Recently, I finished reading the “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series, written by the wonderfully talented Sarah J. Maas. Maas’ latest installation, A Court of Wings and Ruin, left me flabbergasted and deeply satisfied- and craving for more. As such, I turned to Maas’ older series, which began publishing in 2012 with the first novel, “Throne of Glass”. Written in third person perspective this time, the Throne of Glass series seemed to hold great promise of an enticing plot line and narrative. After finishing her latest book, I had no doubt that the characters in her first novel would have intricate personalities and multi-faceted stories. To say the very least, I was thoroughly disappointed.
The story begins with the perspective of our main character, Celaena Sardothien, who is quickly developed as a bad-ass, world class assassin. She’s certainly quite self-assured, and confident in this position of power. When I first realized the extent of her overwhelming hubris, I was excited to see what sort of character development she would undergo. Perhaps, she would come across a great hardship or challenge within the course of the story, and reveal herself to be a little more humble and perceptive of other people’s lives. However, as the story persists, Celaena continued on with this rather annoying path of self-righteousness. Even after the trials took place within the palace, Maas puts great time and detail into the fact that Celaena is quite content within her polished castle room. Therefore, readers are left with the image that while Celaena is supposedly a cutthroat, deadly assassin, she is easily domesticated by the finery of the castle. I found myself having a hard time remembering that she was even an assassin as she continuously wandered the great expanse of the castle in naïve awe and wonder.
It disgusted me to know that while the premise of the story had the potential to reveal underlying themes of feminism, the characters were merely hypocritical in their judgements on Lady Kaltain. Lady Kaltain is seen as the blithering fool of the story, who’s ambition leads her surely to her own demise. Because Lady Kaltain wears the finery and jewels that a lady of her wealth and position can obtain, she is seen as a puppet and is developed as a frail woman with a large ego. This idea is further developed as Maas writes from her perspective, and we see the fragile state of Lady Kaltain’s mind. Not only is Kaltain’s character highly predictable, but while Celaena judges Lady Kaltain and labels her as a calculating seductress, readers begin to understand how hypocritical these statements and ideas are. Celaena, herself, naively woos the Captain of Guard, and the Prince himself- just as Lady Kaltain had attempted to. I found it annoying that in this novel, Maas refused to recognize the fact that embracing femininity does not render a woman weak; she had done such an amazing job of doing so in the ACOTAR series.
Moving right along, Maas begins to develop the stereotypical love triangle that we see in many female-orientated YA novels. Thus begins that rather bland and boring pursuit of two men towards a single air-headed woman. I found myself having to rub my eyes as Maas continued to repetitively announce that Celaena is very strong, and could take down so many people if needed. These ideas were consistently suggested amongst Celaena’s own inner thoughts- but rarely were they shown in action. Maas grazed over multiple trials that the champions underwent throughout the novel, and showed us only a few times in which Celaena could truly withstand more than the average champion. All in all, it was very obvious to see that this novel was one of Maas’ first attempts, as Celaena has the personality equivalent to that of a dry cracker- and those of her supporting characters have even less depth.
This brings me to one of the most prominent reasons as to why I didn’t enjoy reading Throne of Glass; the characters in this novel were so under-developed that they were not even characters, they were archetypes. Celaena served as the classic “hubris-led protagonist”, which is a mold used in many different novels or legends (for example, Hercules). Lady Kaltain, of course, was legitimately the “damsel in distress”, and nothing else. Chaol’s type is often written into more pre-pubescent types of novels, as he plays the “best-friend-turned-love-interest”. And finally, but most importantly, Dorian, who played the ever-classic “plain handsome boy with no ambition who serves as the main love interest”.
To further explain this, I’ll use our protagonist as the prime example. Throughout the novel, while most characters would delve into other facets of their personality, Celaena somehow manages to get through the entirety of the story with a single trait to rely on. And this trait, of course, is confidence. There may have been hope for readers somewhere in the middle of the novel as we come across the piano-playing scene (which, by the way, only served to further exemplify her docile demeanor), and readers pray for some semblance of humility or underlying sadness. Yes, she cries- after all, readers mustn’t forget that our main character is female. But even this scene, which was really the only place that Maas could have introduced new personality traits in the story, was tainted with poorly-developed romance. Honestly- could she have made the romance less stale than it was? It’s very clear throughout the novel that Dorian and Celaena have about as much chemistry as dust blowing in the wind. Though it was rather aggravating to put up with their brittle exchange, once I pushed passed the poorly written scenes of flirtatious banter, I continued to read on.
Finally, we move to the scene in which Celaena enters the final battle. Though we’ve barely understood that Celaena is prepared for this battle (as we only see her training about twice in total, and doing push ups once in her room), most of the readers already know that in order to effectively conclude the climax, Celaena must lose to Cain. After all the “I’m the best!” talk we’ve had to force ourselves to read, the common expectation and overly-used trope is that Celaena will devastatingly fail. Hell, even the legend of Hercules included this trope. Living up to the low-expectations I had throughout this novel, the climax turns out exactly as expected. Celaena fails in her final fight, but is miraculously saved by the (also overused) supernatural powers of otherworldly beings. And this trope, my friends, is called “Deus ex Machina”. It is something the majority of educated people are taught of at the ripe age of 14-15.
But- there is still hope! Perhaps after recovering (miraculously, with the help of her magical friend) from her grievous injuries, our protagonist will finally (in the last 15 pages) show signs of character development!
And, nope! We’re left again with an annoyingly arrogant woman who still– after nearly dying- thinks she can conquer the world. Finally, to wrap up the book in the least satisfying way possible, Maas puts an end to the awfully awkward romance between Celaena and the prince- yet again fulfilling the predictability of this novel. Next, we’ll no doubt see some sort of equally awful action with Chaol before she moves on to a better man somewhere else. Because as a female protagonist, it is very important that she be attached to a man at all times.
To conclude this rather cynical essay, this book is horrid. I’m not willing to invest the time nor money into reading the second installation in this series. I simply do not believe that Maas is as talented at writing in the third person narrative as she is in the first. Her characters were entirely one-dimensional and they failed to relate to readers in any way. Most attempts at providing some sort of development stemmed from tragic backstories that Maas refused to explain, and therefore they were entirely ineffective. I was thoroughly disappointed with the lack of plot- and the lack of any sort of mention of modern-day issues. This book had great potential to impact me but failed to do so at every given moment. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone, truly. However- if you’re looking for a good book, please do look to her latest series, A Court of Thorns and Roses in which all of these mistakes are completely erased and manufactured into a riveting and beautiful story.