Ashana Lian's Fantasy Lab



Fantasy and Fantasy Writing from every angle: fantasy and sci-fi novels, films, artwork, superhero cartoons, children's and YA books, manga, anime, video games and comics. Put the microscope on 'Geek Culture'.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

YA Book: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I saw Throne of Glass (I keep calling it Glass of Thrones) maybe about two years ago when it was first published. The cover was dark yet bright and gothic and mysterious and very badass. My interest was piqued by the fact that there was no romantic plotline in the blurb, which back then I found rare. "Back then", we hadn't yet separated the Teenage and Young Adult books yet. I added it to my wish list but I never got round to buying it... look where we are. 2014. That happens with books on the TBR...

The Reviews From A Bookworm blog recently gave it *ahem* favourable reviews which reminded me of it again. So when I saw it on offer at work I remembered my Super Book Haul thought... 'Well, I waited this long. I can wait a bit longer.' And then my evil conscience screamed, "BUT THE OFFEEEEEEERRR!" So I went for it, £11.98 for 4 brand spanking new books, which is what, £2.99 each? Sweeeeet. I got that dopamine kick I get when I buy news books and go on that natural high, feeling happy until I realise how long it's gonna take to read them. And then I don't.

The blurb had me interested enough, although maybe it could've done better without that last line.


Throne Of Glass critique


Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's
Published: 2012
Fantasy Sub-Genre: Young-Adult

Blurb:
Meet Celaena Sardothien.
Beautiful. Deadly. Destined for greatness.

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake. She got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament - fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin's heart be melted?


Just a reminder, my reviews are not spoiler-free.

When I began, I wasn't wowed but I was willing to see where it would take me. I quickly became unsure about Celaena's character. She was extremely childish and arrogant despite being the best assassin in all of Adarlan. Now, these two facts don't contradict each other - in fact the juxtaposition is so unusual that it makes her slightly more interesting but there's one problem.

Childishness in any respect is not a likeable character trait. I don't like Celaena. So you see the problem.

There are other contradictions that were less tolerable. I expected extreme cunning on her part now that an opportunity to escape had arrived but I felt she barely rose to the challenge. Not being aware of Dorian sitting next to her at the piano. Hating Chaol (to a quite extreme extent, in my opinion, and for no justifiable reason I could determine) but having empathy for criminals at the tournament. I know this is the point; I'm guessing this reminds us of her uncertainties, which would be more intense when you remember she was betrayed, and also she's only 17. But sadly this is the reason some YA's are tiresome to me. You expect me to believe this person will achieve great things against all odds when she's so temperamental?

'She knew better than anyone not to underestimate opponents based on their appearance' (p.86), but she had done exactly that fourteen pages earlier, making the judgement to Prince Dorian that Cain wouldn't be fast or swift because of his immense size. It's just all a bit up and down.

I continued to read, despite that the motivations of this tournament seem extremely foolish. If you are the King, and you need protection from your enemies, rounding up the worst of the assassins and thieves in your kingdom is a bizarre way to go about it. These people, I'd imagine, wouldn't have the same sort of moral conscience as a knight - which might be precisely why the King wants them, but it's also hard to imagine them swearing their loyalty either. It's not actually clear what's in it for the participants, unless I read with my eyes shut for an hour and a half.

Other issues. I really didn't see how the best assassin in Adarlan couldn't escape when they are moving her from the prison to the glass palace, as she's clearly done things of much greater magnitude. There doesn't seem to be any retribution for if she tries to escape. Prince Dorian says she'll return to the mines, but if for example she killed him and is executed, her flashback scene made it clear she preferred death to the mines. So I don't really get it.

Prince Dorian and Captain Chaol didn't have any guarantee that she wouldn't kill them the moment they got the chance, and his plight was nowhere near strong enough to justify his voyage and getting her out of prison. You hunt down the most trained assassin in the kingdom to kill your worst enemy, or avenge your father/mother/brother, not for a tournament that you don't even condone. And Dorian didn't condone it, so why make the effort?

I must say though, the bit that really pulled me in with a WOW was when she woke up and the fae had left her flowers. That made actually made me gasp, the imagery was so perfect and enchanting in my head. When I read that bit, that is precisely when my resolve to continue reading was set.

Okay so *sigh* these potential love interests, as it's clear that's what they are the moment she gets to the palace and is dancing rings around them both, are pretty clueless. The fact that both Dorian and Choal are young and (assumingly) without life experience makes them even more exasperating, and the conversations they have with Celaena make me want to pull my dreadlocks out.


