THRONE OF GLASS is the debut novel of Sarah J. Maas, originally published on the writing site FictionPress when she was sixteen (2002) where it gained a loyal following and became one of the most popular novels on the site.
In 2009 she found an Agent to represent her after a year of searching, and the following year GLASS was purchased by Bloomsbury along with the subsequent two novels in the series. GLASS was then published in 2012 when Mass was 26, and quickly reached the New York Times best selling list leading to a six book contract with Bloomsbury.
Last year Maas announced the series (currently four books in) would be optioned for TV.
Now, what Mass has done is impressive. Don't get me wrong. She has reached the dream all us budding authors hope for; so no matter what I say in this review, do not doubt the respect I have for her and her achievement.
With that, lets get on with it!
(As always, click the picture for Goodreads link)
THRONE OF GLASS is a loose retelling of Cinderella with the premise “What if Cinderella was not a servant, but an assassin? And what if she didn’t attend the ball to meet the prince, but to kill him, instead?” I wasn’t aware of this when reading the book, and seeming as those prompts aren’t literal towards the beats of the story, I’m assuming this was Maas’s initial idea and linked with the first drafts of her novel.
Instead GLASS tells the story of ‘Adarlan’s Assassin’ Celaena Sardothien (a very game of thrones-esque name) as she’s retrieved from the Endovier mines where she was serving time (for a crime I don’t believe we ever learn about in this novel) by the Captain of the Royal Guard, Chaol.
We follow Celaena as she’s led to an unknown destination, during which we learn a little about the situation; a.k.a general set up exposition. This structure, while not great, was far from bad. Instead it was the writing and Celaena's personality that got a little on my nerves, and illustrated faults by page 20 that carried out through the remainder of the novel. But we only need to look to page 2 for an example:
“… those words had meant the difference between breaking and bending; they had kept her from shattering in the darkness of mines. Not that she’d let the captain know any of that.
It may not be accented in that excerpt, but that middle paragraph is wedged between two considerably big chunks of writing; and having it there is rather clunky. I can see her attempts in using comparison to launch exposition of either Celaena's (apparently gorgeous) looks or her past, but it came across as her holding our hand, trying to convince we were feeding ourselves this information, rather her evidently shoving the spoon down our mouths.
I also didn't like her use of the word 'examined', mostly because she latter used 'studied' two paragraphs on the same page. But that's me being picky.
After a whole chapter of walking, we reach chapter 2 and the ‘Throne Room’ where the Crown Prince Dorian awaits. He has an ultimatum for Celaena: compete as his sponsored contender (we never learn why he chose her exactly) to be the King’s Champion, or basically die in the mines. And here I must break to actually talk about the character Celaena at this point, as this is where one of the main faults of this novel comes into play: the unbalanced harmony of girl and assassin that Maas unfortunately creates within this character.
"The prince's eyes shone with amusement at her brashness but lingered a bit too long on her body. Celaena could have raked her nails down his face for staring at her like that, yet the fact that he'd evener bother to look when she was in such a filthy state... A slow smile spared across her face." Page 14, Chapter 3 opening, Throne of Glass.
For a trained assassin who has obviously gone through many trails, Celaena’s voice just does not sit right. I can see glimpses of a sadistic killer who uses her beauty to lure prey; but that’s not who she is. Instead, Celena comes across as a young girl who has fallen into this mighty reputation through others, yet thinks she has done all the work herself.
And, typical of YA novels, I found my suspension of disbelief tested as Celaena didn’t act within a realistic fashion. It felt as if Maas had written these scenes (as you do in first and second drafts) without any real thought to the emotional toll that these events would take on the characters.
Naturally you can’t be realistic in a lot of cases, otherwise a lot of famous characters would be either dead, or suffering major PTSD, not to mention looking rather mauled. But you still need to get into the mindset of your characters and try to bring them to life as much as you can. Otherwise you get something which I call pretty crying.
This was a quote Jessica Alba gave in an Elle magazine interview about her work on Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Sufer and the director:
"I remember when I was dying in 'Silver Surfer'. The director was like, 'It looks too real. It looks too painful. Can you be prettier when you cry? Cry pretty, Jessica.' He was like, 'Don't do that thing with your face. Just make it flat. We can CGI the tears in.'" Jessica Alba, ABC Archive
This experience led to Alba almost quitting acting as she felt dehumanised, which I’m not surprised about. Crying isn’t something you do ‘prettily’. I’m sure as you are all aware of that; everyone looks horrid crying; even when they’re tears of joy!
But YA tends to gloss over reality, and opt for ‘pretty crying’, as Maas does often with this novel.
Celaena is allowed to be beautiful. She’s allowed to be an assassin. And she’s allowed to be a girl. But there is a time and place.
If you’ve been pulled from the mines (a place where she’s survived a year where others wouldn’t last a month) and found yourself bartering for your life; you wouldn’t be worried about your appearance (would should look shit, no maybe how pretty you are when healthy), you wouldn’t be checking out the Prince (who also shouldn't be checking out an anorexic, dirty caked, scraggly prisoner) and you most certianly wouldn’t be so cocky. Really.
