Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

23

July 26, 2012 by Heidi

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas book coverTitle: Throne of Glass [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Sarah J. Maas [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: First novel in a series, though there are four prequel novellas.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: August 7th, 2012 by Bloomsbury USA Children’s
Format: Hardcover; 416 pages.
Source: ARC from publisher via BEA.
Challenge: YA/MG Fantasy Challenge

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men—thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the kings council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

I won’t sugar coat it, I went into Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass predisposed to dislike it.  You see, I’d already read two of the four prequel novellas and decided I didn’t love the writing, and really didn’t love Celaena Sardothien.  I was worried that as in the novellas, I would struggle through the first half of Throne of Glass before being caught up in the story enough to sit back and enjoy the action a bit.  But after standing in line for an hour to get this book at BEA (Sarah J. Maas was incredibly sweet and so surprised/grateful for all those who waited for this book), I was certainly going to give it a go.  I am happy to report that while I never did come to love this book or the characters therein, I was caught up in the action from the beginning, and interested enough in the story not to stop reading.  There are many aspects of Throne of Glass that readers will love, and I won’t be surprised to see this book on many favorites lists at the end of this year.

Before reading Throne of Glass, I bemoaned the US cover considering the UK one was so completely kick butt.  Now, having read it, I have to say that the US one actually fits the book and the character of Celaena better.  Aspects of Celaena’s character that irked me while reading the prequels–she was spoiled, selfish, vain–seem to have been ironed out quite a bit after a year spent in the death camp of Endovier.  However, I still have an impossible time holding Celaena up and proclaiming her the next strong female lead in YA.  She’s incredibly shallow, obsessed with clothing and good looks, pouts over things such as not getting invited to parties, and is completely incapacitated by her period giving sexist men credence to their ‘she must be on the rag’ thought process.  I actually do appreciate that Sarah J. Maas has attempted to create a different type of strong heroine in Celaena.  Most of them tend to be less feminine and more down to earth than Celaena, and I can see readers who do like things like parties and clothes falling in love with her.  It simply didn’t work for me.

That said, it wasn’t just Celaena I found to be shallow, it was the writing as a whole.  There are seemingly endless descriptions of clothing (I began just skipping any paragraph that described one’s outfit), character’s opinions of one another seemed to rest largely on their physical attributes, and the story in general was far less creative than one might hope.  Take for example the holiday, Yulemas, so derivative of Christmas I actually beat my head against the chair I was sitting in out of sheer boredom.

I was excited by the prospect of a competition between assassins, but found the whole thing to be rather dull when played out as there were months where the plot chose to focus on the everyday rather than the action and most of the ‘tests’ were skipped entirely.  I had sort of been hoping a competition to determine the best assassin would involve them all set loose in the castle to, you know, assassinate one another until there was a victor left standing.  But no, Throne of Glass shied away from killing quite a bit considering it’s a book starring a supposed killer (I’ve now read 600 pages about Celaena and have yet to see her kill anyone).  Character’s motivations seemed muddled, plot lines didn’t completely line up, and the changes of perspective were completely jarring and unnecessary, particularly those told from the male point of view which I feel were best left untouched as it was very clear Maas has not mastered the art of writing from the perspective of the opposite sex.

Which brings us to the aspect of this book I think everyone’s groaning about, the love triangle.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I don’t mind a love triangle when it’s done well.  This one is not.  As stated, I felt the portions of the story told from Chaol and Dorian’s point of view were by far it’s weakest, particularly as they felt so lopsided and random.  Neither of the characters are well developed, and Dorian’s interest in Celaena seems solely of the ‘oh look an attractive female I shouldn’t have feelings for’ variety.  I found it impossible to care about the emotions of those involved as there seemed to be no base for them.  Usually I can at least enjoy a good kissing scene, but Throne of Glass‘s romance fell so completely flat I was bored to tears (and a little uncomfortable) waiting for these scenes to be over.  I did like Chaol and Nehemia (Celaena’s friend) as characters, and the fighting action was great, but sadly they were too small a portion of this story to keep me around.

Throne of Glass is one of those books that to me fits into Tatiana‘s “Fantasy-Lite” category.  It dips its toes into too many puddles–action, political intrigue, magic, mythology, romance, war, revolution–failing to fully flush out any of them.  I can forgive bad world building, bad characters, or lack of action when one of these others excels, but Throne of Glass failed on all fronts.  I feel it could have been a much stronger book had it chosen to focus on something rather than everything, but as is it falls incredibly short of being deemed epic.

In the end, I feel like the success of Throne of Glass is weighed by what this book was actually trying to achieve.  If the aim of Throne of Glass is to entertain, yes, great, it does so.  If the aim is to be a memorable work that readers will be consuming and praising for generations, no, sorry, I don’t see it entering any annals or winning any awards.  For me, Throne of Glass is to books like George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series (and yes, I truly believe they titled this “Throne of Glass” because it is evocative of “Game of Thrones“) or Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series as a green apple flavored Sweet Tart is to Dutch apple pie.  Sure, it has some of the same flavor, but I never crave it, it’s consumed quickly, doesn’t fill the stomach, and certainly isn’t something I’ll remember having eaten later in life.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  Nope. While I found aspects of Throne of Glass very intriguing, and I would kind of like to know where it goes, I think I’ll just ask someone who reads it to give me the low down rather than take the time to read it myself.

Recommended for:  
Honestly I have a hard time recommending Throne of Glass when I could recommend books with similar themes that are much stronger.  Go read Grave Mercy, Graceling, The Thief, or The False Prince instead.  Or if you do want to try Throne of Glass, I recommend borrowing it from the library before purchasing.