Example 1 - Celaena and Chaol.
' "Do you know how insulting it is to pretend to be some nobody thief from a small city in Fenharrow?"
He stared her down, quiet for a moment. "Are you that arrogant?" She bristled, but he went on. "It was foolish to spar with you just now. I'll admit I hadn't realized you'd be that good. Thankfully, no-one noticed. And do you want to know why, Lillian?" He took a step closer, his voice lowering. "Because you're some pretty little girl. Because you're a nobody jewel thief from a small city in Fenharrow.[" ...]
"Exactly! It's insulting!"
"It's smart, that's what it is.["] ' (p.88, Throne Of Glass, Sarah J. Maas)

Arggghhh, there are so many things in this passage that make me grit my teeth, I don't know where to begin.

1. First and foremost. Celaena has just been freed from a prison where she received whips so severe, she'll be scarred for life. If I was released and then sent to do something I excel at for the King, I wouldn't be complaining about my flipping name. Would you?
2. Second. Yes, yes, of course it's smart. Everybody seems to have realised this EXCEPT Celaena. This is why it's so hard to find her likeable.
3. 'It was foolish to spar with you just now.' Yes, it was, you're an idiot. 'I'll admit I hadn't realized you'd be that good.' You hadn't realised Adarlan's Assassin would be 'that good?' Who ARE you, anyway? Maybe Dorian should call in a guard with more experience instead of his best friend. 'Thankfully, no-one noticed.' Yeah THANKFULLY! But sadly a tournament such as this will require more than luck, and I'm now convinced Chaol just isn't bright.


Example 2 - Celeana and Dorian.
"What are you doing here?" she repeated.
He smiled roguishly. "We decided to meet tonight. Don't you remember?"
"I thought it was a joke."
"I'm the Crown Prince of Adarlan." He sank into a chair before the fire. "I never joke."
"Are you allowed to be here?"
"Allowed? Again: I'm a prince. I can do what I like. "
"Yes, but I'm Adarlan's assassin."[...]
"I don't think anyone who plays like that can be just a criminal. It seems like you have a soul." he teased.
"Of course I have a soul. Everyone has a soul."
(p.145, Throne Of Glass, Sarah J. Maas)

1. From what I remember, they DID technically 'decide' to meet. Celaena gave no indication that she didn't actually mean it despite that she was annoyed at the time. In fact, if he DIDN't turn up, I would have struck it down as an incontinuity.
2. HA!! Is this for real? He is always, joking. He has joked in almost every scene he's been in in this book so far. What a ridiculous thing to say.
3. "Yes, but I'm Adarlan's assassin." - For goodness sake, nobody cares! Her vanity injures me! WHY is she such a liked heroine?
4. Oh dear, what a clumsy prince. It's quite clear that the prince would be happy to get romantically involved with an assassin who is bound to honour her deal with him unless - oh! - he happens to be dead. So I've lost about 100 respect points for him, from right about... now.


Prince Dorian is always 'chuckling' or 'laughing' which gives him a two-dimensional edge. It's all he ever seems to do. But I must say, the POV chapter from him helped a lot to flesh out his character a lot. Sadly, I can't empathize with a bored prince. I know not every prince in fantasy has to have some trauma or someone to avenge, but at the same time, I've had no reason thus far to root for Dorian so his wants and motivations mean nothing to me. The scene when he walked in on Celaena playing piano was embarrassing.



Quick List Of Elements In This Book I Have (Regrettably) Seen Done Better Elsewhere

  • Teenage Girl, Wins Tournaments (Against All Odds to everyone else; to us, Inevitably) - Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games
  • Young But Extremely Skilled Fighter - oh gosh, so many, you can look pretty much ANYWHERE in fantasy or YA
  • Bored Prince - Prince Tedros, The School For Good And Evil, Prince Joffrey, A Song Of Ice And Fire, Prince Salme Dien from Empire In Black And Gold, like almost EVERY PRINCE in fantasy basically.
  • Young Man Promoted To Top Of Rank At Extremely Young Age - Fell Aron Lee, The City
  • Exotic Woman (usually a princess) With A Secret Agenda - Nymeria Sand, A Song Of Ice And Fire, again
  • Asshole King - King Odem, Half A King, but sorry that's a spoiler. How about Prince Jorg's father from Prince Of Thorns or Fire Lord Ozai from Avatar: the Legend of Aang.
  • Woman At Court Who Is A Total Bitch - Scimina, A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, kinda gotta say Cersei from A Song Of Ice and Fire, many of the mothers from The Cousins' War
  • Other Competitors Who Don't Think the Puny New Fighter Can Win But We Secretly Know They Are Stronger Than Everyone - half the mangas I've ever read in my life including King Of Hell, and I've kinda gotta say Jorg from Prince Of Thorns, Pug from Magician and also Éowyn from Lord Of The Rings.

