The Assassin’s Blade
by Sarah J. Maas
genre: young adult
The Throne of Glass series is a hugely popular YA series these days. I think I heard a rumor about a movie? Well, maybe it would make a better movie than a book.
I’ve read Throne of Glass, the first book in the series, but I failed to really get on board with it. Now I can say that I’ve read the backstory for Celaena Sardothien, and I can’t say that I like her any more. In fact, if possible, I like her less and find the story even more boring and unrealistic.
Celaena is a sixteen-year-old highly trained assassin. She had a rough youth, and was apparently orphaned, when the King of Assassins took her on and trained her to be his pet assassin. In the effort to be fair here, I think writing five novellas for Celaena’s backstory which give the fans of the series a glimpse into the life of their beloved protagonist prior to book 1, Throne of Glass, is pretty cool. The ideas behind these novellas were fun and it was meant to be a swashbuckling kind of ride, I think.
For me, it failed utterly and completely.
Celaena is highly unlikable. She’s petulant, spoiled, vapid, selfish, and utterly ridiculous. I have a hard time believing that anyone as volatile as she is could be such a successful assassin, especially at the tender age of sixteen. Some might say I’m overthinking it and that I should just get lost in the world. But I cannot suspend my disbelief.
Likewise, what kind of kingdom allows a known school for assassins to be established in the center of his city? They’re literally less than miles from the castle where the king lives, everyone in town knows of Celaena and how she’s the best assassin around, and we’re expected to believe that a) no one realizes the King of Assassins is, indeed, the king of assassins and b) this girl whom he calls his “niece” is not recognized as an assassin? At the very least she would be suspected of being an assassin in training.
Little details such as those above continuously removed me from the story.
While the story itself is edited well and well told even, the premise was so unbelievable that I have a difficult time appreciating the story for what it is. Coupled with a spiteful little girl as the main character, I had to force my way through the book.
What I do applaud for this book though was the rather imaginative way Maas chose to link these novellas. They take part consecutively, as in when one ends, the next one picks up right away. They really are more of a serial than five separate novellas. While I didn’t mind this, I think the overall story would have been much stronger had the novellas been condensed into one single prequel. (In her defense, I think that they were released individually prior to being packaged in one book like I read.)
Because these novellas were really more serial than anything else, there was some repetition in information. But the thing that dragged the story down more than anything was the absolute selfishness of Celaena. Had the novellas created a significant character arc for her, I might have liked it better. And while I believe a positive character arc was intended, where Celaena was supposed to change for the better, it did not ring true to me. Instead, because she was so incredibly selfish at the beginning, and we ended with her absolutely self-absorbed at the end, it really didn’t matter whatever she might have learned. (I’m being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers in case someone does wish to read it after reading this less than positive review.)
I would only recommend this book to an avid fan of the series. If you read book 1 like I did and were on the fence, don’t bother with the prequel(s), for it likely won’t endear Celaena to you in any fashion. Did it make her more sympathetic? Moderately. Did it make her more likable because of it? Not one bit.
On a related note, the stories dragged for me because of the chunks of Celaena’s inner monologue. In the later novellas, Celaena is experiencing strong emotions, and because of that she consistently delves into pages of conflicted feelings. The only problem was that her conflicted feelings didn’t interest me because I was past the point of feeling anything for her. She had spent far too long being selfish and cruel, and I ultimately didn’t care about her or her feelings anymore. (And they were a little overdramatic too.)
What the writer in me learned: creating a likable character is one of the most important things you can do for your book. If you insist on your character being unlikable, then make her captivating or let us love to hate her.