about Sam, etc, etc.

I like Celaena, I do. I like that at times you can see the cold blooded girl (for example when she talks about making it to the wall while in Endovier) and I believe that she could have been an assassin. I see glimpses of a great assassin when I see that she is well read, speaks more than one language, skilled with more than one weapon as I see those as ways to get close to your victim. When I think assassin I am not necessarily thinking ninja, then again not necessarily Lady de Winter…maybe somewhere in between. And also an eighteen year old girl. But I also think that being an assassin means you leave a lot of things at the door or you can’t do your job. There has to be a certain sense of detachment. And let’s face it she never had a childhood. The way I see it is Celaena should be a bit of a sociopath (aka Sameen Shaw) and be completely detached from the kill notches in her belt and every other character or be a little bit damaged (aka Dutch from Killjoys). Celaena isnt really any of those. Maybe Maas was afraid to make her too adult and was pressured to keep her young in spirit. I don’t know. But Throne of Glass is like reading two different books with two different characters. It’s odd. All I know is I like half of Celaena in this first book.

I like that she is not entirely likeable. I like that she is imperfect. I like that maybe she is trying to regain that sense of whimsy and wonder she may have had growing up. I like that she wants to play Cinderella for a day or nine and pretend that she hasn’t done any of the things, or lost the things that she has. I like that she is a total girly girl and loves sweets and books and music and handsome men. And yet…I am annoyed at how bratty she can be. I dislike her Mary Sue-ness in that she is apparently amazing at everything. I dislike that for being a notorious assassin she forgets a lot of her training and instincts the moment she gets a warm bed, a pretty dress, and a mirror. I think Celaena can be both a girly girl and a killer. I just don’t think it was well written. Perhaps too far to the right and the left when it should have been more balanced and in the middle. Although I hear this is the weakest of the series when it comes to her characterization so I am hoping it gets better and am willing to take that chance.

I guess I kind of wanted her to be a bit like Eretria from the tv version of Shannara (haven’t read the books so if she differs wildly, I don’t know that). You can see that she is constantly looking out for herself, gauging her exits, finding the points and buttons to manipulate. And yet you can also see that she wants more. You can see that being an Elven princess for a day would be fun. That freedom would be fun. That being normal and having friends and lovers and laughter would be ideal. She is torn between the life that she was given and the life she wants. I guess my disappointment stems from the fact that I fell in love with Celaena in the beginning and eventually in the end, but wanted to strangle her in the middle. It’s not that Cinderella Celaena is bad if you take that part of the story out of the overall plot, but she is different from the Celaena. Anyway I will move on. This probably makes no sense.

Now sure the romantic triangle is a trope, but I kind of got on board. Despite being more of a Chaol fan (Dorian seems too forced and unrealistic), I like both him and Dorian. They are different characters. I can see where I think Maas was trying to go with Dorian. Sure Dorian plays the bratty womanizing prince quite well (I guess it pays to be the conquering King’s son). But I also see him growing and changing just by having Celaena in his life. I like that he starts thinking for himself, questioning things. I see the potential for a good King in there, even though I am not sure he will get that far as he would need to be ruthless to take out his father and I don’t think he is or could be that person. That person will never be for Celaena, anyone can see that. Chaol is different. As a soldier he shares some traits with Celaena. He is cold, calculating, careful…things that make him a good soldier, but like Celaena I think he wants more. He is the more realistic romance, less contrived certainly. In a way I don’t think Dorian has a chance. To the point where I could see her with Nox more than I could the Prince. Although, to be honest, both Dorian and Chaol are both just dazed by Celaena’s beauty and awesomeness at everything instead of what I think could be amazing complexity in latter books. Ah boys, “serpent hid with a flowering face”.

Speaking of characters, I loved Nehemia. I would like more of her please.

Finally, I dig the Wyrdmarks (though I think that whole plotline could have been better executed instead of just randomly thrown in…at least that is what it felt like). I liked Elena and where I see this series going. Sometimes I just felt like the only purpose of this book was to set up the rest of the series.

Things I didn’t like so much: The plot is fairly strong at first, but then it gets a bit un-even and then I feel like I am reading a completely different story. Everything slows. The assassin-y bits go away which is sad cause I was looking forward to those bits. Suddenly Survivor: The Assassins Edition is told through brief comments and asides and suddenly it’s all about dresses and balls and your lead becoming an immature brat who needs to be pampered and apparently gets everyone to do exactly what she wants. Why does she have a gaggle of guards ready to kill her if she dares try to escape?

This is where I stop liking Celaena. Preparing for a contest that might take your life if you’re not careful would seem like an important thing that Celaena should consider. After all her freedom is the most important thing in this whole book and so I would make sure all of my ducks were in a row. Especially if I had been out of the game for a while. Even if Chaol tells you to stay in the middle, I would be finding my opponents weaknesses. I would find things to exploit. I would make sure that I win the damn thing. Instead Celaena becomes preoccupied with all of the things she may have had at one time (fine gowns, a library and all the books it holds, the piano, billiards, etc). Even when contestants start dying one by one. As I said this is where I see the Cinderella re-telling. This is where there is another story going on and not the one I started reading. And yet it isn’t completely unenjoyable if that was the only bits I got. But I have expectations now. I like Celaena from the beginning. I like assassin Celaena. I like means to an end and biding my time Celaena. And I so crush on my freedom is more important than a dalliance Celaena. Sometimes bad ass and yet flawed Celaena comes out to play (my assassin with the heart of gold). I see her in moments with Nehemia. I see her running about with Nox. But I wanted more. I expected more because I know she is there.

“You could rattle the stars,” she whispered. “You could do anything, if you only dared. And deep down, you know it, too. That’s what scares you most.”

As I said this was an interesting book to review. It has things I love: action, thrills, mystery, mythical beasts, quests, a little hint of romance, etc. I enjoyed it and yet was disappointed at the same time. There are times I wanted to throw the book at the wall, but kept going. I never stopped turning the pages. I wanted to get to the end. So for all the highs and lows I recommend giving it a go, just leave some expectations at the door.

Buy or Borrow: Buy or at least grab it from the library.

Part of:Series.

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2)
Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass, #3)
Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, #4)

Also Recommended: For more assassin-y goodness try The Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb. Other great books are Poison Study by Maria V Snyder, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, and the Sellsword series by R.A. Salvatore (yay Artemis).

3 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

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