This is a review of the Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J Maas. This is a spoiler free review.
Themes Explored: self-sufficiency, independence, self-reliance, rising above unforeseeable challenges, magic, folklore, weaponry, assassinations, justice, politics, conspiracies, romance, love, heart break, destiny, loyalty, treachery, friendship
Synopsis: The Throne of Glass is a young adult fantasy series. The series follows the adventures of Celaena Sardothien, an 18 year old assassin in the Kingdom of Adarlan. In return for a commuted sentence, Celaena participates in a deadly competition for a chance to serve the King of Adarlan. Along the way, Celaena forms unexpected alliances with Captain Chaol and Crown Prince Dorian. Throughout the course of the series, Celaena becomes entangled in a political conspiracy and discovers secrets about the kingdom. In a world where nothing is as it seems, can Celaena survive long enough to untangle the kingdoms biggest mystery?
Review: Sarah J. Maas was inspired to write the story after watching Disney’s Cinderella. In this case, Cinderella is a sword wielding assassin who is coming to disrupt a kingdom, not marry the Prince. While the series is not a direct retelling of the classic Cinderella story, there are nods to the tale woven throughout the narrative. For instance, instead of a glass slipper, there is a glass castle. I think that The Throne of Glass Series is one of the better written YA fantasy series published in recent years.
Ten years prior to the first book, the King of Adarlan banished magic from the land. Thousands of Fae were slaughtered, along with the royal families of several neighboring kingdoms. The story depicts a land slowly losing hope in the face of tyranny. Through the eyes of Celaena, Maas brings to life a mythical land hovering on the brink of darkness. The narrative is compelling and has the right ratio of dialogue-to-description. I felt like I was living in the story, which is a mark of good storytelling in my opinion. Some YA series tend to skimp on character history in order to focus on action. Unfortunately, this approach manages to make a story feel rushed and underdeveloped. Thankfully, Maas does not fall victim to this writing pitfall. Instead, Maas has created a unique world full of secrets and mystery.
One of the reasons I love this series is the main character, Celaena. She is an intelligent and driven heroine who goes after what she wants. However, she also has some talents that cause her to face several moral and ethical conundrums. Celaena struggles with impatience and vanity, which causes her some trouble. These imperfections allow for Celaena to grow throughout the series and not remain a stagnant character. While she is a world class assassin, Celaena is also obsessed with fine clothing, books, and exquisite food. Maas managed to achieve the right amount of drama and comedy when fleshing out Celaena’s character. Celaena may be participating in a battle to the death, but that does not stop her from become entangled in a romantic relationship.
The three main characters are Celaena, Captain Chaol, and Prince Dorian. Each one has a different outlook and this causes some conflict. Chaol is a strict, highly ethical, and loyal captain. Dorian is a conflicted Prince. Celaena is morally ambiguous; she is neither wholly evil nor purely good. She definitely views the world through a gray lens; whereas Chaol possesses a strong black and white outlook. This contrast creates some conflict as Celaena constantly challenges Chaol and Dorian’s assertions about the workings of the world. Overtime, both men come to view Celaena as a human being,not a lethal weapon. However, this does lead to a brief love triangle, my least favorite cliché. After a while I just want to scream “pick one and move on”. Thankfully, the love triangle does not live past the first novel.
Most of the story is told from the perspective of Celaena, but there are a few chapters featuring the thoughts of Dorian and Chaol. This allows the reader to see how Dorian and Chaol perceive Celaena. Also, it fleshes out the three characters and gives them some depth. The narrative is fast paced and compelling, Maas knows how to keep a reader interested. The second book, Crown of Midnight, ends with a great plot twist. Each installment manages to exceed my expectations. Some series suffer from what I call second-book syndrome: the first book is great, the second book drags, and the third book is fantastic. This does not happen with Throne of Glass, the second and third book are just as fantastic as the first.
Throne of Glass has been criticized for having an assassin as the main character. While this is a legitimate complaint, I do not think it is any worse than having a warlock/witch/wizard as the hero/heroine. Maas does not depict Celaena as a cold blooded killer. Yes she kills, but she is also a highly conflicted character. In some regards Celaena has no choice in her profession and this haunts her throughout the story. If Maas had made Celaena a cold hearted assassin with no conscience, then I would not recommend the series. However, this is not the case. Maas has created a character that is more a victim of circumstances than a mindless killing machine. The books are no worse than The Hunger Games. In some respects Celaena is a more complicated and compelling heroine than Katniss Everdeen. If you are looking for a well-written and unique fantasy series, I recommend checking out the Throne of Glass Series.