Book review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas started writing in the Throne of Glass world when she was just 16, and she published work online at http://www.fictionpress.com. Having now read Throne of Glass, I can easily see why it was picked up by Bloomsbury.

The novel follows Celaena Sardothien, an 18-year-old girl who has been sentenced to work in the salt mines of Endovier after being caught. Her crime? She is the best assassin in the kingdom of Adarlan.

As we join her, Celaena is about to be offered a deal – fight for Dorian Havilliard (the Crown Prince of Adarlan) in a competition the King has organised to find a champion, win, and after four years as the King’s personal assassin, she’ll be freed.

Celaena is far from a fool, and although the thought of working for the King of Adarlan sickens her, the thought of being free (rather than dying in the mines) wins out. Because of her reputation, Celaena must assume another identity – only the Crown Prince, his friend and Celaena’s trainer Captain Westfall, and a servant know her true identity.

And so we’re whisked into another world, where the royal family lives in a palace of glass, where Celaena must learn to become a fighter on the outside again (she never stopped being a fighter on the inside), and where duty and honour collide. And, as Celaena battles step by step to become the King’s Champion, she must also battle something more sinister – her fellow competitors are being torn apart one by one by something that doesn’t seem entirely human.

The world of Adarlan is intricately woven by Maas, although by the end of the novel there was still lots I felt I didn’t know. The action is confined to the glass palace, and so everything you hear about Adarlan is the stuff that’s said there. So we know that the King is determined to take over just about everywhere, and we know that there are rebel movements around the country. But that‘s it. We don‘t really know what the people down on the ground think, how they act, what they feel. Perhaps Maas has done this deliberately – either because that information is being kept for a sequel, or because widening beyond Celaena and her immediate circle would dilute their stories.

There are four main characters we come to know, and three secondary ones with significant parts to play.

Celaena is young, and you might think it’s difficult to believe that she’s a feared assassin, but she shows both her intelligence and her fighting mind with sentences of the book beginning. I was quickly convinced about how tough she is, which then made it difficult for me to believe in her fear of the King (who is up to no good). He is the only person Celaena is afraid of, and although we know that he was the one who sentenced her to work in the salt mines, we don’t know much beyond that – how she was caught, what she did, what the King knows or said to her. I’m hoping that will come out in later books.

Then there is Captain Westfall (Chaol), who is Celaena’s trainer, guard and protector. I really, really like him, even though I think Maas has barely scratched the surface of his character in Throne of Glass. He’s brave, and honourable, but he’s also affected deeply by what goes on around him, and he rarely takes action without thinking it through. He’s an independent guy, and although he can sometimes be rude, he has a lot of endearing qualities.

The other main male character is Dorian, who is slightly younger than Chaol, and who I found to be a tiny bit spoilt. Okay, he’s a lot spoilt at the beginning, and for a while we only see his cocky, princely side, which is attractive but only in a you-know-this-guy-isn‘t-any-good kind of way. As the book progresses Dorian matures, in fact, he probably does the most growing out of any character we meet. He’s a different character at the end of the book than at the beginning. While I like him, Chaol is my favourite.

The final of the main four is Nehemia, a princess from Eyllwe, a place the King of Adarlan wants to acquire. She’s the princess every girl wants to be – puts her people first, clever, a bit of a rebel, not afraid of danger, beautiful and kick ass. No wonder Celaena wants to be her friend, I want to be her friend. I want to be her.

Other characters we meet along the way are the conniving Duke Perrington, his man-mountain of a champion Cain, and his not-quite-girlfriend Kaltain, who wants to ensnare Dorian and is a devious bitch.

It’s not just the characters that are myriad. Throne of Glass is at times a romance novel (I’m not in love with the romance here, because I think it’s the wrong couple), a ghost story, a fight novel and a commentary on war and greed.

It’s an interesting novel, one that had me gripped. I thought Celaena’s story was well executed, and although the supernatural/ghost element was a bit disappointing, I understood why it was included and felt it fit well in the novel. 

The story of Celaena, Chaol, Dorian and Nehemia is set to continue in Crown of Midnight, and I look forward to joining them again in the world of Adarlan.

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