Kogiopsis's Reviews > Throne of Glass

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
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Welp, this Popular YA Series sure isn't for me. And when I say 'isn't for me' I mean 'sometimes I was reading this and it was so painfully, agonizingly mediocre that I forgot why I expend the effort to read anything'. At least bad books are identifiable as outliers; this was just... bland. It was like taking a big bite of cardboard and chewing and chewing until you felt like you were going to be eating cardboard forever and what was the POINT anyway.

The thing that drives me craziest, though, is that there's a good story here.

It's just not Celaena's.

1. Characters

Celaena Sardothien (not her real name) is our protagonist and principal viewpoint character. She's eighteen years old, of which the last one was spent in a hard labor camp, and somehow at the age of seventeen became the most renowned assassin in the land. This is an assertion that makes me leery of her as a character, because quite frankly that's not how expertise works, especially with regards to something that requires a great variety of skills. Early on in the book I was optimistic that she would demonstrate these skills and/or reveal more about her training, and that her status as 'Adarlan's Assassin' would make sense. This was not to be. More on the lack of Celaena being proficient later.

There was one other quality that was established quickly and made me care for her far less than I might have: girl hate, with a side of hypocrisy.
"I hate women like that. They're so desperate for the attention of men that they'd willingly betray and harm members of their own sex."

and then:

"She never had many friends, and the ones she had often disappointed her. Sometimes with devastating consequences, as she'd learned that summer with the Silent Assassins of the Red Desert. After that, she'd sworn never to trust girls again, especially girls with agendas and power of their own. Girls who would do anything to get what they wanted."


Now, character flaws are a good thing! AND YET. In a book where there are precisely three female characters who get pagetime, and where one of them is largely cast as a shallow social climber (and hosts of other court ladies get written off as such), this stops being Celaena's character flaw and starts being a book flaw. It's not Celaena who treats women as untrustworthy and shallow, it's the text. Moreover, she doesn't show signs of growing out of it: she comes to trust Nehemia, but that doesn't change her mind regarding other women. Making an exception for one person isn't character growth.

Also, the specific dislike directed towards girls with power of their own just makes me gag.

But surely Celaena has other character traits beyond internalized misogyny and an unfounded reputation! She... likes books! This does literally nothing for her character and frankly, I'm sick and tired of authors just shoehorning 'bookishness' in without depth. She has conversations with Dorian and Chaol about books, which to my eternal frustration are skipped over. We barely even get titles! Do they discuss philosophy - the morality of killing in different circumstances, perhaps? What about history, or scholarly debates on the fall of different empires? Hell, even a conversation about bawdy romance novels would have fleshed out all the characters involved more than 'he named a few title and the conversation stretched on for hours'. It's all window dressing. This is page time which could have been spent on the book's plot.

And speaking of things that are told rather than shown: Celaena's motivations. What are they, anyway? Initially her thoughts are all about escape, generally through violent means. Freedom is the goal that she's willing to kill for, either in the actual escape attempt or as the King's Champion... but when it's offered to her practically on a silver platter, she refuses it. This despite the fact that other competitors for the title of Champion are being systematically disemboweled. AND SPEAKING OF THAT.

"Just know that there's not a moment that goes by when I don't wonder what it will be like to kill for him - the man who destroyed everything that I loved!"


She's the main POV character. Before this line, she thinks about this in passing maybe two or three times. If this is supposed to be her internal conflict, why did the audience never get to actually see it?


The two male points of the love triangle - because of course there's a love triangle - are the Crown Prince, Dorian, and the Captain of the Guard, Chaol. Of the two, I have less to say about Chaol: he was bland and didn't really develop (except developing feeeeeeeeeeeeeelings for Celaena), but he wasn't

well

the utter mess that Dorian was.

Both dudes are clearly here to fall in love with Celaena more than anything else, so that's a problem from the start, but dang, Dorian, what the hell. How is this guy alive, actually; I'm genuinely curious. He's the son and heir of a hated tyrant, which makes him a very logical target for assassins and rebels, and yet he brushes off a man being killed and disemboweled as 'probably just a drunken brawl'. Twice. He says this twice. This is someone who is literally too stupid to survive in his position. Unfortunately he doesn't realize this, because we get this gem:

"I'm not married because I can't stomach the idea of marrying a woman inferior to me in mind and spirit. It would mean the death of my soul."