Moving on. Next chapter and we find an excellent example of Maas’s passive writing:
"When Celaena finally collapsed onto a bed after her meeting in the throne room, she couldn't fall asleep, despite the exhaustion in every inch of her body.'" Pg 20, opening to Chapter 4, Throne of Glass.
Passive. Ever heard of ‘never use two words when one will do’ (Thomas Jefferson)? Well, that applies here. Through the novel, I find Maas tries to be poetic with her prose (stylistic of fantasy) without any actual poetry (she needs to practice dem haikus!). And in my opinion, this sentence really would have been fine as:
“Celaena collapsed onto the bed, every inch of her body heavy with exhaustion; despite that, she couldn’t fall asleep.” My personal ramble.
I cut out the information of the meeting with the throne room as that was redundant. We literally just came form that scene: better information would be how she got to this bed, and where the hell it is. (Also, I need to note that the lack of paragraph breaks in that opening paragraph is shocking, and when it does finally separate, it’s a sentence too late).
By chapter 5, heavy handed exposition starts to become a problem— something you already know my thoughts on so I won’t go into that— and by chapter 7, I reach another major fault of this story. The POV changes. Throughout the whole story, these switches tend to serve as nothing more than unnessercery fodder to Celaena’s narcissism. Truly.
We then reach chapter 10, and at this point, Celaena seems to be more of a Robin Hood than a assassin; someone of good morals whose actions are denounced due to the status quo. But if this is the image Maas is trying to project, she fails again, as it seems out of character, the moments Celaena sympathises with the slaves, and the same goes for the moral doubts she feels concerning being an assassin for the King.
These moments are less ‘me discovering new sides of Celaena’— and exploring the normal complexity of a human being— and rather the author pasting these feeling onto the character without grounding them first, in an attempt to give her depth.
But I do find myself being a little more forgiving as the story goes on. There are some nice plot points being woven into the story (notably champions being killed off, and I loved when she saved fellow champion, Nox, in chapter 21-22), and I do find myself becoming invested (especially in Chaol) as we go on. But I have to be honest; it’s a guilty-pleasure-esque feeling. Kind of like with reality tv shows, be it Kardashians or Geordie Shore. Watch enough of dribble in a short span, and you will create an attachment to the characters, no matter how bad.
But I’m thrown from the story again come chapter 25 when we’re suddenly thrust into a dream sequence where all this important stuff is revealed (about the old Queen Elena and Celaena’s supposed blood relation to her, and magic), but with little connection to anything else. It’s entirely out of place; and I found heaps of names-- that I hardly recollected-- were thrown at me. Not cool.
Things prod along after that: Celaena’s romance with the Crown Prince progresses, so does her friendship with Princess Nehemia, random shit happens to Lady Kaltain (a character I’m convinced no one in the book-- or outside of it-- actually cares about), and more contenders die by a paranormal entity.
I then find myself at chapter 34, and for once, actually irritated at the book, rather than just vexed by small things. In this chapter, Celaena gets her period for the first time in months (the stress of the mines halted her flows, which I thought was a fairly realistic touch in my non-doctor opinion). And due to the cramping pain, Celena finds herself bedridden and indisposed. Of course this doesn’t stop her from receiving an array of visitors from a blushing Chaol to an amused Prince Dorian. And this arc actually pissed me off, and I'm surprised that I had such a reaction.
I like the idea of girls getting their period in books instead of the author just forgetting they exist (and yes, Elixia gets hers in SOUL), but as a girl who suffers from serious cramps, I honestly wanted to slap some sense into Celaena!
I know there are days on your period when you just want to die; and I have often found myself bedridden due to cramps, wallowing in self-pity and pain. But there are also days when I’ve had the worst cramps, and I’ve had to go on stage and perform my heart (without my prescribed medication!)— even though my intestines felt they were being minced and boiled alive inside, and all I wanted to do was crumble in on myself and cry. It's a real bitch-- but your period comes once a month-- it can't stop you from getting shit done.
And this comes back to that ‘pretty smiling’ again. I’m assuming Mas is trying to humanise Celaena in this section (hell she even throws up on Chaol!), but it plays against her. While I can see, and appreciate what she’s trying to do, in this chapter Maas reduces someone who is supposed to be a deadly assassin to a withering girl, and instead of playing to a strong woman's weakness, she simply throw the fragile image she's tried to create of a deadly assassin in Celaena's face.
This is a girl who somehow came out pretty from a mining-prison hell! Who broke her own hand to appease the King of Assassins-- and I'm sure he wouldn't have put up with her bitching about it after wards-- and is supposed to be feared throughout the whole country.
Yet here she is wasting away as ghosts haunt her, murderers pick off her team-mates, and her freedom hangs in the balance. I can't take it seriously. Who takes a sick day during all that? When she was a practicing assassin, did she delay important hits because she started cramping?
