Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas – Bloomsbury Children’s – Novel: Fantasy, Young Adult – Buy it here – Our Rating: Four Pipes
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.
Here’s a disclaimer. I’m a Fictionpress writer. I’ve been posting on FP for over six years, and I love the site to death, despite its relatively low readership and even lower reviewership. I want to believe in FP writers. Honestly, the thought of going from free-Internet-fic-sensation to published author makes me a bit weepy. And, that’s just what Sarah J. Maas is—an Internet legend. I’m sorry to say I missed the days when Throne of Glass was still Queen of Glass and Sarah J. Maas was posting on FP. She’s basically the center of FP folklore, a veritable literary demigoddess who gives the rest of us hope. I’ve been reading her LiveJournal ever since I first heard the myth, about two years ago. I’ve been waiting, ever so anxiously, for Throne of Glass to release, so that I might understand the novel, or rather, the phenomenon.
And I do. Celaena is a character you want to love. Finally, a kickass heroine who doesn’t sacrifice her femininity to be kickass. She loves glittery dresses and royal parties as much as any fairytale princess, but she also knows more ways to kill you than you could count. She has horrific past, but somehow, in spite of it all, she still knows how to hope. She’s young, so young, too young, really, but she’s strong, and it’s that strength that carries the novel.
The novel’s secondary characters—namely Dorian, Chaol, and Nehemia—are interesting as well, but they weren’t the reason I kept reading. It was all Celaena.
A lot of the talk about ToG centers on the Love Triangle. (Yes, it deserves capital letters.) It seems the Love Triangle has become quite a tired trope in YA, but, you know, as I’ve said before on this site, I don’t read a lot of YA, certainly not enough for YA Love Triangles to squick me by the sheer force of their cliché. Personally, I don’t have a huge issue the idea that it’s possible to have romantic feelings for multiple people at one time. I could go all social scientist on this and deconstruct the notion that the only valid love relationship is a pairing of soul mates, but that isn’t really the point. In terms of this particular threesome, I do believe that Celaena has feelings for both Dorian and Chaol, though she doesn’t seem to be able to differentiate between romantic feelings and friendship feelings. It’s pretty clear that Dorian is infatuated with Celaena, for the very reason that she doesn’t fawn over him the way most women do. Chaol’s grudging affection for the woman beneath Celaena’s super-assassin mask is well-documented, angsty, and believable. All this triangle is missing is some buddy scenes to substantiate the friendship Dorian and Chaol supposedly share. (Actually, I’d love to see someone write Celaena/Chaol/Dorian fanfic because I think they’d make a brilliant triad. I’m not usually one for threesomes, but they could easily be an OT3.) All of which is a long way of saying, as far as Love Triangles go, this one is decently executed.
ToG is an ambitious project, as, I understand, most epic fantasy worlds are. There’s a lot going on, between the competition, court politics, scheming socialites, mythological dalliances, the history of now-forbidden magic, and Celaena’s personal life. It’s a hell of a lot to fit in one novel, which explains the less-than-stellar pacing. I also wasn’t sold on the POV shifts. Over 70% of the novel is from Celaena’s perspective, with odd scenes from various other characters. It seemed a bit unnecessary to me. Either more or less would have been less jarring.
As far as the quality of the writing… I’ve read the four prequel novellas, and it’s strange. You can tell that ToG has been a project ten years in the making because the quality of the writing just… isn’t consistent throughout the course of the novel. On a whole, the quality of prose in the novellas (especially the final novella, The Assassin and the Empire, which is stunning) is higher. ToG has some lovely passages—most of which have to do with stars, for some strange reason—but it also has passages that feel supremely juvenile. Trite, exclamatory interjections. Tired silliness. It seems clear that Maas has matured immeasurably as a writer in the last ten years, which is great, but it made ToG just the slightest bit frustrating to read.
But like I said, it’s Celaena who carries the novel. Once you start reading about her, you can’t stop caring about her fate. Or, at least, I couldn’t.
So, read Throne of Glass. It isn’t a perfect novel by any means, but it’s a respectable debut, and it has something important: passion. It’s a labor of love—not just Maas’s love, though that much is abundantly clear, but also the thousands of fans’ love. It’s difficult to explain, but the novel feels like hope. Celaena’s hope, Maas’s hope, and somehow, magically, your hope, too. It isn’t a perfect novel, no, but it did something few novels do. It touched me. It made me feel like hope again. So I’ll say it again: Read Throne of Glass, and don’t stop hoping, whatever it is you’re hoping for.