Wednesday, August 08, 2012

"Throne of Glass," by Sarah J. Maas - the 100 Page Drop

I first became aware of this book through other bloggers, and then later at Book Expo America where it was hyped up and down the Javitz Center. Upon meeting the author herself at the Apocalypsies' party, she piqued my interest when she described her debut novel as a retelling of Cinderella, one where Cinderella is an assassin sent to the ball to kill the prince.

I love fairy tale retellings and I love epic fantasies with warrior heroines (I credit a timely introduction to Tamora Pierce in my teens for that one), but unfortunately, Throne of Glass strained my credibility to the point where I had to subject it to the 100 Page Drop (i.e. read the first 100 pages and if nothing's improved by then, junk it).

Our heroine, Celaena Sardothien, isn't just a good assassin - she's the World's Greatest Assassin. Before she could get around to making it official and buying the coffee mug, she was captured at seventeen and imprisoned in a death camp for a year. Unexpectedly, she is dragged from the salt mines and brought before none other than Dorian, the Crown Prince of Adarlan, who offers her a deal.

Apparently his dad (the King of Obviously Evil Imperialist Metaphoria) is looking for a Champion to do his kingly dirty work. Instead of having his Obviously Evil Imperialist HR Department put an ad out on Obviously Evil Imperialist Craigslist, the King read a copy of The Hunger Games and has decided to hold an incredibly elaborate and violent competition to fill the position instead. Prince Dorian thinks Celaena (with her years of World's Best Assassin Experience) would be an excellent candidate and promises that if she wins, she will be granted her freedom after four years of loyal service.

Now, Dorian's dad is Obviously Evil - take-over-the-world, burn-all-the-magic-books Evil. But Celaena's other option is staying in the salt mine death camp. And, I mean, c'mon - salt mines. So dehydrating. So bad for the skin. So Celaena accepts and is transported to the King's palace to train in the competition against a ragtag gaggle of criminals, mercenaries, thieves, assassins and sociopaths.

Thankfully, Celaena's entourage comes pre-equipped with a love triangle - Prince Dorian (Bachelor #1) likes long walks on the beach, dog breeding, flirting with court ladies, and morally struggling with the fact that his father is Obviously Evil. Captain Chaol Westfall (Bachelor #2), Dorian's BFF and captain of the royal guard, likes brooding, snarling, murmuring disapprovingly, and expressing his unrequited love in passionate unseen glances of longing. How do you pronounce that name, anyhow? Chowl? Chail? Cowl?

Now this would all be lovely drama gravy, but nothing in the first 100 pages of this novel made any sense. First of all, I found Celaena's character entirely implausible. We're told that she's an assassin - the world's BEST assassin! - and yet nothing about her worldview, her actions, or her behaviour fits this description. She spent a year of torture in a death camp and not three days later she's whining about the agony of wet shoes. We're told she was So Good at Secretly Assassinating People that only a select few know who she really is, and yet she whines and pouts that she has to hide her true skills during the competition to protect her identity - because she wants more attention.

What we're told about Celaena is completely different from what we're shown. We're told that Celaena killed twenty-three people with her bare hands and a pick axe during her one escape attempt from the death camp, and yet all I see is a whiny, childish, shortsighted, boastful heroine who still manages to be somewhat "innocent." When you tell me that a character has been killing people for money since they were eight years old, to the point of becoming the best at it, to the point of being thrown into a torture-jail for it - I get certain expectations of what that character should be like, and Celaena doesn't meet any of those. She reads more like a plucky, naive thief caught stealing a necklace from some rich lady's purse than a mass murderer who endured torture and slavery.

Moreover, the novel's plot seemed contrived and nonsensical to me. Why throw a complicated, expensive competition to choose your Champion? Why choose from among a group of thieves, mercenaries, and murderers instead of loyal knights and soldiers? Why host the competition and house these thieves, mercenaries and murderers in your own castle? And if you're the World's Best Assassin who's been brought out of a death camp and given weapons, why don't you cut a bloody path to freedom instead of staying to serve the man personally responsible for destroying your home country?

