Friday, 8 February 2013

Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas

Celaena Sardothian is an assassin. Treacherous and uncatchable - that is, until she was caught. And now she resides in the Salt Mines of Endovier, a slave, no future, no escape - until the Crown Prince’s Captain of the Guard arrives and offers her a deal: the king is to hold a tournament pitting thieves and assassins against one another to find the best, his own personal ‘champion’, and Prince Dorian wants her as his representative.

And so Calaena is taken to the Glass Palace, the one place she possibly despises more than the Salt Mines, to be a puppet for the King, the one person she despises more than her slavers; the man who is her slaver. Yet this is an entirely new world for Calaena: a world where she must regain her strength and skill, a world where she will be challenged in multitudinal new ways; a world where politics and not just brute force reigns.

Author Sarah J. Mass is a great new force in the world of teenage fantasy. In Calaena she has created a - generally - strong female who definitely knows how to kick some ass, and in Throne of Glass she has created a world simpler than George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones series, but with similarities that tap into the reading phenomenon he and his TV adaptation has created. As Calaena settles into her new rooms at the palace and her new training and fighting regime, a series of brutal and unsettling murders begins to ripple its way through the competing assassins. Who - or what - is behind them? Myth and power and otherworldiness surge through the plotline and Calaena is drawn deeper and deeper.

“You must listen to what I tell you. Nothing is a coincidence. Everything has a purpose. You were meant to come to this castle, just as you were meant to be an assassin, to learn the skills necessary for survival... 
“Something evil dwells in this castle, something wicked enough to shake the stars quake. Its malice echoes into all worlds,” the queen went on. “You must stop it. Forget your friendships, forget your debts and oaths. Destroy it, before it is too late, before a portal is ripped open so wide that there can be no undoing it.” (pg. 186)

Mass writes her story with real confidence and she writes it well, with just one small niggle. Calaena is, in so many ways, a strong and worthy heroine, except just now and again when she behaves in a rather weak and slightly snotty-teenagerish way, predominantly where the male sex is concerned. The real love interest in Maas’ story is Captain Chaol, yet Calaena is irritatingly drawn to Prince Dorian, and often in this aspect of the story she behaves in a weak and faltering manner that seems contradictory to her otherwise kick-ass character, diminishing the strength of what would otherwise have been an extremely positive role model, seeming to imply that its acceptable for girls to become simpering in the company of men, and making her just that bit annoying. However, we all make mistakes in love, don’t we? Perhaps that is the lesson for readers here and Calaena will go on to kick ass in all areas of her life.

Overall though, Throne of Glass is awesome. Again, as with my recent review of Rachel Hartman’s excellent Seraphina, it is truly great to see new types of fantasy being written for teenagers: fantasy that features strong women fighting for all that is good, rather than simply falling in love with supernatural beings and mooning about for a couple hundred pages. And also fantasy that, even though the main character is a girl, boys can enjoy and get gripped by as well. Bring it on please.

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