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Saturday, November 10, 2012

THRONE OF GLASS By Sarah J. Maas. London, Bloomsbury 2012

Celaena Sardothien was the world’s greatest, most famous assassin, until she was caught - probably betrayed - and sent to the salt mines of Endovier a year ago, at the age of seventeen. Now she has been removed from the mines and taken to the royal palace, which is a quite spectacular construction of glass, and offered her one and only chance of freedom. All she has to do is win a competition for the job of King’s Champion, against a large number of other convicted criminals. The winner gets an impressive contract and well-paid job killing for the king, everyone else is sent back where they came from.

But someone is killing off the competitors one by one, ripping out their brains and organs. Despite the king’s having destroyed magic in his empire, there’s something ancient and horrible loose in the castle. Will Celaena make it to the final duel or will she be the next victim? 

I must admit, this book was better than I had expected from some reviews I had read and quite readable, although it left me with a number of questions. It has certainly had a lot of promotion after the author grew her own fan base on-line over a number of years. I have no doubt it will have more fans as the sequels arrive. When I mentioned the book to some of my students, one said, “Oh, yes, I’ve heard of that one.”

I think it might be simplest if I divide my comments into what worked for me and what didn’t, quite.

What worked for me:

The author didn’t have her heroine recover immediately from her ordeal. Celaena, when she arrives at court, is thin and weak and has nightmares about her trauma for most of the book.

She has a healthy appetite and a love of clothes. She may not be crazy about her current assignment, but she is going to enjoy the perks while she can; this is one of the few touches of humour to be found in the book - and every book needs humour!

There is some witty conversation and the occasional really nice line, such as when Celaena is getting ready for a ball she has been ordered not to attend: “This would be her first ball where she wasn’t there to kill someone.” The mind boggles at the image of what might have happened at those balls where she was working!

The romance played a major role, but wasn’t the most important part of the novel, although there was the standard threesome. There was quite a lot of mystery - and this might have made a nice murder mystery in its own right.

What puzzled me:

Why would the king be staging this competition in the first place? Surely the role of King’s Champion would be an honour given to a great knight? We’re talking Sir Lancelot here! Instead, we get a bunch of thieves and murderers who have to be guarded and threatened with death if they try to escape. How could the king rely on the winner, especially some of the truly awful men in this contest, who would be more likely to kill him than kill for him? He does think of a way, yes, in the end, but only because the winner is essentially a decent person. It might have worked better if the competition had been between the king’s top knights, who resent the intrusion of this assassin. We may find this out in a future volume, but not yet.

In real life, top assassins tend to be plain people nobody notices, let alone has heard of. A successful assassin should be able to move through a crowd, stab someone with a poisoned umbrella and move on without anyone noticing them. A spectacularly beautiful woman like Celaena would be unlikely to do this, unless she was a master of disguise and this is never suggested anywhere in the novel. Nobody, it seems, is brave - or foolish - enough to create a plain heroine these days. Perhaps, though, the master of disguise thing would have worked?

Some of the things Celaena does in the course of the competition seemed, to me at least, to be physically impossible, such as her rescue of another competitor in the course of a climbing challenge. 

How likely is it that there would be a secret passage leading from a room, hidden behind a tapestry, with no one having noticed before, even the servants who clean the room? It might have worked if something magical had happened to reveal the long-hidden doorway. Unless I missed something, the door was discovered because of a breeze coming from behind the tapestry.

Still, this book wasn’t written for the likes of me, but for teenage and twenty-something girls. And they will enjoy it.


Lan said...

Everyone I know seems to really be enjoying this one. I can see your point about the inconsistencies though. You're definately right that no one seems to be brave enough towrite a plain MC anymore.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Fantasy isn't called fantasy for nothing, eh? :-) Especially YA fantasy for girls. You don't want a heroine who looks like you, you want one who's what you daydream of being. And that would be fine, as long as the heroine could disguise herself to be unobserved. If this one can, we never find out about it - she has a servant to dress her up for the ball.
I found the book pretty readable and better than some others of its kind, I just couldn't get past the oddities I have mentioned.