Friday, 27 September 2013

Young Adult Book Review - Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

Young Adult Book Review - Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

Recommended for - Young Adults/Adults

Calaena Sardothien, the most deadly assassin in the kingdom of Adarlan and serving a life sentence in the salt mines of Endovier, is offered her chance at freedom if she will represent Prince Dorian in a tournament to decide the King's Champion. Agreeing on the condition that she will be free after four years of service, she leaves Endovier to train in the glass castle of Rifthold, capital city of Adarlan. Looked after by captain of the guard, Chaol Westfall, she is given the secret identity of a jewel thief so as not to leave her open for elimination outside of the tournament. She must complete a series of tasks to earn a place in the final duel to be crowned King's Champion, but when other contestants turn up murdered, is there more danger outside of the tournament than in? 

Let me begin by making one thing perfectly clear - Throne of Glass is one of the greatest fantasy novels I have read. Out of all the fiction I have read over the last couple of years, only The Hunger Games and ACID can compare for the way I've been drawn into the world presented to me, lost in the story being woven and desperate for more. The Young Adult market might be popular with vampire and dystopian-thriller lovers at the moment, but there's a shining beacon of greatness for the fantasy genre here, and that is Sarah J. Maas.

When I first learnt about Throne of Glass, I saw the excellent cover, learnt that it was about a kick-ass female assassin in a tournament, and quickly decided that Sarah J. Maas had somehow invaded my mind for ideas on what my perfect story would involve. For some reason, very soon after starting it, somebody accidentally sent it back to the library I received it from, and so I've had to wait a good few months to get it back again. As I finally got it back and began to read it again, I can't tell you how much I have been cursing the unknown perpetrator for depriving me of the chance to read this six months ago.

I'll start by talking about my favourite part of the book, and the reason why I really couldn't put it down - the characters. Celaena Sardothien is a surefire future legend of the Young Adult fantasy genre, a beautiful and deadly assassin, whose fiery temper and hatred for all things Adarlan mean she begins the book at complete odds with both the captain of the guard, Chaol Westfall, who oversees her protection, and the prince Dorian. Without going into too many spoiler-filled details, over time these relationships thaw, but it's the dialogue between them that I couldn't get enough of. I absolutely love characters who are sarcastically antagonistic towards one another, and I honestly don't think that I have ever enjoyed seeing it as much as in this book. Chaol and Dorian can give it back just as well as Celaena, although they are two different personalities - Chaol is the more thoughtful, albeit still hot-headed, of the two, while Dorian is the fun-loving and risky one. The three make up a wonderful trinity of core characters, enjoyable to read about whichever combination is talking.

I love a kick-ass heroine, and Celaena is up there with Katniss from The Hunger Games and Jenna from ACID for me. She's so much more than that though, her hatred for the kingdom of Adarlan stemming from the way it treats those under its rule, particularly the country of Eyllwe, and it's this empathy that makes her such a strong character. She's every right to be a mean bitch to everyone she meets, but she comes to care for Chaol and Dorian as she sees the honour inside both of them, and she makes friends with Princess Nehemia of Eyllwe due to a mutual hatred of Adarlan, hoping to one day help the Eyllwe rebels earn their freedom.

Chaol and Dorian are different sides of the personality spectrum, but both come to trust Celaena as time moves on, happy to believe that she won't do anything to harm her chances of freedom. Chaol is the harsher of the two towards her from the beginning, her staying focused on the task and out of trouble his own responsibility, so that she can win the tournament for the prince, but you quickly come to realise that he's developing a respect for her skills and dedication to winning her freedom. Dorian is much more amused by her fiery temper than Chaol, and the way she refuses to respect his position and title, but as we learn along with Celaena that he isn't made from the same evil blood as his father, the two begin to form an unlikely bond. The way Maas draws the characters together over time is incredibly well done, seeming a natural progression of their personalities, and I can envisage them all forming an underground resistance to the king's rule in future titles.

