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Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah 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.

I'm slowly getting into more fantasy novels, and when several friends started talking about the second book in this series (and raving about it), I felt like I had to jump on the bandwagon. My impressions? A decent read, but not as good as some on my list (like the Lumatere Chronicles, Graceling, and Girl of Fire and Thorns). Which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it and won't read the next one in the series, just that there were some things that I thought could be done better.

The premise here was enticing enough. Jailed assassin competes in a contest against other assassins and thieves. If she succeeds in winning, then she'll become the King's personal lackey for four years, after which she'll be granted her freedom.  I don't know about you, but once I see the words contest along with assassins and thieves, I'm thinking this'll be like what Hunger Games would have been like if every character were as bad as Clove and Cato. In other words, action, blood, death! And yes, people did die, but not the way you would expect them to with that set of circumstances. I guess what I'm saying is that I really expected more sinister fight-for-your-life stuff to occur. And behind the scenes plotting against each other (more than there was). AND I expected Celaena to be showing off her skills with more vigor than merely winning an archery contest. We're told again and again that Celaena is the best assassin ever, and I think the author lost something by not showing the reader this. Granted there were one or two scenes where she showed "some" of her skills, but they happened MUCH later in the story, and were for the most part kind of "quiet" skills, if you will.

While Throne of Glass may not have excelled at giving me a Hunger Games type feel, it did present a nice mystery. Maas does a good job of introducing a number of suspects, and she manages to throw a surprise into the mix, which threw me off. There was also definitely some gore involved, some nifty symbols, and even some ghosts! All pluses in my book. However the mystery didn't exactly keep me on my toes because the suspense had a habit of dying before it was able to really sink it's claws into me. As I said above, I really wanted to see Celaena showing off her stuff, and sending her to the library intermixed with billiards games with the prince just didn't cut it for me.

But all of that aside, I think the thing that puzzled me most about this story was Celaena's character. We get an early indication that she hates the king. She's appalled by the slavery of the conquered nations and there are of course some hints that he was responsible for the death of her parents (although the backstory on this wasn't entirely clear to me). When an evil force is mentioned that she must defeat, she immediately thinks that the evil force is in fact him, and there is no question that he is evil. YET, throughout the story we're made to believe that Celaena is willing to kill for him if she wins the contest. I get that she wanted out of prison and maybe early on she had no choice but to participate, but at some point in the story she does have a choice. Yet instead of taking her chances and leaving, she decides to stay and continue with the contest and even to commit herself as his assassin. Commence head scratching. Celaena's character was also puzzling to me because I felt as if the author didn't go into much  backstory (there was a love interest in her past that isn't given nearly enough attention), and she didn't explore how Celaena felt about the people she had killed. We have a good indication that she has a heart; she hates the thought of slavery and all the people she left behind in the prison. Yet we don't see how becoming a killer has affected her. The author doesn't delve deep enough into this to me. When all is said and done though, I did enjoy Celaena's character. She's tough, witty, and even though she's a killer and knows how to wield a knife, she still likes to dress up and party. I thought that was kind of a neat way to round out her character; there's nothing that says a warrior  can't enjoy the girly stuff too.

The romance/love triangle: as one might expect, the romance takes up the bulk of the story. On the one side of this triangle, we have Celaena with Prince Dorian, and I did really enjoy the banter between the two. However, I think that I liked Dorian's character more for his flaws than for how handsome he was or how he paid attention to her. I can really see him growing in the next book, and I look forward to this more than I do any romance between the two. On the other side of the triangle we have Celaena with Captain Westfall, and this was a more slow-burning, barely there type of romance that doesn't really get off the ground until the very end of the story. I'm sure there will be more development between these two in the next book, but it seemed like it was almost too subtle. Not in the sense that I didn't see the hint of of what was coming, just that I didn't really sigh with elation when it finally happened. 

Again, overall I enjoyed the story and would recommend it, just not as much as I had hoped. 4 stars




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