I believe I first heard about Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas, when there was this big to-do about the latest novel of the series, Queen of Shadows. The furor of the fans reminded me of Twilight, what they were saying reminded me of both Twilight and a fantasy version of The Mortal Instruments. In case anyone doesn’t know what that entails: a young adult level novel of teenage angst and “romantic” drama. As in, the kind of draaaamaaaa that makes adults roll their eyes and offer a brief prayer for the protection of one’s sanity until these teens have freaking grown up. Basically, I wasn’t very impressed.
Still, I knew that wasn’t entirely fair of me to think without giving the book a proper chance to defend itself. My extended experimentation effort continues, and I recalled my experience with Ember in the Ashes especially, where I was technically correct, but still pleasantly surprised. In the worst-case scenario, I figured, I’d have wasted a few dollars, so what the heck? I bought the kindle version on Amazon.
Note that I had to go through some justification to take this particular literary risk. Once I let something into my mind, I can never really be rid of it short of a severe blow to the head, so… I try to be just a little careful. 😉
So, for me, the question wasn’t just, “Is it worth it?” The question was also, “Did I just scar my brain?” 😛
I am happy to answer that second question with a relieved, “No.”
The first one is a bit more involved, but comes out to, “Maybe. Depending on what you like.”
Let’s see if I can elaborate on that without spoiling everything. Let’s start at the beginning.
Erilea is a large continent in a fantasy world. For the past decade or two, one nation, Adarlan…
…ok, I am sorry, but the first time I read it, I momentarily misread it as Ardalan ( 😛 ) so when I realized it was “Adarlan,” I could not help but wince every single time I read it like “A Darlin'” throughout the rest of the book. I know, I hate it when people quibble over details, so I hate that that’s what I did, but I can’t help it now! 😛
…so, Adarlan’s king has been expanding his nation into a full-blown empire that covers nearly half the continent, and he intends to make it the whole continent in due time. In this effort, there is a great deal of spilled blood, much of it innocent, but that is the least of his abhorrent crimes. The man’s soul, if he still has one, is a walking cornucopia of abomination. He butchers anyone in his way, whether or not they’re soldiers, men, women, and children alike. He enslaves anyone who manages to survive long enough, sending them to extreme locations to be driven by brutal overseers in hellish conditions. He bans magic, burning books and practitioners alike. For that matter, he destroys entire vast libraries of knowledge out of sheer spite while greedily amassing a personal collection that defies feasibility. He is, in short, taking everything he wants and destroying anything he can’t have, and anyone who dares defy him. To that latter end, he wants a “champion” he can send to quietly kill inconvenient people, so, really, an assassin.
Enter Celaena Sardothien. For all that she’s only nineteen, she has a fearsome reputation as “The Assassin of Adarlan,” which is apparently the rank given to the very best member of a certain assassins’ guild. A year ago, she and someone she loved were betrayed by someone within the guild (she has her suspicions, which I share) resulting in his death and her capture and imprisonment at one of the aforementioned hellish slave camps. The king himself sent her there, and gave special instructions that she was not to be killed, so her suffering could be prolonged, her death especially slow. After a year like that, she’s understandably not in top form anymore, but still capable and dangerous, as attested to by the overseer body count she’s racked up. Oh, and the fact that she’s lasted a year where most others succumb around three months, give or take.
And now comes a gallant young Prince of Adarlan, Dorian. His father the king wants a “champion,” but instead of picking one, he’s holding a quiet little tournament, where each of the chief nobles, meaning those on his council, pick a champion to sponsor, testing and training them in various ways, eliminating them and sending them back to whatever hell-hole they were found in, and finally, the last four contenders fight each other. Last champion standing wins. Dorian, ever one to not walk in lock-step with his father, chooses Celaena.
With him comes Chaol, Captain of the Guard, who is as strict and rigid as Dorian is not. Part of his job now involves training Celaena, helping her get back up to full strength in time for the combat test. He does his duty, but certainly does not appreciate being around a convicted assassin, and tries in vain to diminish Dorian’s interest in her as well.
Toss in a foreign princess who becomes friends with Celaena, the spirit of an ancient queen who gives Celaena a sacred charge, a few notable champions with varying degrees of friendliness or animosity towards her, a scheming lady who wants to attach herself to Dorian, and a noble or two, and you’ve got Throne of Glass in a nutshell. Oh, and the champions are getting killed off, one by one, so the stakes for every possible outcome really couldn’t be any higher for everyone involved.
It’s a fairly pleasant read, I will readily admit. The fantasy setting is intriguing. The hardships Celaena in particular and the world in general are enduring are tragic and sadly believable. The villains behind the scenes are despicable. The overarching plot is thrilling. The characters, at least some of them, are lovable.
But I have some issues here. Two, actually.
First and foremost: the romantic entanglements.
In particular, the forming triangle between Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol. Celaena and Dorian don’t interact that much, but they share some common interests, like reading, and they share a concern for the people suffering under the king’s rule. Chaol is the one spending time with her every day, slowly learning that not everything about Celaena is negative just because she’s an assassin and does not conform to his narrow worldview. With Dorian, the attraction is clear but also forbidden (yeah, real smart, Your Majesty, commanding your rebellious son not to get close to her), and seems mostly based on that and possibly idol worship. Meanwhile, Chaol’s feelings aren’t let out very much, but his interest, too, is clear, if only by how much he tries to resist liking her, and keep her and Dorian apart. Still, it’s more believable, I think, to fall for someone you spend a great deal of time with, even if it doesn’t strike me as a very good match, per se.
Then there’s how Sarah J. Maas addresses the physical attraction. It. Was. Everywhere. Whenever Celaena and the two men happened to either be around each other or even thinking about each other, there was almost always at least one, usually several, comment about some physical feature they found attractive. I understand that they’re human, but having them think about each others’ nice bodies all the time? That’s a bit much!
Basically, it all seems to just happen “just because.” I hate love stories like that! I contrast that with Ember in the Ashes, where the attractions all seemed quite a bit deeper and more legitimate than that.
Second issue: the “mysteries.”
Of course, I had an outside perspective, but it was pretty obvious that the king and his closest adviser were up to no good, including calling on the dark arts. I was a little surprised by how the whole blood-stained fiasco was nothing more than an experiment, but I correctly identified the players and figured out the general shape of their scheme. The only thing that threw me for a loop was one particular scene where I could have sworn one of Celaena’s enemies was trying to tell her what was going on, maybe to warn her and beg her for help, but failed to do so (there was mojo involved in that). That little behavior was never mentioned again, however.
I could also figure out the general “mystery” of Celaena’s past. There are some pretty obvious indications that she is the surviving princess of a certain conquered kingdom, that her parents were murdered in their beds, her kingdom overrun, and she was taken in by an assassin, protected and trained. I’m guessing her enemies know her identity too. The king certainly seems to have a special dislike of, and therefore a special interest in, Celaena, but it seems he can’t operate too openly in this matter, for some unexplained reason. That last would be the one mystery I haven’t guessed yet.
Oh, and, no surprise, the king only banned magic so he could have a monopoly on its power. Just like every other government official who disarms his people, it’s just to give himself more power over them.
One thing about mysteries and clues is that they need to be a bit more opaque than I found these to be.
So, the romance and the mysteries could be done a bit more gracefully. I still found myself enjoying this novel. It just flowed so well, and I could relate to Celaena’s addiction to books quite well! 😀 So, problems notwithstanding…
Rating: Throne of Glass gets 7 stars out of 10.