An amalgamation of some of my favorite young adult fantasy stories infused with fresh perspective, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas captivated me from start to finish. Full of intrigue and deception, the story never lagged. Fast-paced action complemented a strong, determined heroine (I’m a sucker for a story about a young assassin with a murky past).
After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.
Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.
Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another.
Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.
Celaena stole the show…er, the book. I am officially invested in her future. She has the requisite difficult upbringing, including little to no emotional connections. Obviously, that works well for her assassin trade. If I had to describe Celaena in one word, it would be: survivor. Life keeps throwing her ridiculous obstacles that she continues to overcome. Her parents are dead, she was sent to a prison camp, and her only hope of freedom is winning the strange contest to become the King’s Champion. Celaena is solitary in the beginning of the book, but, by the end, she has secured a few friends (though, we’ll have to see if they stay that way – I have my suspicions). Her relationships with Dorian, the Crown Prince, and Chaol, Captain of the Guard, evolve in a way that is complicated without feeling like manufactured angst.
Turning to the supporting characters (ignoring the villains who were appropriately villainous), Celaena’s crew is comprised of Dorian, Chaol, and Princess Nehemia. Dorian has his hands full with princely responsibilities and an angry father. He’s more light-hearted and quick to joke around. Nehemia didn’t get enough storyline (but there’s hope for her in the next books!). She is a strong presence and is also hiding secrets. However, Chaol was my favorite. He’s gruff but sweet, and I see so much potential for him. Usually serious, Chaol is a bit of a party pooper but only because he’s constantly worrying about his friends.
Though the story begins with Celaena leaving the prison camp, we get plenty of detail throughout about her life in the horrid camp. It’s a miracle that she survived such desperate conditions and incredible abuse. That knack for survival factors in when several of Celaena’s competitors begin sabotaging the contest. Her small stature and quiet demeanor allow her to fly under the radar, at first. Then, it becomes a challenge to stay alive, let alone win the contest and become the King’s Champion. Evidence of dark magic and strange symbols keep appearing at the site of various competitor’s violent deaths, so Celeana begins to research the symbols in her spare time and with the use of the King’s impressive library. Celeana notices several of her inner circle behaving oddly which reinforces her resistance to trust others. In essence there are three battles occurring at once: the competition to become the King’s Champion, Celaena’s struggle to stay alive as competitors are murdered in cold blood, and Celaena’s difficulty in trusting those in her inner circle even as she craves meaningful relationships. Eventually, Celaena has to make some tough decisions on whom to trust and hope that she’s made the right choice, because the wrong choice will surely mean her death.
Suffice it to say that I am hooked. With Throne of Glass, Sarah J. Maas constructed a fascinating world with compelling characters, and I want to read more. I’m hoping that we’ll get more of the fantasy elements as the story progresses and Celaena begins to understand her destiny. I’m also crossing my fingers that she survives the King’s bargain and ends up with the right (in my opinion) man. For a young adult fantasy fix with suspense and light romance, look no further than Throne of Glass (at least, until you’ve finished, then look to the next books).