The short: 2/5 ✦. The main character is clearly in the wrong story, and the plot only survives due to a tenuous degree of suspense.
Though to be fair, it wasn’t as awful and horrible as I was expecting it to be (being almost entirely one-dimensional). I’ve seen a lot of praise for these books, but also a lot of hate – not much of a middle ground. I was actually warned off this book because of the love triangle (and that terrible cover), and I admit to much eye-rolling as the story progressed (like, tw0-thirds of it is devoted to lovey stuff, seriously).
But mostly, I really hated Celeana.
I kept telling myself that maybe I was supposed to? Maybe she was an unlikeable character for a reason? But honestly, Maas did everything possible to make her as “appealing” as possible – she even likes books! None of it seemed realistic to me at all. Can bad-ass assassins like frilly dresses? Of course! Can a lady be as skilled at the piano as with a blade? I don’t see why not! But Celeana was unbearably stuck in the middle of these extremes, which made them all unreasonable – no matter how many times she informed us how awesome she is.
I narrowed down this incongruity to a single narrative point: her being enslaved at the prison.
Everything would’ve made so much more sense if she was the snotty assassin spoiled at the guild until she got called into the Contest. Her behavior would make more sense, her obsession with fashion and food would make more sense, her preference for sleeping instead of fighting would make more sense, her indecision over which boy to woo (ughhhh) would make more sense – do you see where I’m going with this?
AND THE THING THAT GETS ME IS THAT IT IS TECHNICALLY CANON. She was a spoiled brat, specifically raised to be the top assassin and constantly rewarded as such. She says so herself! So in a better story, she’d basically be a princess in this guild, able to do no wrong, then she would have a rude awakening at the King’s Contest, where she would deal with dishonest rules, evil competitors, matters of the heart (gag), and all the magic stuff. Her self-esteem would be taken down a few pegs – and there would be character development. She would be unlikeable still, but not irredeemably so – not so much that readers wouldn’t encourage her slowly burgeoning maturity, instead of wishing she’d shut up and sit down.
But whole prison thing completely ruined that possibility. No one returns from a slave camp without being irrevocably changed. Oh, yes, I know Chaol (which I pronounce as Coal, fight me) admired her ability to “still laugh” after all she’s been through, but that’s just to show she wasn’t mentally destroyed there. No, a person who had been whipped, tortured, and starved would not be as ungrateful and bratty as Celeana is. She wouldn’t be complaining about how cold her bed is in the morning, she’d be down on her goldurn hands and knees, thanking the gods that she had a goldurn bed to sleep in! She wouldn’t be petty about not going to the balls or fretting about the gorgeous gowns she got to wear – if anything, she’d be suspicious as to why the King would allow a former prisoner and convicted murderer be allowed anything besides a glass of water and a hunk of bread. (Speaking of which, who eats an entire bag of candy without knowing who the sender is??)
Basically, Celeana is a bad assassin, a terrible person, and she should feel bad. But she won’t, because she doesn’t care about anything, not even her love triangle boys – who were also terrible people!
Now, there were a few positive points. I did like the magic aspect, and the princess Nehemia was a legit boss character whom these books should really be about, and the last part of the book was pretty suspenseful. It was also the only time Celeana did something other than whine and actually showed off her famous skills. I also liked seeing things from Kaltain’s perspective (these names, tho), as it provided me with a surrogate to justifiably hate Celeana. For all her own issues, at least Kaltain acted like you’d expect a person of her background to act. Celeana was a hot mess, which is why I guess so many men found her appealing!
(I am like, 90% salt right now, forgive me . . .)
Anyway, normally, I’d ditch these series now, but the fact that so many people really do love it (and not with the painful intensity as Twilight) and that there is honestly just barely enough to keep me interested means I will be continuing on. I picked up the novellas (The Assassin’s Blade) before the second one, since that was all my library had at the time, but I’ve heard those are collectively better than this first, and the series gets better from there.
Header image: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, published August 7th 2012 by Bloomsbury USA Children’s.