See. The thing about this. Is that Dorian never actually interacts voluntarily with any women other than Celaena, Nehemia, and his mother. I'm not surprised he considers the court women 'inferior in mind and spirit', because he doesn't fucking bother to talk to them. (By the way, see above re: this book has a woman problem.) He doesn't try to see them as people at all, though it's strongly implied he may just sleep with them anyway.

And about that. Dorian is apparently incapable of understanding boundaries. There is an absolutely agonizing scene, which I suspect is meant to be cute/funny, when Celaena is dealing with menstrual cramps and he intrudes on her. She repeatedly tells him to go away, in no uncertain terms, and his response? Is to insist that she's not really in pain and is doing it for attention, and that this ploy will end with them sleeping together. This is, at best, the behavior of a selfish child who doesn't understand that other human beings have needs. At worst, it's the behavior of a man who doesn't listen to a woman's 'no'. That the woman in this case could supposedly kill him doesn't matter; if he doesn't listen to her words, he doesn't respect her. And if he doesn't respect her, they're not a healthy couple at all.


There is, however, one SHINING LIGHT in the darkness of this pathetic cast, and that is Princess Nehemia. My kingdom, if I had one, for this to be rewritten as her story. She is demonstrably clever, cunning, acerbic, and brave; she's collaborating with rebels against the very man whose castle she's inside, and she knows far, far more than she's telling. Nehemia has a cause, Nehemia has motivations, and scenes with her in them were by far the best of the book. Her introduction, in which she and Celaena made fun of the glass castle in a language no one else knew, was honestly Celaena's best scene.

Unfortunately, I already know Book 2 spoilers. (view spoiler)


And then there's Kaltain. Who... despite the way she was initially cast, as a shallow social climber, actually wound up my second favorite character. Again, we see a person with goals, but also with a pretty serious weakness (view spoiler). She's a girl with simple, self-interested goals - she wants the protection of rank, which I actually found pretty sympathetic. She's also getting played by much scarier people, which is why I could never actually hate her. Kaltain wants safety, and doesn't understand the risk surrounding her because she pursues her goal too single-mindedly. That's interesting to me.


Other characters include the EEEEEVIL King, his unpleasant and sexually forward hench-duke, and the hench-duke's champion who is creatively named... Cain. That one was real subtle. But honestly, while there was a moment which might have hinted at depth in Cain, none of them moved beyond shallow characterization. As well rubber-stamp their foreheads with 'BAD' and go on.


2. Plot

What plot. No, I'm serious: the actual plot didn't show its face until 47% of the way through the Kindle book (and given that that includes a preview of the sequel, it's even further through the actual book). Before that we get a Hunger Games-esque Champion competition which is glossed over more often than not. This is all there is to string narrative tension on for half the book (okay, except for the murders, but Chaol is the only one who gets worked up about that). Moreover, Celaena has been instructed to pretend to be mediocre, so even the few tests we do see rarely have any tension. They're just endless "she could have kicked everyone's asses, but didn't" which, hoo boy, doesn't do anything for that whole problem where Celaena's skills are all talk, no action.

The lack of tension around the competition is linked to something else that I found frustrating, which was the way that Celaena's time at the prison camp was handled. Or rather... not. Not handled. At all. Aside from one cliche nightmare sequence and a bit of glancing at slaves and feeling sympathy, Celaena shows no signs of having being forced to work hard labor for a year. Given that this is a place where people apparently don't tend to survive a few months, is it unreasonable to expect that she show some evidence of the trauma she's been in? Again: the reader is inside her head for most of the book, but we never see how Endovier changed her. She is, apparently, as cocksure and confident as she was before her arrest. Now, I understand the desire to have a protagonist who can dish out some smack-talk, but there's an easy way to solve this: have that confidence be a projection, and let Celaena's inner perspective show the impacts of what she's gone through. It'd make her a lot more complex as a character, and really color her interactions with the other members of the cast. And since her consolation prize if she loses the competition is to go back to the labor camp, it'd give the tests a lot more weight, especially early on when she's in poorer physical shape and therefore at more risk of losing.

