Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: Mid-Series Review

I have no clue why it took me so long to read this series. I've come to Throne of Glass through a haze of hype in the jittery lead-up to the release of Queen of Shadows, but I haven't been disappointed. I'm interning at Bloomsbury Australia and the lovely people at the office allowed me to commandeer the last remaining copy of the upcoming book, so in preparation: a series-in-progress review of first three novels and the prequel novella bind-up.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Young adult: high fantasy, romance
August 2012; Bloomsbury
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Meet Celaena Sardothien.
Beautiful. Deadly. Destined for greatness. 

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake: she got caught. 

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament—fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted?

For a high fantasy about the world’s most dangerous assassin, Throne of Glass is quieter than I was expected. Calaena is an intriguing heroine who remains something of a mystery in this book. Self-sufficient but prideful, her unsure navigation of the new space in her life for meaningful relationships was realistic following a year in an isolating labour camp, but I was hungry for more details of her backstory, especially her history with Sam.

There’s no formula for making a love triangle work, but this is why the Celaena/Chaol/Dorian dynamic worked for me: we meet Celaena at such a low point that I am invested in every positive interaction she has on page. Balancing the high fantasy setting and lavish mythology with a contemporary narrative voice, Throne of Glass is an engrossing, intriguing series debut.

Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
Young adult: high fantasy, romance
August 2013; Bloomsbury
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Crowned by Evil.
Bound by Duty.
Divided by Love.

Celaena Sardothien, royal assassin, is the King of Adarlan's deadliest weapon. She must win her freedom through his enemies' blood - but she cannot bear to kill for the crown. And every death Celaena fakes, every lie she tells, put those she loves at risk.

Torn between her two protectors - a captain and a prince - and battling a dark force far greater than the king, Celaena must decide what she will fight for: her liberty, her heart or the fate of a kingdom...

Crown of Midnight is a cautionary tale in judging an author by her debut. The second Throne of Glass  novel heightens the stakes of its predecessor, amps up the sexiness, and fortifies the already intricate mythology with the expansion of the magic system of this well-realised high fantasy world. Celaena's friendship with Nehemiah is central, as the most important, challenging female friendship in a heroine's life should be. Stellar character development in Caleana and Dorian in particular compliments the delicious, slow build chemistry between Chaol and Caleana. Crown of Midnight's complex, compelling narrative is thick with intrigue, tension and betrayal, and its third act is a triumph.

Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
Young adult: high fantasy, romance
September 2014; Bloomsbury
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Consumed by guilt and rage, Celaena can't bring herself to spill blood for the King of Adarlan. She must fight back...

The Immortal Queen will help her destroy the king - for a price. But as Celaena battles with her darkest memories and her heart breaks for a love that could never last, can she fulfil the bargain and head the almighty court of Terrasen? And who will stand with her?

The slower pace of Heir of Fire is a welcome reprise from the heart-racing third act of Crown of Midnight, but delivers on all the main strengths of this series. The expanding geography of this book diversifies the worldbuilding on a global scale. Gentle exploration into the intricately mythologised magic system entwines with transcendent themes of oppression, rebellion and identity. Dorian's characterisation especially shined for me in this book, but all the new additions to the sympathetic and endearing cast of characters are worthy citizens of this harsh world: Sarah J. Maas can pull off a character driven novel. Following Crown of Midnight and Heir of Fire, Queen of Shadows as a lot to live up to.

The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J. Maas
Young adult novellas: high fantasy, romance
August 2012; Bloomsbury
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Celaena Sardothien is Adarlan's most feared assassin. As part of the Assassin's Guild, her allegiance is to her master, Arobynn Hamel, yet Celaena listens to no one and trusts only her fellow killer-for-hire, Sam. 

In these action-packed novellas - together in one edition for the first time - Celaena embarks on five daring missions. They take her from remote islands to hostile deserts, where she fights to liberate slaves and seeks to avenge the tyrannous. But she is acting against Arobynn's orders and could suffer an unimaginable punishment for such treachery. 

Will Celaena ever be truly free? Explore the dark underworld of this kick-ass heroine to find out. 

The stories in this bind-up are called novellas, but they’re all pretty short, so came to The Assassin’s Blade with some trepidation because often I finish short stories wondering why I bothered. The Assassin’s Blade reads more like an episodic novel, leading up to the opening events of Throne of Glass. Here is the backstory we missed in the first novel: Celaena's history of training as an assassin and her relationship with Sam.

It's pretty devastating, but definitely worthwhile for greater insight into the world of Throne of Glass and Celaena's character.

At this stage, I give the Throne of Glass series 4 stars. Sarah J Maas' writing seems to be steadily strengthening as the series progresses, so I wouldn't be surprised if this was an emotionally loaded five star series for me by the time of its conclusion.

Have you ever let the weaknesses of a debut dissuade you from continuing a series? Should we persevere, or is it up to the author to convince us to continue with a killer first novel?
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  1. I ... actually haven't even read ToG. Mainly because everyone tells me, "well, the first book is okay but not great, but the NEXT BOOKS ARE GREAT" and I have this long TBR of books people tell me are great, standalones or first-in-series or sequels. The fact is that most people don't have time to read so-so books just in hopes for the next book, you know? But then again we miss lots of gems that way, so it really depends on where you decide to gamble your time and reading feels.

    I've actually talked about whether to continue a series before. Really great reviews + discussion!

    1. I definitely know what you mean! With TOG though, I found some imperfections in retrospect, but at the time of reading the first book I was totally captivated. I think for me it usually depends on my expectations of the strength of the rest of the series. If I thought the first book was lacking and people tell me it picks up half way through the fourth one, or something, I probably won't bother.