Monday, August 5, 2013

Review: Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass #1
Genre: YA, fantasy
Published on August 1, 2012
Published by Bloomsbury
Pages: 404
Read From: 7.31.13 - 8.3.13

"Nothing is a coincidence. Everything has a purpose. You were meant to come to this castle, just as you were meant to be an assassin." 
When magic has gone from the world, and a vicious king rules from his throne of glass, an assassin comes to the castle. She does not come to kill, but to win her freedom. If she can defeat twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition to find the greatest assassin in the land, she will become the King's Champion and be released from prison. 
Her name is Celaena Sardothien. 
The Crown Princes will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her. 
And a princess from a foreign land will become the one thing Celaena never thought she'd have again: a friend. 
But something evil dwells on the castle - and it's there to kill. When her competitors start dying, horribly, one by one, Celaena's fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival - and a desperate quest to root out the source of the evil before it destroys her world.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? No; it has a character impersonator, and it quite honestly looks more futuristic than fantasy. But mostly I dislike the staring character impersonator. I would hope that Celanea wasn't that slightly built; there's no way she could have won the competition!

Characters: I liked Chaol, the Captain of the Guard. He was quiet and sensible and wisely distrusted Celaena. I liked Nox, one of the thieves competing to become the King's Champion. He, too, was quiet and sensible and didn't flirt with or antagonize Celaena. Nox wasn't in the book enough. Princess Nehemia had the makings of a great character, had she been in the hands of another Author. She had quiet strength and a sharp wit, but she too easily accepted Celaena as her friend and started talking too openly with her too quickly. As for the other characters . . . . Dorian was a playboy through and through, and sometimes playboy characters can work, provided the Reader isn't supposed to actually like them as a hero and believe that they have integrity somewhere in their dirty little minds. Unfortunately, Dorian is one of the love interests, so I couldn't stand him. Cain, Celaena's main competitor, had no personality beyond classic chauvinistic, ridiculously-strong male warrior (and I hate cliches like that unless they're making fun of said cliche). Lady Kaltain had no real purpose beyond playing the role of snooty aristocratic girl who has her eyes set on the prince, and therefore hates the protagonist. I like characters like that; they can be a blast to hate. But they also need to serve a purpose beyond being a character the Reader wants to see humiliated. Kaltain didn't. The king was genuinely creepy; as a villain, he was successful. I got nothing but ruthless, cold-hearted tyrant vibes from him whenever he was in a scene, so thumbs up for an awesome villain! Hope he stays that way. And now we come to Celaena herself, the protagonist. I saved her for last for a reason. I could have put up with disliking well over half of the characters if Celaena had been to my liking. However, Celaena is this story's worst weak point, and I cannot tell you how bloody annoying I found her. Assassins are awesome, and sometimes female assassins can even be the coolest. Sybelle from Dark Triumph has got to be one of my favorites, and Jane from Maid of Secrets was awesome as well. But Celaena doesn't even begin to join their ranks. Here we have a seventeen-year-old (or was it eighteen? The book changes its mind halfway through) girl who is the most notorious assassin in the whole kingdom (and I gathered that this was a pretty big kingdom). Okay, I can accept that. What I cannot accept is her attitude. Combining sarcasm with cockiness is a very delicate process when it comes to girl characters. Too much of either can send her into The Attitude (i.e. major chip on the shoulder, femi-Nazi, sometimes neurotic behavior), and then we're just stuck with a girl with a bitchy personality (sorry, but there's no other way of putting it). Enter Celaena Sardothien! No one could tease her without her flying off the handle, and she was constantly simpering and flirting, or acting like a child. I don't know if her obsession with shopping, candy, and parties was supposed to be cute and funny and make it seem like she had an innocent, carefree side, but it didn't work. Hardcore assassin and flirty, whimsical, girlish, "loves pink and butterflies" does not mesh together well. And also, don't mistake serious for pouty. Scowling all of the time gives the impression of the five-year-old who isn't getting her way; there's nothing endearing or funny about that.

The Romance: Ah, and now we get to the story's other big flaw. So there's a love triangle (surprise, surprise). Celaena hates Dorian when she first meets him. He's the son of the king who has conquered and enslaved millions, after all. Why would she like him? But of course, Dorian is different from Dear Old Dad. He may have slept with every woman he's ever encountered, but deep down he has a heart of gold and a great sense of humor. More importantly, he connects with Celaena and wants to trust her. And let's not forget those gorgeous sapphire eyes and that endearing sarcastic smirk that just infuriates Celaena to death! What is it with this prototype? When a guy makes me furious, I don't want to kiss him; I want to deck him! And wanting to punch someone does not equal love. A relationship should not be based on feelings of wanting to do bodily harm to someone. Setting that aside, this is the sort of romance I hate in a book. It makes the protagonist look flimsy and indecisive, and of course turns her into a ball of mush and fluff every time said love interest comes around. FYI: don't make your assassin character want to die of embarrassment, blush, weak at the knees because of someone's touch, or pout. It will destroy their credibility as an assassin. But let's not forget about Chaol, whose growing affection for Celaena is slower, quieter, more level-headed, and ultimately makes Chaol look rather addleheaded. He knows she's dangerous, and yet he ignores good sense. I like you, Chaol, but you're a bit brainless. Naturally, because Chaol and Dorian both like the same girl, that more or less puts them at odds with each other. Now, Dorian and Chaol are childhood friends - like brothers. And while they never go at it, there's an underlying tension between them once they both fall for Celaena, and I hate that in love triangles. I don't want childhood friends fighting with each other over a girl - especially one that doesn't deserve it.

