Review of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (Solid high fantasy)
Review of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Legendary assassin, Celaena is released from incarceration to take part in a tournament to become the King’s champion. But as well as a deadly tournament to focus on, the assassin has to contend with a murderer picking off the contestants, magic that has been banned for years resurfacing, and enemies at every turn.
Joe Abercrombie raised my expectations high with the first two books in The Shattered Sea trilogy. And I put off reading Throne of Glass for a long time, after reading a lot of reviews that said the plot was focused on romance. But after reading Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch (a good, high fantasy read), I thought I’d give Throne of Glass a shot.
And I’m glad I did. The plot does focus on romance, but Maas weaves plenty of other mysteries to make sure romance is not the only focus. Anyone avoiding this book for the same reason I did can rest easy.
Some epic/high fantasy can be densely written, packed with long descriptions that slow the pace. Abercrombie and Raasch got the balance of descrption right on the money in Shattered Sea and Snow Like Ashes. And Mass gets it right with Throne of Glass. The world of Erilea is richly drawn and it’s easy to be drawn into the castles and landscapes. Maas handles action sequences well, too, and knows when to lay on the detail and when to make it subtle. The writing style is addictive and the pace benefits.
The characters are as interesting as the world. Celaena is a tough heroine, the world’s deadliest assassin. Maas keeps her past ambiguous, slowly revealing details, which adds to the other mysteries in the story. A bit too much time is spent talking about clothes for my liking, but it’s balanced with Celaena’s assassin instincts. The other characters are equally well-developed, each with their own agenda and secrets that are slowly revealed. The story is split between four main perspectives, in third person, and Mass makes sure the voices/character perspectives are distinct.
The mysteries and secrets continue all the way through the novel, and Maas makes sure the plot is never predictable. It’s hard to know who’s working against whom, who wants to kill who, and who the killer is. Throne of Glass is high fantasy mixed with elements of murder mystery and thriller. The tournament plot-line has become cliché in YA since The Hunger Games, but Maas adds plenty of other plot lines to make sure things are never boring.
The world building is solidly done, with places, names, customs and laws that make it easy to get pulled into Erilea. The glass castle where most of the novel takes place is vividly realised. Gloomy corridors, secret tunnels, libraries and shadows all help to build solid, consistent atmosphere.
Throne of Glass isn’t all it could have been. But this may be down to personal reader tastes. Maas spends a lot of time on the romance, the love triangle, and at times I wanted to skip the passages where Celaena worries about who likes who. But when the focus shifts to the murder plot-line, where other contestants are being picked off, the mysteries around the magic that the king has outlawed, and the fighting/action sequences, the story is gripping and fast-paced.
This is the first of seven books, and so some of the plot lines are not resolved or fully-developed. There is enough of an ending to this first book that it feels like a whole story. But I’m anticipating reading the sequels and finding out more about Caleana’s past and learning more about the banned and reawakening magic.
Overall, this is a tightly written, tightly plotted high fantasy. The pace jars in places because of the romance, but there is enough action, gritty fighting and mysteries to make up for any faults. This was a four out of five read for me, but those who don’t mind romance will likely find it a five out of five. Celaena is a solid protagonist. The world building is some of the best I’ve read, and I’m looking forward to Crown of Midnight (and the other four sequels).