Princess Nehemia is a character that in other situations would have liked. But in Throne Of Glass, there's too many pointers and nudges and pushes that we're supposed to like her before we get the chance to do so ourselves. In the first scene, we are told that she is beautiful, she dislikes slaves, the two-faced women at court annoy her, she dislikes the extravagance of a glass castle, supports rebel groups, and opposes arranged marriages. I feel like it's Virtue Overload.

If I ignore the pointers and focus on what she says and does, as I would when meeting a real person for the first time, this is what I learn. She immediately takes to the one person who knows her language, who unbeknownst to her is an assassin. That's understandable in any situation. But it is NEVER wise, in any language, to barely disguise an insult of one companion to another; she's already bitching about - Kaltrain, was it? - and the castle without knowing where Celaena's loyalties lie. Luckily for Nehemia, it is not with the king, the castle or Kaltrain, but it makes Princess Nehemia appear without tact and she's stuck in the middle of what she considers to be enemy territory.  Her friendship with Celaena happens so fast, that not only do I feel no 'Aw' over it, but I'm aware that from the moment we meet her, all she does is complain (I hate people like that) so maybe they deserve each other. The Princesses I admire best can smile in a room full of bitches and vipers.

What made me put the book down was this line, spoken by Chaol.

"How'd you remember my brother's name?" (p.167, Throne Of Glass, Sarah J. Maas)

??? WHAT? Why the hell would you ask someone HOW they remember something? Well, er, see, you told it to me, and my mind stored it away for future use. ???

That was enough for me, it was getting ridiculous. I don't care what happens, I don't care if it picks up, I don't care how it ends, I don't care about the other three books, I'm done.





The Verdict

I am aware that because I didn't read to the end, there may have been issues I mentioned here that would've eventually been answered. However.

Every character in this story is a stereotype. The dashing but disillusioned Prince, the stern guard promoted at a remarkably young age, female assassin who, despite being harshly trained for eleven years, has hissy fits every five minutes - okay thats not a stereotype, just a Mary Sue. The formidable and probably crazy king, the jealous courtesan, even the surprising ally of a princess-type I have read before. (Game Of Thrones, Margaery Tyrell. Wasn't what she seemed, was she?)

The blossoming romances didn't make me believe in them because I saw no convincing emotional push, and this is down to the nature of the characters. Like I said in my post on A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, characters are EXTREMELY IMPORTANT to me. Even with an interesting concept and gripping world history and those magical fae making a brief appearance, it's just not enough. What I read of it, I'd give about three stars. I didn't hate it - I just didn't love it enough to care.

***
(unfinished.) :(


Aftermath

So. Pissed. Off.

Not just because I was I looking forward to this series and was disappointed, or because it's YET ANOTHER unsatisfactory YA book that  have to add to the list, but because I know what it's like to love a book and be part of the fandom and to sail the ship and be all like YEAH I'm totally happy to neglect my social life while I search for fan art on Deviantart. *sigh*

Like, I could make myself go on reading it, like I did with Wuthering Heights (I did reach the end of that book, GOD it was awful. I was so angry.), even if just to find out about the fae, and Sam who seemed very interesting (maybe that was just because he had no dialogue. The dialogue in this book annoyed me.) but I don't feel motivated anymore.

I will read something from Sarah J. Maas in the future. Anything. Just... not... this.


Alternative Readings

I'm highly aware that my review is probably ugly duckling in the blogosphere. Like I said, this book is widely loved; almost every book blog where I've stumbled across a review of this rated it highly. Here's a handful:

- Charnell from Reviews From A Bookworm (4.5 /5)
- Regan from Just A Book Blogger (5 /5)
- Amanda from Book Badger (4 /5)
- Ebony from Daring Damsels (3.2 /5)


There was an interesting post on hello giggles about being tired of the Overqualified Girl Sidekick. The writer has a point, but if the girl sidekick graduates into a Do-All Heroine, then in my eyes the risk of her becoming a Mary Sue is a greater danger.

One thing that really gets me, is - in a way, Celeana and Prince Adarlan remind me of my own Karalan and the Prince of Pearls. Which makes me wonder - did I develop my characters properly? I'm tempted to go back and start from scratch.



Ashana Lian .

P.S. God, I feel so bad. Sorry, Miss Maas. I guess it just wasn't for me.

