The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair (Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas)

Throne of Glass
Sarah J. Mass
Bloomsbury 2012

Deep in the heart of a brutal salt mine slaves a young girl.  Covered with salt-packed scars, this is the Assassin, dying in the place that killing led her.  Unlikely to survive another winter in the mine, she finds herself dragged from its shadows by the Captain of the King’s Guard.  Taken to the Crown Prince of a family she is surprised to find herself asked to enter a deadly competition, fighting against 24 others (all as versed in violence as herself) in order to win a place as the King’s Champion – killing at his whim for four years, after which she will gain her freedom.  Despite her misgivings at working for the King she so despises, Celaena Sardothien agrees to his terms and travels to a glass castle with an oddly alluring prince, a sullen guard and a dangerous duke. As the competition begins, Celaena battles for her freedom and her life while slowly realising that there are dangers far worse than her fellow competitors roaming the glass walls.

Celaena is a fantastic protagonist with one of her most attractive qualities being a blustering arrogance that incredibly enjoyable to read.  Even when pulled, emaciated and dying, from the salt mines she remains massively confident in her own abilities, responding to royalty and guardsmen alike with superiority somewhat out of keeping with her current situation.  When she arrives at the castle, her arrogance is matched with her vanity as she preens and twirls in coloured silks and flirts outrageously with her keepers – in short, she’s hilarious and one cannot help but like her.  However, Maas has tempered these aspects with a harsh past, difficult present and the looming spectre of death at every turn.  Despite her talk, Celaena is out of shape and (whisper it) somewhat intimidated by her surrounds.  Additionally, it quickly becomes clear that she is absolutely terrified of the King whose employ she seeks.  Her determination to draw conversation from Chaol (captain of the King’s guard) speaks of a deep loneliness and Maas carefully hints at aspects of Celaena’s past that might have lead to her prickly yet hopeful demeanour with those who might become friends.

Chaol and Crown Prince Dorian are also very well written.  Dorian is perhaps the more straightforward character as a young man unsure of his father’s motivations and his mother’s plans for his future.  He clearly seeks out Celaena as an act of almost childish rebellion but his curiosity towards her is always believable as are their interactions – with Dorian rarely bothered by her stuff and bluster.  Chaol is far more interesting in many respects, busy doing his duty for a King who he seems rarely to have questioned.  The growing friendship between him and Celaena is dealt with deftly and is a pleasure to read as it deepens into a real bond.  His reluctance to trust her only makes their conversations more believable and it’s lovely to see him slowly soften, if not entirely.  Rounding out the cast are the skin-crawingly conniving Perrington, ye olde mean-girl, Kaltain and mysterious princess Nehemia – all are vital in their own way and all are well-realised by Maas, never relegated to expositing bit players.  Lurking mainly behind scenes is a King who is truly sinister and who represents the true danger at the heart of all others Celaena might face.

In Throne of Glass, Sarah J. Maas has built a world that is at once versed in well-worn fantasy tropes and yet also unique in its details. It’s a winning combination and allows the reader to slip easily into the land that Maas has imagined.  From the awful salt mines of Endovier to the glass palace in Rifthold, each arena is visualised with real talent.  What is particularly compelling is Maas’s willingness to seek out the unsavoury details of each location from the port city of Rifthold reeking of fish and rot to the almost unspeakable conditions of Endovier.  The plot itself is compelling with the competition to be Champion at the heart of a far wider ranging story.  Maas manages to capture the fear that both known and unknown evil can engender and the result is impressive and often bone-chillingly direct.

It’s refreshing to see fantasy making its mark on Young Adult shelves, with titles like Grave Mercy and Daughter of Smoke and Bone (not to mention Curtis Jobling’s Wereworld series) building up positive buzz and leading, hopefully, to further stories in the genre.  Throne of Glass is a worthy addition to the books that currently have everyone talking and if you’ve enjoyed any of the above then you’ll enjoy this.  Refreshingly, while Throne of Glass is the first book in a series it actually works equally well as a standalone which will satisfy readers looking for an ending while also whetting their appetites for further stories of Ardalan’s Assassin.  Excellent stuff.

Throne of Glass will be available in the UK in August - thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me this title to review.


Donna (Bites) said…
Sya, if you wrote the book I would have read it. You make the MC sound downright endearing. As it stands I didn't see the story with the same eyes. I found Celaena downright insufferable, her hubris her only flaw, her talents grossly exaggerated and her circumstances contrived beyond measure. I couldn't even finish it.
Angiegirl said…
So you liked it! That's awesome. It's in my stack and now I'm more encouraged about starting it than I was before.
Huh. You've just convinced me that I really want to read this book now!

I forgive you for mentioning Grave Mercy and Daughter of Smoke and Bone in the same post as THIS book.

Your review is well written. Much more so than the actual book. I want you to print it out, autograph it and mail it to me. I will then buy a copy of Throne of Glass, RIP OUT THE INSIDES and place this review between the cover instead.

I did like the book, despite all evidence to the contrary. I'm just ashamed of myself for liking it so I lash out and hurt others with my self-loathing book-angst. I'll be better behaved after nap and snack time. Promise.
BTW, that cover kicks the US cover's ASS, hands down. STOMPS it really.
I don't understand the loathing, people! I liked it and (whisper it) I actually didn't think the writing was that bad. I made the heroine sound endearing because I thought she WAS endearing... Perhaps this says strange things about me. Also, I preferred it to Grave Mercy. Controversial, I know. Laura, you're right about the cover although I think both versions are pretty awful. Also, an autographed copy might be taking it TOO far. Just saying.
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