The actual plot is... interesting. Unsurprisingly, it would have benefited from being introduced earlier, in no small part because it completely reshapes the worldbuilding as the reader understands it. This makes some things more forgivable ((view spoiler)), but is also an abrupt change to drop that far into the story and difficult to reconcile.

When everything comes to a head, it's an avalanche, and unfortunately one which actually back-seats Celaena herself. Without spoilers: she would not have survived the end of this book without the direct and powerful intervention of several other people. This could be a statement about the power of friendship, except that Celaena hasn't done jack shit for the rest of the book, so it ends up just being another instance of her not accomplishing things everyone in the book has insisted she's capable of.

3. Miscellaneous

I'm running out of characters here so let's wrap this up with some bullet points:

- The fixation on Celaena's physical appearance is painful to read. There's an entire paragraph at the beginning about what color her eyes are. I'm only grateful they're not described as 'shining orbs'.

- I haven't studied that much fencing, but even I know that the fencing in this book is bad. You don't hold blades against one another, you retreat and disengage, especially if you're physically smaller. And the phrase 'deflected the blow and parried' may be an editing error, but it made me cringe. Parrying is deflecting the blow.

- I don't believe for a second that Nehemia needed to be shown basic fencing footwork by Dorian, and I'm surprised Celaena did.

- Yeah, yeah, magic has been 'gone from the land' for a while. But Celaena believes in it enough to respect the magic forest they ride through from Endovier, so why doesn't she ever even consider that the murders in the palace are also supernatural until it smacks her in the face?

- Everyone remarks on this but: Celaena adjusts her door hinges so they creak loudly. AND THEN DORIAN AND CHAOL SNEAK UP ON HER REPEATEDLY. The first time is right after we're told no one would be able to sneak up on her. Dorian pulls this off drunk at another instance. Chaol once winces at the creaking noise, but manages to approach Celaena with her still asleep - she wakes up at his footsteps, but not at her own noise trap. Honestly. What kind of assassin is this girl? Because the picture I'm getting is not of a competent one.

- Some gross, awkwardly thrown in fetishization of virginity:
He was fairly certain she was a virgin, but did Dorian know it? It probably made him more interested.

That sound you're hearing is me gagging in the background. Add to this that she has a ~tragic lost lover and her talking about him is made into bonding between her and Dorian and. ugh. The romance in this book is so painful to me.

- Professional assassin never once considers that a bag of candy left in her rooms might be poisoned. Professional assassin stuffs her face without knowing where the food came from. Professional assassin is lucky she got betrayed to the king instead of just flat-out killed before this book started.

(view spoiler)

And finally:

"I name you Elentiya, 'Spirit That Could Not Be Broken'."




4. The Takeaway

This was, to say the least, not my cup of tea. Butttttt a lot of the ways in which it was weak are things I know to be amateur writer problems. Consensus among reviews I've read seems to be that the second book is much better, which is promising. However, because of the spoiler I already know for that book, I have less than zero interest in reading it, or the rest of the series.

I may give Maas another chance in the future. If so, though, it'll only be after she's wrapped up this series and I've read reviews assessing how she did wrapping up the entire narrative. (This means no A Court of Thorns and Roses for me.) If the consensus on the end of this series is good and her next project sounds interesting, it'll be worth my time.
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Reading Progress

07/22/2015 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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Miss Clark Can't wait for the full review.


Kogiopsis Miss Clark wrote: "Can't wait for the full review."

