Description from Goodreads: After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.
Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.
Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.
The title was partly what intrigued me with this one, and despite seeing where the plot was going from the very beginning, it was moderately enjoyable. It wasn’t great reading, but it was entertaining, despite significant frustrations. Here is a look at the first in Sarah J. Maas’ series (I have not read the others), examining the novel’s narration, content, characters, artwork, and world building.
Narration: 3 out of 5. The story is consistently told from multiple perspectives–Celaena, Chaol, and Prince Dorian, primarily–and it manages to give almost everyone “page-time,” including a few of the moderately minor villains. It didn’t bother me, much, but there were moments when I wasn’t sure who I was “with,” especially as the plot went on and Dorian and Chaol started sounding, and acting, like each other.
The biggest problem I had was that the various narrators noticed the same things. No matter which point-of-view character we were with, we got the same dose of facts: who, what, where, how, etc. She did include smells, on occasion, which was nice, but given the highly disparate backgrounds if the characters, I was hoping for greater variety in how characters experienced the world of the novel.
Content: 2 out of 5. When I finished reading the book, I had far too many unanswered questions, like why the fairy/elvish people have a connection with Celaena. I know Ms. Maas is building a series, but I think a novel should stand alone, as a cohesive whole. If an author isn’t going to explain something until a later book, I don’t think the concept should be introduced, especially if it is irrelevant to the plot (which this was; it appears in one scene and never comes back, save in other, unsubstantial hints).
And I was frustrated by the unusual names at every turn. Is Celaena said Ka-layna or Sa-layna? And Chaol: does it rhyme with jowl, or is it Chay-ole? And Celaena’s foreign princess friend, Nehemia Yrtger, was the most complicated. I don’t mind unique names or unusual spelling, but I like them to be pronounceable in my head. Otherwise, my internal narration stops every time I run into them.
There was nothing hugely objectionable in the novel, from what I recall, though it is certainly mature YA, due to the graphic violence (some of which I skimmed). There is also some discussion of sex (what Celaena would do if the prince came to her room, expecting that), but nothing really transpires, other than a fair bit of kissing at one point.
Characters: 2 out of 5. I thought the characters were likeable, but not particularly believable it original. Celaena is supposedly the world’s most dangerous, notorious assassin, yet she doesn’t act like one. It isn’t that she breaks the stereotype; she genuinely lacks assassin-like thoughts. Other than delighting in thoughts of how she might kill someone nearby, and n fashioning make shift weapons, she doesn’t think like a killer. There is no distancing of herself, no objectifying others, no survival of the fittest. At one point, she helps another competitor in the assassin-Olympics, and she gives training pointers and encouragement. I think, to truly be an assassin, one would have to turn off or freeze part of your humanity, and while I could understand that such a process could be reversed, in this case, in never is required. She is already vulnerable; stubborn and competitive, and proud, and a bit jaded, but essentially human, despite years as an assassin and more years in a horrible mining prison.
And, while I found Dorian and Chaol believable, based on how Celaena acts, they were awfully similar to feel well-developed. I could understand it if one was drawn to her beauty while the other admired her person-hood, but to have two men both falling over themselves, flying in the face of their better judgments and their friendship with each other in their attempts to be with Celeana seemed a bit far-fetched.
Artwork: Subjective. I liked the original cover, with a real-looking human girl on the cover (at least, I’m assuming it was the original, since it doesn’t match the stylized artwork of the rest of the series). She looked bold, daring, but vulnerable, and readily prepared me for the sort of character to be found within.
World Building: 3 out of 5. This one is a neutral vote, because there wasn’t enough world-building in this one to make a real decision. There is some kind of magic that was banned, but that left beforehand, and some other, darker magic that the king is using to keep the other magic at bay, but where the elves and assassins and all the rest fit in, I don’t know. We spend almost all our time in the king’s old palace and grounds and library, after we leave the prison, so there wasn’t a lot of genuinely unique world to explore. Presumably, that will be achieved in the rest of the series.
Overall Response: Ten out of Twenty, for a total of 2.5. If you don’t go in expecting too much, and are willing to suspend your disbelief, it isn’t a bad read, but it isn’t one I’d want to read again, either (and I have no particular plans to read the rest of the series). It felt a lot like bits of things I’d encountered elsewhere, stirred together to make an enjoyable, but unoriginal, snack for in-between weightier works.
Copyright 2015 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by pedrojperez, Creative Commons