Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas

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 three 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.
It's been a long time since I've been so anxious to read a book. Granted, my memory isn't the best, but ever since talk started circulating about Throne of Glass right before the BEA, I've wanted to get my hands on a copy. I even did a Wishlist Wednesday post where I blathered to the point of incoherency.

As if I weren't in enough agony, Ms. Maas released four Throne of Glass novellas - itty-bitty prequels, if you will - to set up the novel. I devoured those novellas. They were excellent. (Seriously, buy the novellas.)

So, after all that buildup, how did I end up liking the book? Well, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that Throne of Glass did not end up being "The Book To End All Books." There were definitely areas that could have been improved, which I'll expound upon shortly. 

The good news is that I still really, really enjoyed the book. And by enjoyed, I mean devoured it in less than 24 hours.
Try to bear with me as I fumble through this review. One thing you all must know is that my take is completely skewed because of the novellas. I don't know how the book would have read without them, so you'll just have to find a review from someone who skipped the novellas to find out.

First off, I adore Celaena. A-D-O-R-E. She's got the kick-butt heroine thing going on with her fighting skills and climbing skills and killing skills, etc. She's got the wicked smart and snarky thing going on. (I love a girl that knows the irritation factor of a well-timed grin.) And she's girly. 

I know being girly has taken a hit recently, but I can't even begin to describe how much Celaena's vanity tickled me. C'mon, she's seventeen and smokin' hot. If she likes dresses, let the girl wear dresses!  Just because a girl happens to obsess over the color pink or knows how to properly accessorize an evening gown does not make her any less smart or deadly. Nor does being able to gut a man in seconds mean that a girl can't appreciate the finer things in life.
Though wouldn't this girl
be great as Celaena in the movie?

What I liked best, though, was Celaena's heart. Despite being deadly and pretty, she's hardly Glimmer from Hunger Games. We don't know much about Celaena's past other than that she's from Terrasen (a land conquered by the king of Ardalan), her parents are dead, and it's likely the king's fault. Despite being an assassin, she burns for justice. The innocents weaker than her are treated with sympathy and kindness. Powerful tyrants are treated with hatred and disdain. She's spent nine years of her life killing, but she manages to retain her humanity.

The only thing I didn't like about Celaena was how her temper was written. Yes, she's a hothead. I like hotheads. But I didn't understand some of the things that made her angry. In some scenes, I felt like she was given a certain reaction just to remind us of her temper, which was completely unnecessary. I hope in future books to see her rein herself in a bit.

The story itself was a bit different from what I expected. I thought it would be a lot of fighting and trickery and such, with much of the attention focused on the testing. Hardly. With a few exceptions, most of the other competitors were quickly glossed over (alas, poor Eye Eater, we barely knew ye). Even most of the Testings were only mentioned in passing.

I can't say too much, but most of the story centers on talk of... magic. Mmhmm. Didn't see that one coming, did you? I admit to grumbling through much of the book thanks to the magic. The religious system seemed a bit shaky. See, magic is supposedly banished in this book, but I somehow got the impression that said magic was tied to the religious holidays and services that were permissible. Or maybe not. As I said, the details were a bit shaky for me. I'm also just not a magic kind of girl.

Still, I accepted the premise by the end, and I hope that the various systems in Celaena's world will be deepened and expounded upon in future books. Oh, and can I put in a request now for some really awesome adventures outside Rifthold? I've been wanting to visit those giant spiders and the iron-teethed witches since The Assassin and the Desert.

The highlighted characters were interesting, though some remained a bit vague in their ambitions by the end of the story. Princess Nehemia of Eyllwe in particular was a real gem. She stole some of the spotlight from Celaena with her wit and keen intellect, which is saying a lot.

Now for the love triangle. To be honest, I found it a bit lacking. Celaena captures the attention of both Crown Prince Dorian and Captain Chaol Westfall, but the contest on its face is a bit lopsided. One man gets the blushes and the flirting and the kisses and the whispered secrets. We're also allowed into said man's head multiple times, whereas the other man is allowed far less inner-monologue page time. No, I won't tell you which ones Dorian and Chaol are. I will say I was displeased with how the attraction between Celaena and the men was handled in the beginning. All three seemed much too willing to let themselves become friends (okay, Chaol held off better), and I thought it especially out of character for Celaena to hold any sort of feelings for Dorian at all after declaring that she would rather cut her own heart out than love someone from his family. Very wishy-washy. I didn't feel like the trust present was sufficiently earned.

I would have been happy to let this book be about friendship and trust and leave any possible romantic entanglements for the next book. I will say, however, that I am very firmly in Chaol's corner on this one and thought that he had possibly the most romantic moment of the entire book. I just wish I missed Sam less. (If you read the novellas, you'd understand.)

Ergh, time to wrap it up. Okay, in the next book I would like to see improvements on building believable relationships, adventures outside of Rifthold, some concrete discussions about all this magic stuff, the return of certain characters who were unceremoniously dumped in the Test... Oh, and appearances by characters from the novella. We've got to iron out that whole AVENGE SAM!! thing, remember?

But I'm glad I put this book on my birthday list, and I hope to add it to my bookshelf soon. Now Ms. Maas just needs to hurry up and work on that blasted sequel!

Points Added For: Celaena and her awesomeness, Nox, Chaol, the Eye Eater (somehow I think he and Billy Dent from I Hunt Killers would've gotten along), knives galore, a REALLY EPIC CLIMAX FIGHT SCENE.

Points Subtracted For: A meh love triangle progression, the sneaking suspicion that this book won't be as cool for those who haven't read the novellas, an awful lot of magic, Celaena's silly temper, and the old gag of a guy giving a girl an animal to make her coo.

Good For Fans Of: The Graceling series by Kristen Cashore, female assassins, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (just based off my own observations of who's talking about what), love triangles.

Notes For Parents: Magic, murder, scary beasties, language (I think I remember d's, h's, s's, and both versions of b's).

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