Krispy's Reviews > The Assassin and the Empire

The Assassin and the Empire by Sarah J. Maas
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's review
Jul 26, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: novella, ya, fantasy
Read in July, 2012 — I own a copy

2.5 stars. I originally rounded this up because I quite enjoyed certain aspects of the novella and I thought it was a fitting lead-in to the novel, but I ended up rounding it down again because there were a few things that nagged me while I was reading that nagged me even more as I thought about the story in hindsight.

But let's talk good things first because I like starting and ending on a positive note when possible.

Celaena's arrogance was toned down in this novella, and I liked seeing her face the difficulties of essentially being independent for the first time and of being in a romantic relationship. I particularly appreciated her difficulty with her desire to move away and her reluctance to give up the city she loves. I was also glad to see more interaction between her and Sam, and I found a few of the scenes involving the two of them rather touching, especially when things turn for the worst.

I also liked that while the ending of this story was inevitable given what we know of where Throne of Glass begins, it wasn't quite as obviously predictable as the other novellas. I mean, the whole thing was still predictable, but I thought Arobynn was finally presented in a somewhat more ambiguous way. It was too little too late, but at least he seemed less totally-suspect in his interactions with Celaena. Their relationship often suggests something complicated and twisted but as with many aspects of these novellas, there wasn’t enough depth to this to make me believe Arobynn was anything but out to get Celaena or that Celaena had any reason to want to trust him.

Now for the things that bothered me.

Modern sensibilities: There were some weirdly modern things in this novella like Celaena’s apartment. It has floor-to-ceiling glass windows with a view of the city, a kitchen (with a sink that has a window over it), a living room with a fireplace, a bedroom, and a bathroom with running water. Sounds a bit modern, no? Heck, I want to live there! Then there’s a point when she and Sam talk about having their things shipped to them once they’ve moved. Do they have FedEx or UPS in this world? They don’t have phones or internet or MAGIC, so presumably they’d have to communicate all information/transactions by post, which in ye elde days, took freaking forever. So I can't imagine shipping anything anywhere is an easy task, and they're trying to move so they can disappear.

Set-Up: Interesting new elements are introduced in this novella, but I wish they weren’t introduced in such an abrupt way. I was surprised to discover Celaena’s great dislike and shaking-in-her-designer-boots fear of the King because I had no inkling of this before. I know the novellas are meant to stand on their own, but it felt weird to me that she’d been living in the Capitol city this entire time in view of the Glass Castle, claiming the title of the Empire’s Greatest Assassin, and yet not once does she spare a thought about how she despises or fears the King. This never comes up until now. In fact, Celaena’s own homeland doesn’t get significant mention until the last third of this novella, and it was just briefly mentioned in the second and third novellas. These important aspects of Celaena’s life, things that have shaped her character and drive some of the decisions she makes, are presented too jarringly late. There’s no set-up for these revelations, so instead of satisfying my curiosity about her past, I’m just taken out of the story and left to wonder “Where did this come from?”

Character decisions: It’s hard to believe Celaena is a master assassin when she seems so easily duped, or at the very least, she seems to have a knack for not thinking things through and making hasty (ultimately bad) decisions. I understand that she's a teenager and that in many of the instances in this novella, she's making decisions through strong emotions, but the actions that come out of these moments are unforgivable because they lead directly to tragedy. And Sam is at fault here too, but he doesn’t throw around his reputation the way Celaena does. Basically, pretty much all the bad things that happen in this novella could have been avoided if Celaena and/or Sam had stopped to think and really discuss their options. [Non-spoilery & vaguely spoilery examples between the dashes...or skip to end.]

Not-so-spoilery examples: If they're so tight on money, why doesn't Celaena cut back on her expenses - like does she really need a dining table and chairs for eight people when as far as I know, she and Sam don’t seem to have people they’d want to invite over for dinner, and anyway, they seem to be trying to keep their whereabouts unknown?

If they're not actually THAT tight on money, why don't they just LEAVE like they want to?

If they understand that a mission is ridiculously dangerous, why don’t they work together / at least let the other person be the back-up?

Vaguely spoilery examples: (view spoiler)

So, those were the main issues I had with this novella. The bad decisions were the worst because while I think at least some of them were meant to be tragic, they just frustrated me because they seemed avoidable - if only Celaena and Sam had thought it through or if only they’d really learned the lessons I thought they’d learned from past novellas. That said, I also feel it’s hard for me to pass really harsh judgment on Celaena because I feel like I don’t know enough about her and her past. Like I don’t get why she’s so attached to Arobynn when all we’ve been shown is that Arobynn’s a huge jerk to her. Or at the end of this novella when Celaena draws strength from the mythology of her homeland, I feel like the intended effect was somewhat diluted and lost on me because I don’t have enough information about Celaena’s relationship with her homeland. She barely ever thinks of it during the course of the novellas, so the connection drawn at the end of this novella, this moving moment, feels almost thrust upon me and I just have to accept it.

Overall, I liked this last novella a lot better than the third. I thought there were more ups and downs, and some of the narrative flow was quite nicely managed for good dramatic effect. I’m curious to see if some of the threads introduced here continue into Throne of Glass and if they will be expanded upon, and I hope Celaena starts walking the walk to match her talk. I can’t help but wonder if some of the set-up I wish were in these novellas was left out because those are things to be revealed in ToG.

In any case, I’m still looking forward to the novel, but my expectations have been accordingly adjusted.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Linda (new)

Linda Love your reviews of all the novellas! I've seen some mixed reviews from people (lots of glowing ones from the author's friends) and it's nice to get a different perspective that addresses the flaws. :)

Krispy Linda wrote: "Love your reviews of all the novellas! I've seen some mixed reviews from people (lots of glowing ones from the author's friends) and it's nice to get a different perspective that addresses the flaw..."

Yeah, I still want to read it. Like I'm still strangely attracted by this character and her world, but it's not quite coming out the way I wanted it to. Also, I totally think I would have LOVED these novellas if I had read these in high school. But I'm too jaded and critical now, lol.

Ifrah Alia About modern sensibilities, this is a high fantasy series not historical fiction. There isn't really a concept of modern or appropriate for the timeline for this. The world is completely fictional and it is what the author makes it to be.

Krispy Ifrah wrote: "About modern sensibilities, this is a high fantasy series not historical fiction. There isn't really a concept of modern or appropriate for the timeline for this. The world is completely fictional ..."

Thanks for the comment! I totally understand what you mean, and it is the author's prerogative. It was just a weird point for me in the world-building, considering the context of the rest of the world-building, but if it's not weird for you or other people, that's great too!

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