Release Date: August 7, 2012
(Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher!)
Published by: Bloomsbury USA
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 kings 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.
1. (+/-) Celaena, the protagonist - I'm really glad that Celaena's a strong female protagonist--that she's clever, witty, physically strong and able to defend herself. I'm glad for that, and her conditions in Endovier, the way she stands against slavery of Eyllweians--those too made me like her... but she's also terribly arrogant, so arrogant that I found it hard to connect with her. Two things could have helped: one, I think, more on her past - something in there to make me understand her better (like Sam, and her piano playing--if there was more of that) - or two, to have a more direct POV with her. I'm not saying go first person (though that too would've been interesting)-- I think that her POV was too limited, too distanced for me to really relate to Celaena. That, combined with her arrogance and seeming inability to fail, led to the mixed feelings for me. When I read the prequels, I softened towards her, but I can't judge how she appears in this book based on that.
2. (+) World-building - It beats the fantasy trope of magic long lost with enough details about what the King of Adarlan / Erilea has done to ensure that magic stays that way. I love the beautiful, impractical glass castle and the symbolism in the contrast of beauty and the destruction he's wrought, with Adarlan's conquest over magic and other kingdoms. There's enough detail to ground you in the current plot, how Adarlan's court life functions, and what its history entails, but also enough detail to hint at another world, other places and creatures and magical practices that we have yet to discover. Here's a quote for the latter: "She knew plenty about this forest, knew that the denizens of this place had once been faeries: gnomes, sprites, nymphs, goblins, more names than anyone could count or remember. All ruled by their larger, human-like cousins, the immortal Fae--the original inhabitants and settlers of the continent, and the oldest beings in Erilea." I can't wait to find out more about the world and the other kingdoms Adarlan's king crushed in his conquest.
3. (+/-) Romance - The goodreads summary doesn't really hint at the love triangle, but it is there with the Prince and Captain Westfall. The romance I took issue with was that with the prince. I really wish the romance with the prince had been traded for more time with Celaena, getting to understand her better and see her character grow. He, to me, had little appeal. He's a womanizer who's bored with his life at court, wants to avoid being like his father (but what has he done besides "rebel" by championing Celaena?), and looks to Celaena for entertainment because she has a sharp tongue, is beautiful, and let's face it, he's looking for someone he hasn't already been with. So I could see why he was attracted to her, but not the other way around, especially considering Celaena's attitude towards the King and Adarlan itself. Dorian didn't do enough to redeem himself, or for me to understand the transformation in her feelings for him. The romance with Chaol, on the other hand, was nice and more authentic. The summary has it right there: he understands her better, he listens, he trains with her, and his dislike of her gradually evolves into something else in a much more believable manner.
4. (+/-) Plot - The plot sounds kind of Hunger Games-esque, with a competition to fight to the death, but it's more and less than that. It has a competition, but there's a lot more court affairs and more investigation on the side for the murders -- at times, the competition kind of gets pushed to the side. There were two things that bothered me about the plot -- one that Celaena doesn't fail enough for me to feel any kind of stakes, and two that I could predict the twists and that there wasn't enough mystery there. That being said, though Celaena doesn't really fail, I enjoyed learning more about the world and magic and whatnot as the plot moved forward. I wanted to keep reading regardless of predicting what was to come.
5. (+) Side Characters - Nehemia, the strong, Eyllweian princess who also happens to be a woman of color (yay for some diversity in the cast!) and who has an agenda of her own; Nox, the thief; Phillippa, who put Celaena in her place. It's been pitched as teenage girl version of Game of Thrones, which I found somewhat true because I did like most of the secondary characters, even when I knew they'd probably die. I thought that even Kaltain was well written and that Maas made her not a cliche - you know, that one character who hates the protagonist because she gets the romantic interest's attention - by having some chapters in her POV.
6. (--) Character Development - I read the four prequels after finishing this, and I'm not convinced there was enough character development for Celaena in this novel. She grew a lot in those four novellas, but I didn't feel the same re: this. She doesn't open herself up much - yes, she makes some friends and kind of falls in love, but neither compares to learning how (vs. being forced) to be reliant on someone else for once. After reading the prequels, I know why she's so closed off, but this review is for ToG, and when I was reading it, I wanted to see her spill some secrets.
7. (+) Intrigue - Even if I wasn't intrigued by the plot necessarily, I was by the mystery of Celaena and the world. How did Erilea get to be this way (besides mentions of what the King did)? Will Eyllwe be successful, or will Adarlan manage to keep hold of everyone by brute force? Where are these other creatures / will they play a role in the coming conflict? How did Celaena get captured (besides the hint in the fourth prequel)/Will she find that out and exact her revenge? How did she become the best of Adarlan's assassins? Where is the King of Assassins/will he return to her life? Is she one of the people who has forgotten magic in her blood?
8. (+) Writing - Because of the writing style and the world building, I read the prequels and I became more convinced that Sarah J. Maas is a writer to be reckoned with. It's evocative and easy and pleasant to read and flows well.
9. (+) Pacing - Since the writing flows well, and you know it's all leading up to one battle, the pacing seems pretty constant. There's plenty of action and unfolding drama to keep the story moving.
10. (--) The Cover - The model looks a lot like the author, which in turn makes me think of Mary Sue-ness, which is never a good thing. I like that they put in the glass castle and a touch of Celaena's abilities, but it kind of seems like a cover that Celaena wouldn't even approve of--she looks fragile/not dangerous at all!
The intrigue of the world and Celaena herself kept me reading through this well paced fantasy debut. I look forward to seeing where the story unfolds from this.