BY KATIE STOCKDALE
Even as the Young Adult genre is becoming more nuanced, adding more complex characters to the novels and allowing for those roles to become more developed, the classic hero is still the prevalent protagonist. This is why Sarah J. Maas’ debut fantasy novel, Throne of Glass, is so engaging.
From the first page, we know that the main character, Celaena, is not a good person, at least not in the conventional sense. No, she’s an assassin, a captured one no less, and she has no problem admitting it. Adarlan’s Assassin, as she’s known, is arrogant, vain and probably too comfortable spilling the blood of respectable people. Yet Maas’ greatest strength in the story is Celaena’s undeniable humanity. She’s not just relatable, she’s a character to root for, to worry about, to love.
Celaena is introduced in an unusual way, a moment of intense vulnerability. As the novel begins, Celaena’s being brought out of a prison camp after a year of servitude. She’s been sentenced to life in this camp, the conditions of which would likely have Amnesty International exploding, where the life expectancy is six months. And now, without any warning, Celaena’s being offered a way out – so of course she wants it.
The fear, anxiety and hope that stems from this proves that she is not just a mindless killer. She is something few would condone, yes, but she also has a story. And as the novel progresses and more of her personality and character are revealed the urge to know her story becomes stronger.
The offer Celaena gets in exchange for her freedom is simple: fight for the Crown Prince in a competition to decide the King’s champion. Win, and after five years of service, go free. Perhaps she’s too curious or understandably paranoid or simply because of fate, Celaena can’t follow this simple plan.
She quickly discovers a dark side to the castle and the court that endangers not only herself and her new friends Dorian and Chaol, but everyone under Adarlan’s control. And so Celaena’s objective becomes much murkier: Should she endanger her chance at freedom by fighting the evil lurking in the castle halls or should she focus on saving herself? Should she serve the tyrant King of Adarlan if it means saving herself?
The story is beautifully written. Maas shifts seamlessly between different character viewpoints, allowing for a well-rounded view of the story and a hint of foreshadowing. Although most of the book is dedicated to the three main characters, Celaena, Dorian and Chaol, there are also chapters from a lady of the court, showing that even petty grudges can add layers to the novel’s plot.
All of the characters are equally well-developed and each viewpoint is as individual as if there are full stories for all of them. Dorian is intelligent and uncommonly kind given the fact that his father is a ruthless tyrant and he has grown up in court luxury. Chaol is hardworking and loyal, almost to a fault, and struggles throughout the book as his preconceived notions are wiped away.
And Celaena is vibrant and full of life at times, yet she is also sad and introspective. She has suffered but she still strives to laugh. She enjoys the friends she has quickly made and the even simpler pleasures of reading and music. These contrasts inside of Celaena underscore the novel’s prominent message. This is a story about hope and how it can fuel you. Even as horrible things happen, if you continue to laugh and fightback, to have hope, all is not lost.
Throne of Glass is a heart-stopping ride and a sobering message. It is so engaging that it is hard to put down, but even after you finish, the story isn’t over. Three more of the planned six books are out with the fifth set to be released this fall, as well as a book of novellas The Assassin’s Blade, set before Throne of Glass. There’s plenty to read in this series and even more to love.
Katie Stockdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.