In a land without magic, where the king rules with an iron hand, an assassin is summoned to the castle. She comes not to kill the king, but to win her freedom. If she defeats twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition, she is released from prison to serve as the king's champion. Her name is Celaena Sardothien.
Sarah J. Maas has a wonderfully descriptive language. I loved how she described the
things in nature. This observation from the beginning reeled me in:
...she gaped at the bluish-gray sky, at the clouds slipping on their shoes and shuffling toward the horizon.
Unfortunately, in this story, characterization is not the author's strong suit. It seemed as though Celaena was a piecemeal patchwork of abilities and likes/dislikes that never formed into any sort of coherent personality. I had a hard time believing that she was the realm's "most feared assassin" for various reasons:
(1) I know the main character is relatively young, but showing someone a lump of food from her mouth as well as sticking out her tongue as responses to someone speaking both seem way too child-like.
(2) She was extremely concerned about her looks. From the first chapter, as someone living in a prison camp, she certainly spends a lot of time noticing the cute guard and prince who come to speak with her.
She looked at her rags and stained skin, and she couldn’t suppress the twinge of shame. What a miserable state for a girl of former beauty!
Honestly? She's been living in the worst of circumstances, and her concern about how she looks to these people is completely out of character for someone living in utter destitution. She should have been more intense about finding ways to escape and less focused on everyone's appearance. In fact, it would have been more enduring for her to be proud of how she looks. Think if she would have had this idea instead: "This is who I am, a filthy slave, but I'm still here, you can see it in my eyes and cannot extinguish this light from me." Talk about an empowering response.
(3) She has a thing for shoes. This is discussed further below in the review.
(4) Men keep "sneaking" into her room, and she typically sleeps right through it. Also noted below.
There were elements of the book that kept me reading. I really wanted to get back to the mysterious magic that began to appear when Calaena was traveling to the palace at the start of the book. However, her mysterious latent abilities for banned magic were dropped for the rest of the story. Why introduce it if you're going to drop it?
There seemed to be a rich world developing, but it was so rarely touched upon. I loved the scene where Calaena first discovers the ancient tomb. Wyrdmarks and Wyrdgates were also briefly touched upon, but Calaena's research (and considerable narrative explaining that she's researching this stuff) provided NO hints. I mean, come on, give us some sort of nibble.When things are not given even some sort of partial explanation, the special elements of this particular world (abilities to use Wyrdmarks, other worlds, goddesses interceding when called) feel like deus ex machine devices that make the ending less dramatic because instead of achieving something through your efforts, it all comes across as contrived. I had hoped for more building of the world and less time spent on how many curvy whorls and straight lines of jewels there were in Calaena's dresses.
"What's the point of having a mind if you don't use it to make judgments?" - Celaena
"What's the point in having a heart if you don't use it to spare others from the harsh judgments of your mind?" - Dorian
Celaena is a bit of a jerk here and there, but that's understandable for the status she used to hold. And I can give her some room for other talents like piano playing or ballroom dancing (considering they might be useful in her line of work assassinating court officials or whoever). But... reading? When would an assassin who is constantly in hiding and running from the law have time to read? It doesn't seem very plausible. And her comments about how good she looks in jewel-encrusted dresses like ...the dress was spectacular. And she was spectacular in it. or about having a shoe fetish "If you ruin any of my shoes," she said to the pup, "I'll turn you into a pair of slippers.", are you kidding me? Those thoughts shredded any sort of empathy I was feeling towards her. Caleana did not grow up like a regular girl. Her trainerbroke her right hand on purpose so she'd learn how to be just as dexterous with her left hand. And yet she has a shoe fetish??? She's an assassin and her shoes would mostly be for necessity instead of style. I thought Dorian said he was not interested in a court lady, but well, Caleana certainly acts like one.
My favorite character was Nehemia. I think she had the most depth, and the story would have been much more interesting if she had been the focus of the story. She was so often alone without the support Caleana had with Chaol or Dorian. When you discover the things she's hiding and the abilities she has, I felt a little cheated at not being given more of her narrative. I hope there is more of her in subsequent books because she's got some mad skills, and she's proven her abilities already.
Another thing that bothered me was Caleana's complete inability to pick a person to flirt with. She seems to cozy up with the prince, but the next moment she's winking and flirting with her guard/trainer. Throughout the book, she's totally okay with longing and wanting these gentlemen and not owning up to a choice. Don't you think after a year of abuse in prison and (as very very subtly hinted at) losing a past love, she'd be extremely restrained when it comes to starting a relationship with not just one but TWO men? Plus why is her room always unlocked? These two men seem to be constantly entering her private quarters and sit down and relax for a spell as they wait for Caleana to take notice of them. Shouldn't she be instantly at their throat with a knife if her door unexpectedly opens? Instead, she sleeps through it. Wait... assassin... huh?
Overall, I think there is potential, but I also believe Maas should have shared more about the world and Caleana's significance in it throughout this first book. Its the origin story. Origin stories are where the most development seems to happen as the characters adapt to their new situations/abilities. Instead, Caleana becomes lazier and less fierce as the story progresses. Yes, she's going to have inner demons and scars which will crop up every now and then, but there were so few scenes of her truly showing off her assassin skills. Her take down of Cain's lackey in one of the practices was awesome, but that was the only instance of her being a super-bad Mama Jama. I had hoped for more of those scenes. I will probably read more when I have time. However, the rest of this series is no longer high on my "to read" list.
This book is advertised as "Game of Thrones" written for the female audience. As a female audience member, I am offended. I appreciate the fact there is not lots of gore and sexual situations, but the main character had way too much immature-teenage-female in her persona for me. Andone main question was never answered: Why Caleana? She's a famous assassin, so what? The other champions were thieves and "dishonorably discharged" soldiers. Why is she the one who gets the attention of royal men and goddesses as protectors? Plus, I really hope she matures as the series goes on. However, I might try a different book series of Maas' next.
Just released December 2016: "The Forgotten" volume 2 "Heir of the Heretic"
Reviewed and awarded the
2016 Indie Editor's Choice
by the Historical Novel Society.
Long listed for the Historical Novel Society 2017 Indie Award.
Goodreads profile at: https://www.goodreads.com/JElse