There are other secondary characters who make a distinct impression, too. Nehemia, princess of Eyllwe, is rumoured to be one of those involved in the rebellion, and it's clear through some of her actions that there's more to her than meets the eye, which will no doubt be explored in future books. She strikes up a friendship with Celaena quickly, and becomes one of the main reasons that keeps the assassin going throughout the story, even when her loyalty is called into question.

There are four distinctly evil characters as well, all of whom play different roles in threatening Celaena's attempts to win her freedom. The king is the most evil of all, disgusted with his son's choice of champion, and a terrible tyrant who wants to conquer everything. There's no love lost between him and Dorian, and whilst he's used sparingly in Throne of Glass, I expect he'll become more central to the plot in later novels. The Duke Perrington initially seems like a snivelling nobleman, but as time grows you know there's more to him than meets the eye. His champion, Cain, is the main threat to Celaena, and is one nasty piece of work that you'll love to hate. There's also the lady Kaltain, who's true goal is to marry Dorian, and will happily pretend to find Perrington a possible husband to get closer to her wish. All in all, there's plenty of treacherous foes out there for Celaena to worry about.

It's a fabulous cast of characters, all well written, and as I've said previously, its the dialogue between them all that gives this book its strength.

I loved the idea of a tournament from the second I read about it. I've always wanted to write a story with a similar theme, and so to have someone with infinitely more skill than myself do it is a treat. There are several plot threads woven seamlessly into each other, from the tournament itself to the champions being murdered, from the odd occurrences of magic which has supposedly be banned to the plotting against Celaena by a love rival. None of it falls flat on its face, and its easy to follow what's going on at all times.

In terms of the setting, we don't really get to see much of the world that Maas has built - most of the action takes place in the castle, although it's a spectacular sounding place, its outer shell built entirely of glass. We get hints as to what the wider world is like, visiting the mines of Endovier at the beginning, and hearing snippets of what Eyllwe is like. No doubt we'll venture further afield in the following books.

Please, permit be to get a bit deep for a minute. Now, I don't believe that there are books for boys and books for girls - if there were, you would say that fantasy books with magic and dragons would usually be boys books, yet the dominance of female authors and readers that I see in the fantasy market would tear this to pieces. I do, however, believe that other people believe that there are books for boys and books for girls. One of my tasks in the library is to eradicate this rubbish, and there's one key reason why I think Throne of Glass is ideal for this, Actually, there's two, but the second point isn't as interesting to talk about as the first. What really struck me when first reading this was how Celaena fulfils the 'kick-ass heroine' mould that I love so much, but there are traces of femininity in her that I don't think I've seen in other characters of this type before. There's plenty of mention of how much she loves clothes, and how she finds Dorian handsome, which I would usually expect from the traditional female love interest of the main character, but instead here they're the way that the reader can see a normal person inside of the girl who was taken to be trained as an assassin at the age of eight. As the book moves on, elements like this come to represent the normal life that Celaena dreams of, and that the hard-as-nails persona she has grown accustomed to isn't all she is. And why is this key to eradicating boys books and girls books? Well, if a female reader was to say to me that they've never tried a fantasy book because the genre is for men (and that does happen, believe me), I have a heroine here who I can use to show can kick-ass with the best of them whilst retaining the elements of femininity that you wouldn't expect were the book really to be written just for men - from there, I can find them other fantasy books that they might enjoy, and hey presto, there's another convert to the fantasy genre. The other reason is simply that the protagonist is a female who is just as strong a character as any male you've ever read about - Joss Whedon would be proud.

There's not much else I can say about Throne of Glass without repeating myself in an endless myriad of superlatives. I was hooked right from the very beginning, entranced by the characters and the way they interacted with each other, particularly the central trinity of Celaena, Chaol and Dorian. I honestly can't name another book where I have enjoyed reading the dialogue this much; the scenes of Celaena being antagonistic and sarcastic to both of them are pure gold. I'd struggle to name many Young Adult fantasy authors, most of them getting put into the adult section at the library, but Sarah J Maas has written a story worthy of displacing even the great Trudi Canavan, who is often put down as a Young Adult author.

On top of all that, it's inspired me to finish the fantasy trilogy that I began four years ago, which is some achievement as I've read many fantasy books in that time.

From start to finish, this is a masterpiece.


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