Book Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Series Number: 1
Published: 2 August 2012
Page Count: 416
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 , 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. or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin's heart be melted?
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I had mixed feelings about trying Throne of Glass because it has developed something of a cult following. Was it really as good as everyone said? Sometimes I agree, and other times I find myself completely baffled as to the popularity of the book/s. The first book of the popular Throne of Glass series fell in the middle for me; I could see its potential and it was enough for me to put the second book straight on my TBR list. Before I get into that let me tell you a bit about the book and the world of Throne of Glass itself.


Trigger Warnings

Before I go any further this review requires trigger warnings as does the book. The book contains violence (the main character is an assassin after all), however, there is violence against slaves especially women, sexual violence including rape (mention only) suicide, abuse and trauma, death (especially of family), grief, torture.


Most fantasy books I’ve read start at a particular point in a timeline. There is a big bad brewing somewhere or it has already gathered in one part of the world/universe, however, it has not spread to the kingdom that our heroes hail from. Throne of Glass is nothing like that. It is a genre that I’m calling dystopian fantasy. Think Hunger but fantasy because the bad guy already won. The darkness that normally threatens to take over the world, that the heroes will ultimately battle and save the day against? It’s not just reigning supreme, it’s taken over the continent and killed everyone you’ve ever known and cared about.

Like all dystopias, there are people who are not happy with the way things are, who still have hope despite the darkness and these are some of the you’ll meet in a Throne of Glass. Most notably is the protagonist Celaena Sardothien a heroine with trauma. Until I started reading this series I didn’t realise just how much a character like Calaena was needed. I’ve read a lot of books with strong female leads and some of them have had difficult starts in life, but none of them has known the trauma that Celaena Sardothien has known in her short eighteen years. I keep repeating the word trauma because that is what it is. It’s not just a harsh life or the of family; she has been abused, over and over again.

“He’s saving the world whether we like it or not” is the tagline for the superhero film Hancock and in The Dark Knight James Gordon refers to Batman as the hero Gotham deserves but doesn’t need right then. Celaena Sardothien is the hero fantasy literature needs whether readers like it or not – and from some of the reviews, it’s pretty clear that the answer is not. The same qualities were repeated over and over; petty, arrogant, spoiled, snowflake, and unskilled. Multiple people complained about her witty banter, how she treated other and generally everything about her behaviour because apparently you’re supposed to just walk out of a slave mine after a year and just become this magical, wonderful lovely person who plays nice with others and without any lasting physical or mental effects.

Sorry my dears, that is not how it works.

This is just the first book of the series and having read several more I can say that what we find out about Celaena’s time in the slave mines of Endovier in this book is barely scratching the surface of everything she went through. That is normal for trauma. It’s also suggested in this book that someone protected her from ‘the worst’ and I think from that suggestion a lot of people have taken the attitude of ‘oh well, she truly didn’t suffer THAT much and anything she did get she probably deserved because she’s a mouthy little cow’. Yeah. No. I’m not going to go into detail, if you want to know read the books yourself and follow the journey of her trauma as it is meant to be experienced rather than looking for a shortcut, but I will say it was horrible. And everything that she received prior to that, her training and years as an assassin? There’s much more to it than running around in dresses and acting like a diva.

Acting is an important word and shows just how much people missed when reading this book, probably because they didn’t care to look, to read beneath the lines. They were happy to just write Celaena Sardothien off as a petty teenager rather than realise that it’s all a careful mask to keep people away. You see, people expect abuse survivors to just curl up in little balls of tears and pits of despair. No, some become bitches instead. Sarah J Maas has multiple characters throughout this series who have reached that point and past it. They are living with their trauma, their pain and their grief constantly. It’s a living thing that never leaves and the way she describes it, especially in some of the later books is spot on. Celaena is one of them, and through her eyes, we see her shame at what she had to do to survive, to keep going.

So yes, Celaena is not necessarily going to be a character you fall in with at first read. She’s much more complicated than that. The female characters she’s accused of dismissing and mocking are courtiers who literally exist as minor characters who are often unnamed, and literally just want to jump the bones of the male characters. Their entire existence exists in making a good marriage match. As someone who has lost everyone she’s loved and been a slave, you can hardly blame her for thinking they are foolish. I certainly did, but then again I’ve never been a fan of the Jane Austen fan club. If you are, you may want to give this book amiss as the female characters in this book (and series) have more important things on their mind than finding a good match.

I found her skills to be as impressive as I expected from someone of her calibre. It took her time to recuperate and that is to be expected. I was once in hospital and unable to eat for two weeks, when I was released it took me a month to get back to eating proper food again. Every detail about Celaena’s recovery from the mines, how she couldn’t stomach food and how she had to build her body back up was accurate. If her skills and fitness seemed underwhelming, well, what on earth were you expecting? Superwoman? I’m sure if she’d immediately bounced back to full health that would have been a complaint, just like her enjoying chocolate or lounging in bed on cold mornings. People are struggling to cope with lockdowns during the pandemic and reviewers are actually using an ex-slave’s self-indulgence against her? Honestly, the reviews told me more about the people reading them than anything else and that was that they clearly didn’t care enough to see Celaena for who she really was; someone who had been to hell and back and was still recovering.

If I’m so enamoured with the protagonist and the author’s portrayal of this type of heroine, why only 3 out of 5 stars? The plot was what let it down for me. At the end of the day, I felt like there was just too much going on, too much crammed into one book and not enough explanation about things. I’ve loved every book since and given each one a 5-star rating, but this first book just didn’t have everything together as neatly and precisely as it could have. Thankfully the characters, the overall worldbuilding and unanswered questions were enough to prompt me to pick up the next book because this has fast become a series I really enjoy.

If you’ve read Throne of Glass before and weren’t too keen I’d suggest trying the second book. If you’re still not a fan then fair enough, but I think Celaena Sardothien is one of those rare characters that deserve a deeper look and less dismissal.

 

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