Tonight, I’m reviewing Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas, which I’d heard great things about but which has proven to be one of my most disappointing reads of the year.
In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake: she got caught.
Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament—fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted?
MY REVIEW – 2.5 STARS
There seems to have been a mini-trend recently for full-blown high-fantasy (rather than the more traditional paranormal) aimed at a broadly female and teenage market. I’ve read several of these sorts of books recently – Seraphina, Shadow and Bone, and Smoke and Bone (yes, the last two are different books!) and really enjoyed them, but thIs book was by far the weakest of the four. There was nothing actively wrong with it and nothing that wowwed me. Plot, characters, prose – it was all just okay, readable but instantly forgettable.
The plot revolves around Celaena, a young female assassin who’s released from captivity in a hellish salt mine to compete to the death against various other murderers and thieves to become the champion of the despotic king. The main focus of the book is the months long death match, but there’s also a romantic subplot (both the Crown Prince and the Captain of the Guards have a thing for her) and a plot around something evil stirring in the castle and portals to other dimensions.
I quite liked Celaena. She combines toughness, vulnerability and a taste for pretty dresses. Most heroic fantasy tends to have its heroes start from scratch. I thought the cleverest part of the book was making Celaena someone who’s already become famous as an assassin but has since hit rock bottom and lost most of her physical fitness and mental drive. The author didn’t shy away from showing her throwing up when she ate a proper meal after months or starvation, or struggling to keep up on a run. It wasn’t quite as extreme, but the general approach almost reminded me of the broken hero-turned-torturer from The Blade Itself – not a place I’d have expected this sort of book to go. And unlike many similar characters, I thought that most of her decisions made sense, though at times I became frustrated with her refusal to share her suspicions and worries with people.
I’ve always said that I have a high tolerance for “Mary-Sue” type characters – I’d rather read about someone who is extraordinary than someone who is mediocre – but I’ve got to admit that at times Celaena tested even my patience. Fair enough, she had to be an amazing fighter for the competition and she (arguably) had to be beautiful for the love story, but did she also have to be a brilliant piano player and a great dancer? Also, she loves to read, but to me, this felt as though it had been shoehorned in to make her more sympathetic to readers and it didn’t quite work.
The main weakness however was the romance. I just had zero interest in either of the two options and I didn’t feel any real chemistry between them and Celaena, or any real tension between the two of them over who would end up with her.
The other plots were competently handled and quite fun in places, but I just felt like everything here had been done better elsewhere. Just because there’s a kick-ass heroine and a love triangle, it doesn’t mean that a book automatically has to feel clichéd. Shadow and Bone covered similar ground and made it feel fresh and new. But here, the plot just seems a bit old. It didn’t help that I didn’t really enjoy the author’s writing style.
I think that this is much more squarely suited to teen girls than some of the similar books I mentioned, which seem to have more cross-over appeal – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but if you’re an older YA fan, consider yourself warned.
Despite my fairly critical review, I’d cautiously recommend this to people who like the genre and are in the target audience. It’s a vaguely entertaining way to while away a few hours, just don’t expect anything that amazing or new. And if you haven’t read them yet, I’d recommend trying one of the other books in this genre before resorting to this. I’m probably not going to bother with the sequel.