I can only hope it'll be amusing. I've got notes written up, so the whole thing will probably be done today.


message 3: by Nicoleta (last edited Jul 23, 2015 09:56AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nicoleta (The Cover Hoarder) I have a complaint or two about the first book as well, it's ... >.> rather generic. But I gave it a 3 star rating because it did have some few things I liked and it was entertaining. My thoughts on it here > https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

And as well, I was promised several times that the story gets better in the second book. That is true, there are a few gripes I had when reading Crown of Midnight, but all and all I liked it :P


Kogiopsis Yeah, I've heard CoM is better - but I've also heard that Heir of Fire is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too slow and dull.

Right now I'm thinking I'll skip the rest of this series, but pick up whatever Sara J. Maas starts next. From reviews, she's getting better as an author the more she publishes (though it remains to be seen how well she wraps up the series as a whole - I'll be keeping an eye out for that) in many respects. Hopefully, then, she'll have grown enough writing this series that her next one will be... well, not as amateur as ToG.


Danielle Character motivation is one of the biggest gripes that I have with the series, while yes Maas is a capable writer, I don't think she's that good at characterization. Heir of Fire is incredibly dull, and I keep pulling it off of my currently reading shelf because I have no motivation to finish it and I want to DNF it, but I've seen a lot of people saying it's the best book in the series. Honestly I think it's the novel format that hurts her, because her novellas are the best of the series in my opinion


Kogiopsis Mmm, good to know I won't be missing out. Maybe we'll get lucky and she'll do a short story collection next?

RE: character motivation - holy shit, yes, what a gaping hole. Maybe that's the reason Nehemia and Kaltain were the only characters who felt like actual people in this book - they had actual goals!


Coolcurry Great review! I've been waiting for this one since I started seeing all your angry tumblr updates. :) I'd seen other reviews in the same vein, and it's led to me deciding that this is a book to avoid.


Annika Great review which lays out a bunch of problems I had with Throne of Glass (though I still found it pretty enjoyable and easy to breeze through). I'm one of the few people who found book two less enjoyable than the first one because it just dragged on and on with nothing of consequence happening. And it had much more focus on the triangle and romantic scenes which were annoying and not well done. Plus the spoiler you mentioned and the deus ex machina/Mary Sue moment by the end of the book ruined Crown of Midnight and my interest in the rest of the series for me. It's odd to me how the prequel novellas to the series were the best written and most enjoyable part.


Nicoleta (The Cover Hoarder) I kid you not I burst out laughing at the too stupid to live part about Dorian XD. This is a great review, it surprises me how much I overlooked these when I was reading it. Maybe that's why I found it somewhat entertaining :/ I dunno...


Kogiopsis Annika - you're not the first one to comment on the prequel novellas to be better. It could be that Maas is just... better at shorter forms; that's not unusual. From what I've heard pacing is a problem with this series (especially Heir of Fire, apparently) so that would make sense. Makes me wonder if part of the series' weakness is that it's six books: had she compacted it, it might not have dragged as badly.

Nicoleta - My personal feelings on the book aside, you certainly shouldn't feel bad for enjoying it. Also, I went into this with... not necessarily a critical bent, but ready either to be very impressed or totally underwhelmed, so I think I was particularly on edge while reading.


message 11: by Lily (new)

Lily I've been curious about Maas, since her books pop up on my goodreads feed all the time. Not sure that I'll be trying this one, but I definitely enjoyed reading your analysis of it. Some of the issues you've pointed out are reminiscent of problems I've had with other YA/fantasy novels lately.


message 12: by Kogiopsis (last edited Jul 26, 2015 09:33PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Kogiopsis Much of this book is reminiscent of other YA, so that shouldn't come as a surprise.

That said, I don't actually think the similarities are something I blame Maas for, specifically. It's much more of a publisher-level problem. For a group which has a vested interest in proving themselves to be important cultural gatekeepers (and thus keeping their edge over self-publishing writers with cheaper books), NY houses don't seem to be asking for much originality these days! From a (cynical) reader's perspective, they appear to be seeking out formulaic stuff instead.


Nenia *The Flagrant Liberal* Campbell I love this review.


Jasmine I was eating an apple while reading this review and choked when that Spirit gif popped up. Thank for the funny/life-threatening review! :)


message 15: by Ania (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ania This review is so spot on! I don't get why this series has so much hype.


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