You probably don’t remember awhile back when I said that I’d bought three YA paperbacks because there was a deal on them at Chapters. Out of the three books (Cinders, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and Throne of Glass) I was most hesitant to start this book, as the back cover blurb isn’t subtle about there being a love triangle.
In a world with no magic, Celaena Sardothien is Adarlan’s finest assassin, but after being captured and sentenced to a lifetime of hard labour in the mines of Endovier–a sentence that means certain death–she is abruptly released and given an opportunity to compete against other criminals to earn the title of King’s Champion, thrust into a world of balls and fine gowns and the attention of both the Crown Prince and the captain of the guard. However, when the contestants start dying one by one, Celaena must find the killer before she’s next on the chopping block.
This book occupies a weird position in my mental catalog, that of “books I should hate but inexplicably like”, although it is, in many ways, a mess, I ended up being entertained by it for reasons I will discuss below.
Let’s start with the characters, initially I found Celaena insufferably arrogant. I was ready to write her off as Generic Spunky Special White Protagonist #2543 (and make no mistake, she is a special super white protagonist) in fact, the way the author focuses on her physical appearance is kind of creepy considering that she’s half-starved and thinks she’s on her way to her execution, but she grew on me. She’s a very confident protagonist, and I did smile at the very beginning when she relentlessly sasses Chaol, the captain of the guard. Most of the other characters aren’t as fleshed out, unfortunately. I found Dorian, the crown prince (A.K.A. Obvious Love Interest 1), kind of bland, his only purpose for most of the book is to banter with Celaena and complain about his mother’s gatherings. Chaol (A.K.A Obvious Love Interest 2), seems to be the only character with an iota of sense. The one other character with a bit of personality (besides “obviously evil”) is Nehemia, a princess of a colonized kingdom who spends most of the book complaining about how life in the Adarlan court is boring. The world itself is pretty generic as far as fantasy worlds go, but even though magic is largely absent from this setting (as the king has banned magic) there are still glimpses of the fantastical such as numerous mentions of the fae, ghosts, and a land of witches far from the current book’s setting.
The blurb makes it sound as if Throne of Glass will be action-packed, with favourable comparisons to The Hunger Games (then again, literally everything is compared to The Hunger Games). Unfortunately, Throne of Glass is less about criminals fighting to the death or fierce competition to become the King’s Champion and more about Celaena wandering around, reading books, and snarking at both Chaol and Dorian. In my opinion, Celaena suffers from a major case of Informed Ability, we’re told that Celaena is Adarlan’s best assassin, but she’s never in a situation where she can actually demonstrate her skills. Ir’s like the author wanted to write Cinderella if Cinderella was an assassin (which is practically what she says in the post book interview) but then forgot about the assassin part. In spite of the fact that there’s a killer on the loose, there’s never really a sense of urgency like in something like The Hunger Games, where death is a very real possibility. The actual tests that she participates in are glossed over and seem pretty tame for a competition between criminals to obtain a tyrannical king’s favour. Some reviewers have complained that Celaena doesn’t act like a badass assassin, but I felt her behaviour (throwing up after running a race, for instance) was realistic for someone who spent a year in a place described as a “death camp”.
Another thing about the book that annoyed me was the treatment of women who weren’t Celaena, Nehemia, or Philippa (Celaena’s maid) and that’s the fact that the only thing women seem to do in court is a) be jealous, especially of Celaena or b) bore everyone around them. Throne of Glass isn’t the first book to perpetuate fictional girl hate, but it’s disappointing that the book uses so many of these tropes. In addition, the antagonists are so obviously evil that it’s a wonder Celaena took so long to catch onto their plans. There’s a bit near the end that I won’t spoil except to say that I found it very anticlimactic and felt almost cheated.
In terms of diversity, Nehemia is (near as I can tell) the only person of colour in the entire book (apart from her guards, possibly). Everyone else is (again, near as I can tell) white. I’m told this improves in future books but this one is uniformly white with the one exception.
So why do I like it, given that the book is such a mess? Celaena’s banter with the leading men was entertaining, and Maas’ writing style is very readable. Even though it wasn’t a story about a badass assassin doing badass assassin things. I could appreciate Celaena’s desire for a soft warm bed, a bath, and some nice clothes after a year of living in a hellhole, and it was nice to see a protagonist who didn’t scorn traditionally feminine things, even though the book as a whole has issues with women hating on other women over men. Fictional women can do so much better, if you ask me.
Ultimately, this book is a mess, but it’s a fun mess. It seems to have hit that sweet spot for me between “this book is so cliche it’s awful” and “but it is pretty fun though”. It definitely wasn’t the action-packed thrill ride I was hoping for, but it was a readable mess despite the overused tropes and wasted potential. I’m not sure who I would recommend it to, to be honest. If you’re looking for a book about assassins that involves actual assassinations, I’d say look elsewhere, if you want more of a Cinderella story and you don’t mind a ton of annoying tropes, I’d say give this one a shot.