Plot: Celaena Sardothien is the most famous assassin in the kingdom of Adarlan, and the king hates her. Captured, she's sent to the salt mines of Endovier, where she has toiled for two years. Now, Prince Dorian Havilliard is making a deal with her: his father is holding a competition to determine his new Champion. Twenty-four people will compete in a series of tests, and whoever wins will be the new King's Champion. If Celaena agrees to be Dorian's competitor, and wins, she will serve the king for four years and then have her freedom. If she declines, or loses, she will end up back in Endovier. It's an offer Celaena cannot refuse. But Celaena isn't counting on forming friendships at the castle, and soon winning the competition is about more than just gaining her freedom. And when competitors start showing up dead, murdered in horrific fashion, she realizes that evil lurks in the castle, and she may not live to face the final test at all. The general plot idea is interesting, I'll admit. Other than Chaol, Nehemia, and Nox, it was one of the few things I liked about this book. The world of Adarlan is well developed and engaging, and I hope that more of Adarlan's history is explored in later installments, because this book seems to only scratch the surface. The ritualistic murders add a mystery-novel flavor to it, which I always enjoy. However, there's problems. One: the story spends more time on Celaena flirting and pouting than the actual tests. Two: the murder mystery. It's unbelievably easy to solve, and yet the characters hem and haw over it so much that I wanted to scream (actually, I did scream, once I made sure no one was around). Dorian theorizes that the first death was a drunken brawl got out of hand. Um, dude, the body's organs and brain are missing, and the skin has been completely removed from the skull. Not to mention the ominous markings scrawled on the wall with blood. Sounds like a drunken brawl, right? Maybe in Grimm, but this isn't Grimm. Then there's creepy, untrustworthy Duke Perrington with his strange glowing black ring, and his champion who has a matching ring and seems to have grown in strength and size every time Celaena sees him. Chaol even sees Perrington's eyes change color at one point, and Celaena witnesses Cain (his champion) behaving very strangely indeed one night. But we won't suspect them, will we? It's probably just overreaction, or oversensitivity. No, let's instead suspect Nehemia, because she knows the Adarlan language better than she initially let on. I would say that I am giving away massive spoilers, but a kindergartner could solve this mystery within two minutes of reading.

Believability: Yes, this is fantasy, but I am still going to fuss about one fundamental problem. At one point, Celaena is pitted against Cain in a sword fight. Now, Cain is massive. It is made abundantly clear several times that his muscle mass is unbelievable. Okay, so Celaena relies on speed rather than strength; good idea. However, due to unfortunate circumstances, Celaena's speed and agility is impeded and Cain beats the snot out of her. With his fists. And he doesn't really hold back. While Celaena suffers from a cracked rib, deep lacerations, and a bloody nose, what she would really look like is a giant red smear with bits of hair on the courtyard. Cain throws her against a stone wall, grinds her face against hard surfaces, kicks her, pummels her. In short, she would be suffering from very broken ribs, concussion, shattered bones, and there wouldn't even be a nose, because it would have been shoved up to her brain, and therefore killed her. Celaena finishes the fight. No, she wasn't using magic. So, while this may be a fantasy novel, I'm sorry, I am not buying her remarkable resilience against such an onslaught.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. Amazingly, I am actually of the opinion that this story would have benefited from a first-person narration. While I do not relish the idea of being locked up within Celaena's head - she was annoying enough as it is, - I think it would have been better. The way it is, the third person narration makes it seem like the Author is extremely high up on her protagonist, rather than Celaena just being high up on herself. A character can love themselves all they want, but if it seems like it's the Author who is bragging about the protagonist, then there's issues. This book has also created a new rule for good writing: never should a book contain a pet naming scene. There is no way a pet naming scene will not come across as kiddish and silly. I agree that a pet should have a name. The easiest way to do this is by having said pet appear a few scenes later and just casually mention the pet's name. The Reader will come to their own conclusions. On no account should the Author run through every name the protagonist considered, because it will undoubtedly make them seem silly and childish, and the Reader will feel embarrassed for them. Pet naming scenes should also never be used as a way of furthering romantic relations. At least one of the characters will end up looking ridiculous, usually the guy, and that destroys his dignity.

Content: Dorian has a lot of conquests, and it's talked about, but we don't get details.

Conclusion: The final test, a sword fight between the remaining four competitors, was exciting, but it was also ridiculous. See my tirade about believability. That's the sword fight I was addressing. It's just silly! Celaena would have been a grease spot on the courtyard cobbles. I didn't have any predetermined opinion when I picked up Throne of Glass. It could have swung in either direction, and I hadn't had all that bad of experiences with past girl-assassin stories. Well, this was pure torture. I liked the world, the general plot idea, and a couple of the secondary characters. But Celaena put my teeth on edge so much that even the pros could not outweigh the cons. The only way I could finish this was by going to the beach, and the scenery helped. Will I read the sequel? Oddly enough, yes. But it will be like pulling out my fingernails.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, seventeen-and-up, Readers who don't mind convoluted female protagonists and badboy love interests.

Others in This Series:
0.1)The Assasin's Blade
1)Throne of Glass
2)Crown of Midnight
3)Heir of Fire

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