Get a second opinion:
The Reclusive Reader – “Serviceable, but I’m ready to move onto something else.”
Novel Sounds – “GO FORTH AND READ THIS BOOK, EVERYONE.”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “I feel like Throne of Glass would work for readers who haven’t read the likes of Robin McKinley, Megan Whalen Turner or Kristin Cashore. But if you’re like me and you’re aware of the awesomeness of other novels, I have a feeling you’ll just be disappointed.”
Alexa Loves Books – “Fantastic story, multi-dimensional characters, an intriguing lore, a love triangle well done – these elements have made THRONE OF GLASS such a success to me.”

I’ve also reviewed:
The Assassin and the Pirate Lord (Throne of Glass .1)
The Assassin and the Desert (Throne of Glass .2)

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23 comments »

  1. VeganYANerds says:

    At least you knew before you went into this, but still it sounds so disappointing and know I’m wondering why people even like Celaena! I’ve borrowed this from a friend but I really don’t know if I want to bother with it – thanks for being so honest!

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, I just kept seeing review after review talking about how awesome Celaena was, and I honestly don’t understand it at all. There’s a lot to like in this book, but for me the problems outweighed the good significantly.

  2. Yes, you and a few other reviewers have convinced me that I’m never going to read this. I just know that I would be incredibly disappointed. (I can’t believe she’s an assassin and is never shown killing anyone!) So many of these over-hyped titles seem so derivative and light. Where’s the substance?

    • Heidi says:

      You would be disappointed, Catie, I’m sure you wouldn’t get very far before setting it aside. This felt to me like it had no substance or backbone holding up all of the cool ideas (of which too many where crammed in). I think you ladies nailed it yesterday in your post about the quality of YA fantasy taking a dive a popularity rises. I’m about to get a lot more picky!

  3. Brandy says:

    I ended up DNFing this one because I couldn’t take anymore of the “look how pretty everyone is” and also the love triangle. I completely agree with you, why recommend this when those other books you mentioned exist?

    • Heidi says:

      Agreed! Like I said, I guess there’s a market out there for people who like this love triangle and description of clothing/people business, but that’s not something I look for in strong characters or would recommend to fellow readers.

  4. elena says:

    Ahaha I like how everyone’s review is sort of lackluster while the one linked to my blog is so capslocky. I can definitely see your points on why you didn’t like it! I’ve seen the term ‘fantasy lite’ a lot with this book and it does make sense. Celaena’s arrogance did grate me but like you said, you “can see readers who do like things like parties and clothes falling in love with her” so I fall into that category. I really found Celaena to be refreshing from other YA heroines. The competition took me off guard too, I expected a cutthroat one and it kind of took a backseat to the other things. I wasn’t really expecting the mystery aspect of the book, it was predictable and seemed sort of random to me. However, I did really enjoy the book but can see why it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Thank you for your insightful and honest review!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Elena! I liked your capslocky enthusiasm. 😛

      Like I said, I can see why a lot of readers are loving this one, and I don’t blame them for it, I just tried to present my honest view and issues with the story that kept me from falling in love. Honestly, Sarah was so freaking sweet at BEA I’m very happy for her success, and have told multiple people they should give this one a go even though I didn’t like it. =)

  5. Oh that is a shame! You know I love the ferocious kick -ass heroine, she’s one of my very fave archetypes, and it sucks that Throne of Glass’s heroine doesn’t live up to that! I’m signed up for a ARC tour of this one, so I will still be reading, but I must admit I will be going in with more caution after reading this review.

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, hopefully if your expectations are lowered a bit you end up liking it more! There’s been a few of us who gave this one resounding ‘meh’s, but many more who have adored it. Hopefully you end up in the later category!

  6. THRONE OF GLASS was actually hyped as GAME OF THRONES for teen girls in the pitch on NetGalley. It was why I requested a copy to begin with. I haven’t actually read the latter but I love the show and I’m at a time in my life where I need some really good fantasy. Silly me, I fell for the hype again. Not only did I DNF it but it drove me to using gifs in my review, which is a pretty extreme rarity for me. But Tom Hiddleston’s face as Loki so excellently complimented my feelings on it that I couldn’t pass it up. You’ve highlighted pretty much every issue I had with the book. And your review also gained you a follower. :)

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Donna! Hehe, I MUST go track down your review now to see the gifs. Yes, this one totally fell victim to the hype monster. I feel like if they hadn’t tried to pitch it as this epic wonderful fantasy, I would have been far less disappointed. I just HATE when they try to pitch a book as ‘perfect for fans of X’, because it almost always is not.

  7. I haven’t read this book, but I pretty much loved your review of it. Very honest and thorough.

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  9. Grace says:

    There were so many things wrong with this book that I could spend hours ranting about it, but at the same time I couldn’t put it down. Love triangles are like Kryptonite to me, and Celaena annoyed me for leading them both on and for acting like an air-headed girl. At the same time, every time that I tried to put the book down I kept thinking about it and felt the irresistible urge to read more. Masochism, maybe?

    • Heidi says:

      Hahah, sounds like masochism to me! But clearly you’re not alone, because I did end up reading the entire thing despite its issues for a reason. I think it’s okay to read a ‘popcorn’ book every once in a while, as long as we’re able to recognize their faults.

  10. I glanced briefly over this since I’m doing the blog tour, but It’s a bummer you didn’t love it as much as some are. It certainly sounds really great by description and is very sought after and there’s a ton of buzz. I’ll be reading it soon, so I guess I’ll see!!

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