Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas

Throne of Glass
Sarah J Maas

Bloomsbury USA Children's
Released August 7, 2012
404 pages
YA / Fantasy / Supernatural

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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 exhilarating. 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.

I suppose I get where all the A Game of Thrones comparisons came from, but I don’t think marketing like that really did the book many favors. Yes, it takes place in another land with a dominating king, who wants to take over the world; there are knights and ladies plotting things in the shadows; people and lands with fanciful names; and there is even a magic element tossed in to mix things up. It’s all very surface level, the comparisons. This book is so much more than an A Game of Thrones YA knockoff. It’s a weird The Hunger Games clash with Wintercraft if I must make a comparison.

Throne of Glass follows Celaena, formerly the world’s best assassin until she was betrayed, caught and throne into the coal mines as a slave. The book opens with her being dragged through a fancy palace to the awaiting crown prince, who wants her to act as his champion in a tournament his father is throwing. If she wins, she becomes the king’s personal assassin for four years with generous pay and then is set free, all her past wrong-doings erased. So she doesn’t really have a choice other than to swallow her pride and fight on behalf of the son of the guy she most wants dead in the world.

It’s a bit of a slow start with the prince, Celaena and the royal guard traveling back to the seat of the country. Choal, the captain of the guard, is tasked with making sure Celaena doesn’t get away, so of course there will soon be witty banter and sparks of some kind. The trip does give a glimpse to the magical elements of the story with tales of elves banished and magic made illegal. While some of these magical elements are used further into the story, particularly regarding the veil between worlds, the foreshadowing of other magical things were never brought to fruition. Though I suppose it’s a series and some things must be held close to the vest…

I liked Celaena. She was the perfect balance of girly and badass. I wish she hadn’t spent so much of her time vomiting (it got a bit tiresome after awhile), but I liked her mischievousness, her ability to get under people’s skin and yet still remain vulnerable. She is, after all, just a teenage girl. That she happens to be a trained assassin with a tragic past and the skills to kill you from 100 meters away makes the moments of vulnerability that much more satisfying.

I also like that Maas created two distinctively different guys, who for the most part were both equally nice and deserving of Celaena’s affections. I’m never big on love triangles, but I make exceptions when all three points of the triangle seem to be suitable for the situation. Prince Dorian, while the son of an evil, murderous king who wants to take over the world, is still portrayed as a good guy. It makes sense that in those few scenes where Celaena or Dorian’s walls come down, they see a glimpse of someone they might be willing to get to know.

But my heart lies with Chaol. Poor Chaol. Disowned by his family only to become Captain of the Royal Guard, Chaol is sometimes awkward, mostly stoic and perfectly crushable. He’s the silent type – always in the background, waiting to help and willing to provide a constant source of strength.  And it didn’t hurt that he had several moments of adorable awkwardness. I love boys who are adorably awkward, and Chaol being put in between his best friend and a deadly assassin who is slowly becoming his friend inevitably leads to awkwardness.

The plot involved a lot of palace intrigue with the occasional training montage. Any bits that might have dragged were well paid off by the final confrontation. It’s when the elements of magic, elvish history and the relationships within the love triangle all come together in a spectacular battle, both within the fight circle and the veil between the living and dead as well as within Celaena herself, determining who she’s going to be moving forward. Even though a lot of it takes place in Celaena’s head, the pacing was rocket fast and the outcome satisfying.

So yeah, I really liked Throne of Glass and think there are so many fascinating places Maas can take this series and these characters. I’m still not keen on the A Game of Thrones comparisons, but I don’t think the series is going to need those comparisons anyway. This is a strong start to a new series with so much going for it. The characters are fully formed and fascinating yet still holding secrets back from the reader and each other. The world is well-built, but only a part of it has been revealed. The romance isn’t cloying or battling for dominance with the action and plotting. Overall this is my kind of YA epic fantasy and I can’t wait to see where Maas goes next.

 

I received an electronic ARC of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Thanks Bloomsbury!