Ugh. Lets move on. Chapter 38 there's the Yulemas (Christmas) ball that Celaena crashes (thinking her friend, Princess Nehemia is evil). Chapter 39 she hooks up with the Crown Prince and Choal mopes. Then in Chapter 42, we learn the creature killing all the attendants is summoned by Celaena’s rival, Cain... To be honest, I was hoping it would be the slightly less obvious choice of Nox, Celaena's ally, (who instead just ran away from the competition under Celaena’s order). But anyway, Cain sets the creature on Celaena, and she survives-- by running through the chambers that she visits sometimes in person, sometimes in dreams, always somehow confusing me— and using the old King’s sword in the tom room to the creature.
Then we reach the main confrontation in chapter 48!
The final battle between Celaena and Cain, which was…
All this grand stuff happens with Celaena being poisoned, and seeing all these demonic entities while fighting Cain (or, being pulverised by Cain more like)-- then Queen Elena comes and saves her and rids her of the poison. And whenever Maas goes on about otherwordly ghosts and magic, I always seem to just shut off and find myself no longer engaged. It’s like, there’s the main story of Celaena and the trails— then this confusing add-on about Queen Elena and the spectres that’s just… I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the way Maas writes it— even more passive than the usual stuff— that doesn’t ground it in her novel’s reality.
I also think, throughout the fight, I was just reeling still from the fact Celaena was freaking poisoned by that character no one cared about, Kaltain! She was even just tested about poisons! Which she cheated at with the help of a contestent and Queen Elena... It was just stupid. I’d rather, when Queen Elena ghosted Celaena’s dreams before the test, that she told Celaena how to check for that poison— or maybe the amulet warmed at that particular poison or something— giving her a practical way to detect the poison, rather than just telling her to cheat— it would have linked better with the later poison.
Or, even better, it would have been awesome if Celaena drank the wine KNOWING there was poison in it, because she’s just so bad ass. But of course, you need to put her in a situation where instead of Kaltain just offering the wine to her (an obvious ‘i’m going to poison you move’), it could have been some official thing with the King.
And...Yeah. Despite all this shit going on, Celaena wins (a disappointing win, mind you; after all the book being her holding back on her strength, I wanted to see what she could really do… which didn’t happen. She was saved by Elena) and is proclaimed Champion.
This also meant, that when Dorian visited her later in chapter 53 she breaks off their fling. Now, I liked the idea of this, but that whole scene was just meh. She never once hinted this would be her move, and seemed to act on a whim rather than taking his feelings seriously. So I was like going ‘okay…’
And then the book was over.
QUICK MENTION OF OTHER CHARACTERS
THE KING: typical bad guy without any dimension to him
The way he speaks is quite childish and unbelievable. This is man will soon, apparently, concur his part of the world. Therefore, I'd assumed he was fairly smart— but instead of showing us that intelligence, we’re given a man with no substance to his temper.
And the ending twist when it turns out he was in on Kaltain and Cain’s magic use? Yawn.
CAPTAIN OF GUARD, CHAOL: I liked Chaol a fair bit. He was both affectionate, while being reserved.There was a little depth to his character which was nice, however it was weakened when it came to his POV sections.
These sections had three uses: expanding worldbuilding, showing Kaltain’s crumbling mind due to magic (still reckon it was redundant for the most part), and pandering to how supposedly dangerous Celaena was (something everyone talked about, but was never actually seen).
The other danger of these sections were ‘feminine responses’ that the boys gave— like when Dorian wanted to, at one point, scream and pull out his hair in frustration. Not very manly… But she did manage to give Chaol and Dorian (Grey?) very different personalities, so good work there.
QUEEN ELENA: I got why she was involved, but like Kaltain, I found her part considerably weak. Her character was basically just exposition, and when she spoke, there was no real personality.
PRINCESS NEHEMIA: I liked her character, and I liked her with Celaena. The twist with her using magic at the end was obvious, but nice; though again, weakened by that side of the story being so aloof in itself.
DUKE PERRINGTON: Eh. The fact I didn’t mention him in this review says it all really. He was the guy who sponsored Cain, and wooed Kaltain, and manipulated them both on the King’s behalf. But still, eh.
OVERALL: Stories with promise are always the easiest, and best, to rip to shreds. And this story does have promise— promise that apparently comes to fruition in the third and fourth book of the series. And I think, if I stuck with it, I would enjoy it immensely.
Despite being far from concreted, I did like Celaena, and once all her depth is blended nicely, I think she would be a great main character. The world building is also strong (though not always well executed), and the plot is interesting.
In a sense, this novel is a bit like THE ROSE MASTER: I love the idea of it, and it carries a sweet aftertaste, but once I shut the book, I forget its faults... until I return to the pages and they’re thrown back into my face.
Ah well, I’m giving it a very generous 4/5. (fine print: more of a 3.9) Maybe the TV series, if it is bought, will entice me to continue.