Throne of Glass – by Sarah J Maas
“Meet Celaena Sardothien. Beautiful. Deadly. Destined for greatness.” Celaena’s an assassin, infamous and extremely skilled. But she got caught. When she’s offered an unlikely opportunity to escape from her prison by representing Dorian, the Crown Prince of Adarlan, in a contest to decide who will serve as the Court assassin for three years before being granted freedom, she accepts the challenge. How could Celaena have anticipated how much things would change once she set foot on this path?
The elements of this story are all familiar: there’s a beautiful, dangerous main character with plenty of suffering in their past. There’s a chance of freedom and possibly redemption. There’s a test, in this case a tournament between fourteen champions chosen by the nobility. There’s a corrupt power structure that must change. There’s dissidence in the new generation and the hope of reform/revolution. There’s magic, mysterious forces that have been outlawed for generations but not gone from the world, but that no-one now understands. And there are tangled emotional problems.
Celaena is an interesting main character, the kind I’m coming across with some regularity in current Young Adult Fantasy – strong, prickly, opinionated, stubborn (sometimes to the point of folly). I wonder if these characters are anti-Bella Swans; I’ve certainly noticed them since Twilight exploded in pop-culture. There are still problems, they tend to be formulaic in a different way – I’ve yet to see one of these strong female leads who isn’t “headstrong” at any point in their story, as if being strong-willed and being recklessly obstinate are mutually inclusive. But that’s a different discussion. Whatever the reason for these character traits, I’m a fan of the female leads we’re seeing now, like Celaena.
The development of the three main characters was great, Celaena is likeable and fierce, Prince Dorian is convincingly young and shallow before emerging as less complacent and more aware than you first saw, and his best friend and head of security, Chaol, is taciturn, suspicious and unflinchingly loyal when he feels loyalty is deserved. I loved these people, and their intertwined destinies are something I want to know more about.
The concept behind this story is cool – an opportunity to overcome your past and gain freedom, a potentially very interesting challenge between champions, and uncertainty and hope about the future. But I think the novel tried to do a little too much.
Had it been just about the competition, the test of wills and strengths, the mind games and the competing interests, that could have been compelling. Had it focussed on a young assassin being introduced by necessity to a magic she never knew she was capable of, that could have been interesting. Had the story chosen to follow the Court’s competition behind the scenes of the tournament, with sly political maneuvering, abundant half-truths and countless concealed agendas, it could have been fascinating.
The problem was that Maas tried to include all these elements – as well as a burgeoning love story/triangle – justice, and this served only to dilute the potency of any one of these angles. It became part Hunger Games, part Poison Study by Maria V Snyder, part political drama. (To be fair: all things I LOVE, individually.)
I liked the novel but really wanted more focus, more direction and less plot lines to clutter the storytelling. That would have set this story apart from its (many) contemporaries.
Does Celaena’s tale sound like something to melt your reader’s “heart of ice”?