I usually rotate between genres, but I have been craving YA fantasy in the vein of Graceling and Finnikin of the Rock lately. I’d read the first few pages of Throne of Glass when it first came out and it didn’t really pique my interest at the time, but I decided to give it a try because so many readers have absolutely loved it.
Ultimately, it wasn’t really for me, though to a certain extent, I do see the appeal for a particular type of reader.
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Published: August 7th 2012 by Bloomsbury
Source: library copy from Overdrive
Find: Goodreads | Amazon
Genre: young adult fantasy, young adult romance
Synopsis: 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.
Throne of Glass is a deeply flawed book. All major elements of story, from character to plot to world-building, and the style, voice, and structure, were acking.
First, let’s examine the premise. The king wants to assemble a “secret” competition to select his next champion. So members of the nobility, including his son, recruit the nastiest brutes and criminals they can find to fight for the honor of serving as the king’s champion. Why the king needs a champion and what the nobility stand to gain if their champion wins is not clear. The logic of allowing these type of people, who are obviously untrustworthy, into the castle, is questionable.
I could have overlooked this, had the writing or characters been compelling, but it failed on both counts.
Let me talk about POV first, because it was the most distracting element of the book. I’m fine with multiple 3rd limited most of the time, but the way that it was used in Throne of Glass was ineffective as a storytelling device. While the majority of the time the reader is seeing the story through Celaena’s eyes, there are at least five different points of view. The shifts in perspective seem so random, rather than a deliberate choice to develop character or because the plot absolutely requires it. The scenes from the villain’s POV and the two love interests POV added nothing to the story and amounted to cacking about how devious they were or mooning over Celaena in a way I can’t imagine a captain of the guard or even a playboy prince doing.
I also found characters to be inconsistent. I appreciated that Maas tried to make a kick ass heroine who was also feminine, and I don’t fault Celaena for her vanity or shallowness; on the contrary, I appreciate flawed characters. But in my opinion, Maas missed the mark with her, in that there is nothing endearing about her, no reason for me to root for her. She just didn’t seem like a real person, and her contradictions didn’t seem believable. Celaena loves pretty dresses, but then complains about how uncomfortable they are and says she prefers pants. She’s supposedly an accomplished assassin, but we’re only told this, never shown. Seriously, she doesn’t kill anyone during the entire book. There are no deaths that are a result of her hand.
The leading men fared no better: Chaol is supposedly such a smart, capable guard, but makes so many allowances and oversights during the book, I didn’t buy anything I was told about him (again, his characterization was all tell, no show). Prince Dorian was rather bland, and didn’t act, just reacted, to situations.
Hints at backstory were just awkwardly shoved in. Maas tries to bring together so many elements—an assassin’s guild, conquest, outlawing of magic, Fae ancestry—the world-building was completely scattershot. It’s as if Maas is trying to do too much and therefore accomplished nothing. There was nothing sophisticated about the political intrigue, which is what I enjoy the most about high fantasy. Books like The Winner’s Curse and Finnikin of the Rock do such a great job using fantasy as a way to explore complicated realities of war and conquest, but in Throne of Glass, Maas uses these as a vehicle to talk about pretty dresses and how much she loves libraries.
As for the romance, it fell completely flat for me. There was no compelling reason for either of Chaol or Prince Dorian to be interested in Celaena—she’s selfish, egotistical, sullen, and not at all charming. Likewise, both the Captain of the Guard and the Prince felt like stock characters, and there is absolutely nothing memorable about either.
I can see why casual readers would think it was a fun read, because when there are action scenes, they’re fine, just not enough to hold together an entire book. I’ve heard people compare it to Graceling and Girl of Fire of Thorns, and I don’t think it’s anywhere near that caliber. If you’re looking for some lite-fantasy that you don’t have to think too hard about, give this a try, but if you’re craving complex fantasy that is deeply engaging and thought-provoking, with characters you’ll want to revisit again and again, stick with any of my other fantasy favorites.
Gillian at Writer of Wrongs: “As I was reading Throne of Glass, I realized that this book was going to be very divisive. Some people were going to love it, others were not. I happen to be in the positive camp. I love high fantasy. I love watching authors of skill create worlds that don’t really exist, and I really enjoyed Maas’ Erilea, even if I found some slight flaws in it.”
Heidi at Bunbury in the Stacks: “It dips its toes into too many puddles–action, political intrigue, magic, mythology, romance, war, revolution–failing to fully flush out any of them. I can forgive bad world building, bad characters, or lack of action when one of these others excels, but Throne of Glass failed on all fronts. I feel it could have been a much stronger book had it chosen to focus on something rather than everything, but as is it falls incredibly short of being deemed epic.”
5 thoughts on “Book Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas”
Very well put! I completely agree with all you state here. I was so frustrated by it, even more so because I was hoping to love it.
I have, however, heard it gets exponentially better as the series continues – even those who didn’t like the first one are saying how much the series improves, how it becomes a much truer high fantasy with political intrigue and all, so I’m going to follow through with this series eventually (I also have copies of the second and third books from a signing).
Right now I’m actually reading the novella bindup, because I heard they’re important to read to get a better overall scope of the story. So far, I do agree. The history of Celaena’s past and her role in the assassin’s guild makes more sense AND she actually kills people in these novellas.
You know, even though I (now) totally love the Throne of Glass series, I actually agree with your review. I didn’t care for this first book and almost didn’t continue the series because of it. You’re so right: there are a lot of problems with this book, and I had difficulty swallowing them all. Every problem across the board (characters, world building, structure, etc.) are vastly improved in her next book, though. If you are on the fence then I’d encourage you to give Crown of Midnight a try. CoM converted me where ToG didn’t, so I feel obligated to spread the word about how much better this series gets!
This book is one where I usually feel like a black sheep in the blogosphere because I don’t love it (I haven’t seen it get as much love from librarians or teens but maybe that’s just a lack of research on my part). Your thoughts mirror a lot of my own issues that I raised while reading and reviewing it myself. I was also disappointed by the lackluster mystery. And I was flat out appalled by the lack of diversity. It was so frustrating to see the only POC character framed as other and treated rather shabbily in parts of the story. So, so frustrating.
I do think this is one that bloggers have responded to a lot more fervently than librarians or Real Actual Teens. It’s been popular enough in my library to warrant multiple copies, but not at the top of high demand. You make an excellent point about the diversity, and the way the only “other” character is treated in the book.