____________________

And now, what you've all (I'm joking, just me) been waiting for:
I love this book, soooo much AND YOU SHOULD TOO!
Unleash your inner kid!
(Review'll probably be posted tomorrow).

12 comments:

  1. Oh, I'm so so sad you didn't like it. But, not every book is for everyone, so I understand! This is my favourite series of all time. ;-) I think I've rated every book 5-stars so far, lol, and I'm usually stingy with my high ratings. But you probably have read a lot more fantasy books then me anyway. XD

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    1. I feel so annoyed! I really WANTED to like it... XD There's bit of a danger there, because last time I really wanted to like something, I just kept on and on trying until it was dead to me (Twilight. Technically it paid off because I thought Breaking Dawn was the best book, although it still had flaws.)

      I'm sorry I slammed your favourite series :( Ah, that's something I never actually thought about. It could be that for me, it doesn't compare to the fantasy I usually read. I dunno. Anyway, thank you very much for commenting c:

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    2. Aw, don't feel bad! We are totally entitled to our own opinions right?!! And you made a lot of logical points there. XD

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    3. I knoww I knoww, but I still do! I wasn't going to post it. But then I thought, it would be kind of suspicious if I only posted positive reviews!! =P

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  2. I have kept hearing about this book and wondered if it would be any good. Whilst I have read a lot of favourable reviews, I have also read a couple who like you, couldn't finish it. The heroine does sound very unlikable, which is always a bad start, and stereotyped characters are really hard to care about. I would maybe read this in the future just to see what I think, as it certainly seems to be a book that splits opinions.
    Great review!

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    1. Really! Well, that's news. I have heard nothing but good news about this one!

      I think it really depends, because its true that it's easier to be tolerable of a character once you get to sympathise and empathise with them. It could be that I stopped reading before I made that connection with Celaena, and I have heard that the novella 'Assassin's Blade' really enhances her character. I guess it was just my experience. :3 Thanks for your comment Laura!

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  3. I'm glad you made this review!

    I've read many positive reviews on Throne of Glass but I've also read quite a few that were negative. The flaws they mentioned were the same as the one you cited. I really don't like stereotyped characters. And I don't like characters that are too perfect. The princess is an angel and Celaena (I don't know for you but I find her name so complicated) is this beautiful, creative, smart, arrogant and skilled assassin.

    On one hand I'd like to read the book to have my own opinion on it but on the other, I'm about sure I'll be disappointed. That's one hell of a dilemma!

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    1. I hadn't realised that the like/dislike was closer to 50/50! Yes, I agree, characters are a BIG deal for me, I like to obsess over them a lotttt. It allows me to determine whether they are fandom worthy, heh. You should read it anyway!!! A lot of the reviews I read admitted it had flaws but they still loved it to bits, maybe you will too. I'm going to try another popular YA series like Legend by Marie Lu and hopefully I'll like that. Apparently it's a similar sort of thing but on the dystopian side.

      Most of the names in this book were complicated, perhaps unnecessarily so. I have some complicated names in my book but I hoped to balance it with a lot of words and concepts that are easy to grasp. I don't know if that will work but only time will tell!!

      Thanks for commenting!

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  4. Brilliant review Ashana. I am sorry my gushy reviews reminded you about the series, especially since you didn't end up liking the book at all. But I love reading your review because you explain all your problems with it, and a lot of them are issues I had with the first book myself. Crown of Midnight was what officially sealed the deal for me with this book series. I think 3/5 is a decent rating for it, given all your issues with it - that was actually what I was considering rating it until I was about halfway in or so. I was enjoying it at the beginning but I was struggling with certain aspects - Celaena got on my nerves a lot in the beginning.

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    1. Hiya! Yeah I know, I know. *snort* The irony. Now that my irritation has subsided, I'm glad I at least tried it. Throne Of Glass had some really interesting concepts, I kind of wish I got to see how they played out, especially the thing about Sam. But as Sam is important to Cel and she made me feel a bit 'meh', I feel like I can live without knowing, LOL.

      That's an interesting point. I was saying to Cait above ^ that perhaps me being used to fantasy books was what caused some frustration - almost like the trajectory of the book dragged the competition out for far too long. Oh weeell. Thanks for commenting!

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  5. I'm sorry that you didn't like it. I absolutely loved it, but I know some people just don't like it. You have a great blog and a new follower!

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    1. Aw, whenever I hear that I want to read it again and MAKE myself like it! But I just can't, there's too many inconsistencies and cliches. >.< Thanks indeed! Always nice to hear somebody likes your blog enough to follow. Aaaand I'm over to your blog now. c:

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