So I have an idea for a book. It'll be about a dentist. A really, really great dentist. She can perform painless root canals, and transform a mouthful of rotten teeth into a gleaming, Hollywood whiteness. And she'll tell you, ovah, and ovah, and ovah, how great a dentist she is.
But...you'll never actually see her perform any dentistry, because...well, just because.
Yeah, Throne of Glass, that's what it's like.
Celaena is the most killing-est, most bad-ass-ist assassin in the land. And she's only eighteen. But death, death on two legs. About a year ago, however, she was betrayed and is now serving out a life sentence in a jail/mine camp.
When we first meet her, she's being escorted somewhere by none other than the King's Captain of the Guard. The girl we meet at this stage is, admittedly, rather intriguing, confident despite her situation, hyper-aware of her surroundings, cold, calculating and ready for anything.
The Captain brings her to meet the Crown Prince, who offers her a bargain. Sign on to be his champion in a contest run by the King, and should she win, no more living on gruel and hacking salt from the depths of a mine. Of course, there's a catch, which is that winning will require her to serve as the King's personal assassin for four years. But after that, sweet, sweet freedom.
Celaena agrees because although she's tough, it's clear she won't survive much longer in the mines.
Okay, so far.
So it's off to the King's castle of glass for her. (Yep, the King lives in a castle of glass which makes me think of the Linkin Park song by the same name.) This possibly being the origin of the novel's title, though, the aforementioned silica throne doesn't figure much in the plot. But, whatevs....
There she gets a fancy room complete with a piano and billiard table. "Moving on up...Like the Jeffersons" She begins her training for the contest, working to regain the fitness that she lost while in the mines. And reminding the reader frequently, that she is the more lethal than cyanide.
Except, the only people who get dead are her fellow contestants who are being systematically slaughtered by something with big fangs, claws and a penchant for brain eating. The mystery of the dead contestants being the most interesting part of the story.
Meanwhile, we have the obligatory love triangle. As triangles go, it's pretty equilateral, in that both males are likable enough. First there's Crown Prince Dorian, who despite having an asshole for a father, is a decent human being. In the other corner, we have the Captain of the Guard, Chaol (whose name I pronounce Kale, like the leafy green.). Chaol has a stick up his ass and is conveniently young (twenty?). Too young, frankly, to believably be the Captain of the Guard. Especially when it turns out he has no military experience; has never killed anyone before. He and Caleana's relationship begins adversarial, but the two grow on each other. Like mold.
As triangles of love go, this one isn't bad. I mean, it's not like one of the guys is a towering monument to douche-canoe.
Unfortunately, the love triangle is the one plot thread to rule them all. Although the narrative introduces deeper themes--slavery and the destruction of culture by a conquering, imperialistic nation--there is little exploration of those themes. Celaena, a member of one of those conquered races, only briefly considers the fact that she is going to work for her people's oppressor. Yeah, it's a survival thing, but the events of her past, including the slaughter of her parents, don't generate much emotion, from her or this reader. Midway through the story, there's a mention of a friend/lover (Sam). According to other reviews, her relationship with Sam is explored in depth in a separate novella. Um, no, sorry, I shouldn't have to read "background" material to make a connection to characters in what is supposed to be "book one."
Is Celaena an example of a strong, female character? In as much as she's willing to do what must be done, yes. A lot of stuff is out of her control, she's a pawn, but she makes the best of it. Some of her traits, like the desire to always be the best, get repetitive and tiresome, but, hey, the girl's got hutzpah.
The problem, however, was that I never believed that she or anyone important was in danger. There was a conspicuous lack of tension. Celaena goes on and on about how awesome she is, and since A) this is never put to the test until the very end, and B) she's the protagonist, so presumably going to have a pulse at the novel's conclusion, there's an utter dearth of suspense. The only people winding up as corpses are her fellow contestants, most of whom are convicts and otherwise awful people; it's hard to care who gets murdered next.
The question of who's killing the contestants is interesting because it ties into the (mostly neglected) themes in the book. Such as why does the King hate magic so much? And if so, why are there magic sigils featured prominently on the castle grounds? Unfortunately, fascinating details of Celaena's world are short-changed in order to make room for the love triangle.
Despite my overall fondness for YA, I think this is a case where my age impacts my relationship with the book and its characters. I mean, if a story is going to present me with a stone-cold, killer woman, then she should show me the assassination, and the tone of the story should be much, much grimmer. My sixteen-year-old self would have been on this like a starving man at a banquet. (Or not--sixteen-year-old self loved twisted, violent shit.) Ever-so-slightly more mature me, however, wants more--more angst, more blood, deeper world building, much less twee.
Alina, from Shadow and Bone, is technically a weaker female heroine, but at the end, even she ends up with a higher body count than Celaena.