Skimming ahead did not resolve any of my problems with the story. We find out that Celaena loves candy, books and pretty dresses and hates the idea of puppies dying. Dorian and Chaol angst about how incongruously adorable and lovable the World's Best Assassin is and discreetly argue about who'll get to kiss her underneath the Fantasy Mistletoe Equivalent during their Fantasy Christmas Equivalent. Someone's butchering the competitors and stealing their organs. Magical ghosts factor in somewhere. Saving the World becomes a top priority, which only Celaena can do, etc. etc. drop it into Mount Doom, rinse and repeat.

Fantasy novels are supposed to make you believe in the unbelievable. Sadly, I found my sense of disbelief couldn't remain airborne with Throne of Glass - at least for longer than 100 pages.
DNF

Disagree? Still curious? You can purchase Throne of Glass here.

13 comments:

  1. Oh God. I read this years and years ago on Fictionpress.com when it was a stupendously long pile of bilge. I think later on Celaena becomes the Champion, heads on over to The Other Kingdom--the one with faries and magic and shit--finds a Cinderella who fits the archetype much more closely, has shady dealings with Mab (or Maeve?), and maybe there's sex with Dorian in some sort of celestial dream plane. There may have been a magical stag.

    Oh, and the reason Celaena is the World's Best Assassin might be because a magical stag might or might not have been scarificed so that baby Celaena was blesses to be the best at whatever she decided to do. I did think it was a shame she didn't turn her hand to deep sea treasure diving or baking or something.

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  2. Yeah, that I don't get. I felt the book really glossed over the fact that she, uh, MADE A LIVING out of killing people. And that's not necessarily an automatic bad thing (Fitz from Robin Hobb's Assassin's Apprentice trilogy is awesome), but the author still needs to develop it. There was no internalizing about her ability to kill people and whether it meant a lot or a little to her, there was no backstory or flashbacks for it. Who did she kill before? What were her hires? How did she feel about having to do that? We don't get any of that.

    There's actually a hilarious scene in the book where Celaena scoffs that she'd never be so low as to be a Prince's mistress - and yet when the Prince points out she killed people for a living, she's gets all huffy!

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  3. Everything is this review is so true. I still ended up enjoying it, but I do agree with you review. It was very hard to believe Celaena had all those skills, the love triangle, etc. I heard the original story was written for adults and did not contain the contest.

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    1. Really? How interesting. Did her editors make her add it?

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    2. I read this way back in Fictionpress and from what I remember, the contest was about finding Prince Dorian's fiancee (who will be sent to the other country to kill the prince there). Since all the other princess-wannabes were perfectly willing to kill in order to win, they thought adding Celeana to the contest was a win-win situation because she could either a.) get killed by the others, or b.)actually win, do the mission, and be assassinated afterwards.

      I remember liking the story then (even if some parts just really made me go WTF-where-am-I-what-am-I-reading, the world Maas created was interesting enough for me to continue) and its just sad if all that potential is wasted.

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  4. This does sound disappointing. I'm still going to give it a go but I don't have high hopes.

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    1. Some people simply adore this book. There's actually not a lot of middle ground - people either love it or hate it.

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  5. I was going to buy this to read on a train, but the first sentence was so 'LEMME ESPLAIN EVERYTHING SUPER FAST' that I put it down. I think I might strike it off my want list after this review.

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    1. EXACTLY. I hate beginnings like that! Do they assume teenagers' attention spans are so short that they have to cram all the worldbuilding and backstory into the first chapter?

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  6. I'm usually a super lurker on your blog, but a) this was extra hilarious and b) f!#& yeah, timely introductions to Tamora Pierce!

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    1. I fucking LOVE Tamora Pierce!

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  7. Wow. This is exactly everything I had a problem with, too. I'd say you were channeling my book-rage, but you read the book before I did! (judging by the date of your review). I was so tempted not to finish it myself, but I'm too much of a masochist for that.

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  8. Here is great book. I have been read this book.

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