June 2018 was the longest sci-fi/fantasy month I’ve had to date. This year I decided to tackle the young adult favourite and bestseller from Sarah J Maas, the Throne of Glass series. Having heard nothing but praise of it from friends, colleagues and critics, I thought that the time had properly come to read these books. The premise appealed to me immensely: a powerful female lead character, an assassin at that, a tournament for freedom and a romance narrative. I already had the first four books on my shelves so I had basically committed to reading them – already a reasonably large commitment. In June challenge months gone by, I had exclusively read trilogies (Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, Captive Prince) but one extra book didn’t seem like such a big deal. Needless to say, it meant that June was a very long month of fantasy!
The first book, Throne of Glass, introduces us to our principal character, Celaena Sardothien, as she is taken from the notorious prison of Endovier to compete in a challenge. If she wins, she becomes the King’s Champion and wins her freedom. But the cost of being the Champion? It effectively enslaves her again to a corrupt King whose reign has snatched everything from her and has kept an eighteen year old in such a dark, harsh place as Endovier. During said tournament though, we see that, in spite of the darkness she has lived, she has most certainly not lost her light. She has moments of great joy (namely when she discovers books, party dresses and chocolate) in amongst the moments of terror and suspense of the tournament.
To add to the intrigue and to set up the rest of the series, Maas also includes a love triangle between Celaena and her two principle suitors. The first of which is the son of the King, Crown Prince Dorian. Seemingly the opposite of his father and churlish younger brother, Dorian sees the best in people and insists on dignity and proper treatment of all he encounters. Secondly, the Captain Chaol Westfall, who has the most contact with Celaena as her “mentor” of sorts. And also the best of friends of Dorian. Drama.
Without wanting to give away too many spoilers, this drama continues seamlessly into book two, Crown of Midnight. In my opinion, this is the strongest book of the series. We see a different Celaena at the beginning of this book – equally as strong as ever, but conflicted by her newfound duties and deep-set moralities. This conflict not only puts herself in danger from the King, but also the ones for whom she cares most dearly. Celaena will experience even more immense loss in this book than she even had prior to the beginning of book one (which can be teased out even more in the series’ prequel, Assassin’s Blade).
What I loved so much about Crown of Midnight was how “crowd-pleasing” it was. Fans of romance will love the steamy scenes and the conflict that Celaena faces in deciding where her heart lies. Fans of fantasy will love the continuation of the world building and just how much more lies ahead in this epic series – it’s all there, you can feel it brewing! Fans of young adult will love it as it has a combination of these two aspects which are easily the two biggest tropes of young adult writing; as well as the fact that, in spite that it does have “mature themes” it does not venture too far into adult life. After all, Celaena herself is only eighteen and has a nineteenth birthday in the books.
However, for me this all fell apart by the time I reached Heir of Fire. There was a massive plot twist in the final pages of Crown of Midnight (no spoilers, I promise) and I was really looking forward to digging into book three. This book sees our heroine shipped off to a new land with new challenges to face. Away from the ones that she and, indeed, readers have grown to love, we meet new characters as well as seeing how old ones are faring in the absence of the King’s Champion.
In Heir of Fire we are introduced to the Fae and one particularly special one, Rowan. Rowan is to be Celaena’s trainer in this new journey which she is undertaking. His gruff and honest character is originally meant to be off-putting, however he begins to mellow as the training takes all kinds of twists and turns – bound to happen given what readers already know about our main character. Meanwhile, back in Adarlan, similar curveballs are being thrown at Dorian and Chaol which they are forced to navigate head-on.
Although the scene-setting in this book are completely necessary for what is to come in the future books in the series, this book drags unlike its two predecessors. I found many scenes to be simply underwhelming and dull. Particularly in the scenes with Manon, a new primary character who has many scenes throughout Heir of Fire, I found her scenes a touch tiresome. Even the supposedly charged scenes between Celaena and Rowan occasionally similarly tedious.
Yet again, though, Sarah J Maas proves herself as the master of the plot-twist in the dying pages of the novel. This compels me to look back at this book with a touch more fondness as it truly caught me completely by surprise and meant that I simply had to continue to charge through to read the fourth book in the series, Queen of Shadows. This was the book that I had heard from the vast majority that was the strongest book of the series and the most action-packed. I was excited to get into reading, even though this was a monster of a book that even outweighed Heir of Fire in terms of length.
I knew pretty far in advance that this would be where I would abandon the series unless this book absolutely compelled me and refused to release me from its clutch. Needless to say, it didn’t. That’s not to say that Queen of Shadows was a terrible book but rather than I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and done with the characters and their stories. Herein lies the consequences of reading an epic series all in a row – the most obvious difference I’ve found in my previous sci-fi/fantasy challenges of trilogies have been much more relieving than this one.
Worringly, this book started as slowly as Heir of Fire. For me, it took around 200 pages before I felt that the action truly began. But once it did, I did find myself racing through the pages. I really can’t describe too much of the plot without giving away spoilers. In short: the epic journey across kingdoms and loyalties continues, with old and new friends uniting in a new quest for a modern glory to spite what the recent past has dealt.
Similarly to the ending of Heir of Fire and Crown of Midnight, there were moments in this book that shook me and made me feel a physical reaction – from the plot development to the chemistry that was brewing between some of the characters, and even just the mere fate that awaited some others. I can certainly see why this book in particular is dear to Maas fans, but, for me, it served an ending point to my experience with this series.
It’s likely that I might very well continue reading this series at some point in the future – especially considering readers around the world are counting down the series’ conclusion which is looming in late 2018. I am somewhat curious to see where the characters will go and how the series will conclude. But the later books are so chunky!
So, in short – to be continued. Maybe.