So I’ve been hearing about the Throne of Glass series all over the place, and decided to give it a shot. Naturally, I assumed that I should start with the prequel novellas, because chronology and stuff. Whoops. The internet tells me that I’m wrong, and I should have read the first 2 novels, then gone back to the prequels, because apparently everyone is still really into this whole Machete Order thing. Regardless, it’s too late, so I’m just going to go ahead and review the novellas.
Warning: I’m going to cover every novella on its own, so there may be spoilers for the preceding stories.
First up: The Assassin and the Pirate Lord
For starters, I have a hard time taking anything with the words “Pirate Lord” seriously, unless it’s Galavant. Also, for some weird reason my brain refuses to process the name Celaena (Is it pronounced “Selena”? “Selayna”? Should the “ae” do that weird attached “æ” thing? etc.) so I have chosen to think of her as my girl C.
The story involves C and Sam being sent to broker a deal with the mysterious Pirate Lord, Rolfe. Turns out that said deal involves illegal slave-trading, which neither C nor Sam are cool with, so they are forced to work together to come up with a plan to thwart the proposed deal, as well as to try to free the slaves that Rolfe is currently holding.
As an introduction, this was not the best. You could tell that C and Sam are going to hook up pretty much from the get-go, so the conflicted “Oh, I don’t hate him as much as I used to. What is happening to me?!” fell flat. I appreciate C’s level of badassery – she very capably kicks pretty much everyone’s ass – but she came across as a bit too cocky and full of herself. It was like the author was relying on the fact that C is working to free slaves to make me love her, as opposed to making her a compelling character. The multiple mentions of how staggeringly beautiful she is, along with her obsession with the finer things in life, made her a bit too unrelatable. I mean, not that I can generally relate to a super-assassin (or can I???), but I at least want to read about someone that I would want to hang out with.
The Assassin and the Healer:
So this one basically has no plot. There’s a serving girl in a tavern named Yrene, who is surrounded by rapey thugs. C, battered and bruised, happens to be at the same inn, waiting for a ship to take her to the Deserted Land to train with the Mute Master of Assassins in the Red Desert as further punishment. Ass-kicking ensues. That being said, I actually preferred it to the 1st novella, because this one gives us a bit of backstory and more world-building, especially about the King of Adarlan taking over the world and somehow destroying magic in the process. C was more likeable in this book – surly, drunk and spoiling for a fight – and she starts getting more sassy one-liners, which I can always appreciate.
My main complaint was that this book seems to set up a friendship that’s not going to go anywhere. After kicking some rapey dudebro ass, C is appalled to find out that Yrene doesn’t even know how to defend herself, and decides to teach her a few moves. There is some good bonding here, as C and Yrene help each other out, but considering C is off to the desert, it seems like this will not be the beginning of a sidekick situation.
The Assassin and the Desert
Thankfully, title to the contrary, this book does not revolve around a lengthy trek through the desert. As the story begins, C has already been hiking through the desert for days, and has arrived at the home of the Silent Assassins to request to be taught by the Mute Master. It sounds kinda dumb when it’s all in one sentence like that, but it reads much better in the novella. She has to prove herself before she is allowed to train directly with the Master, but in the meantime, C starts to appreciate her fellow trainees and teachers. There’s also a side plot about a local Lord who is determined to get rid of the Assassin’s Keep – which seems like a really stupid life choice to me. I’m no power-hungry Lord, but “group of assassins” is pretty damn high on my list of people not to piss off.
This was my favourite novella of the series. C really starts to grow, and to realize that maybe the abusive mentor who left her bloody and bruised does not actually have her best interests at heart. Her friendship with fellow trainee Ansel brings out a fun side in her, and her fixation with her looks was used more sparingly, usually for laughs.
A minor gripe would be that the “twist” at the end was fairly obvious, but it still had good emotional impact. Also, C is fairly preoccupied with thoughts of Sam – which is somewhat understandable considering she has no idea what kind of punishment he suffered – but it’s still strange considering the last time they were together, she hated his guts. Granted, I understand that the whole “I hate you no wait now I love you” thing is a common plot device, but it still felt a bit unearned and rushed. Maybe it’s just because these stories are only novella length, so there’s less of a chance for the feelings to grow. Finally, this novella seemed to have some weird similarities to Game of Thrones: young girl going to train with super assassins who have a catchy name, she has to prove she’s worthy before she can be trained, and a character hell-bent on revenge whose father was killed by the evil king and whose family crest is a wolf. It wasn’t a total rip-off or anything, just some minor things that really jumped out at me. But regardless, as I said, this was my favourite of all the novellas, and I hope that C gets to use her badass new skills soon.
The Assassin and the Underworld
Alas, this novella is not about C battling Hades, Pluto, and Anubis simultaneously while riding Cerberus and wearing Ammit as a hat. Wasted opportunity if you ask me. The disappointment starts when C returns to Rifthold, walks right in to Arobynn’s office, and doesn’t immediately tell him to go fuck himself. Abusive boss apologizes, starts showering her with expensive gifts, and offers her a big deal contract: killing an envoy from the Queen of Melisande who is looking to expand slave-trading. C also reunites with Sam, and many incredibly fraught arguments follow. The entirety of this story is basically C and Sam’s relationship, planning the hit together, and Arobynn’s attempts to get back in C’s good graces.
Now, I’m not trying to over simplify – this was a good novella, and I actually appreciated that C is having such a hard time readjusting to her old life. After all the shit she has been though, it makes sense that she now sees everything in a different light, even if she doesn’t necessarily want to. Once again, unfortunately, we have a fairly obvious “twist” ending. I was able to call that shit pretty much from the beginning, which is really starting to make me doubt C’s intelligence. But my biggest problems lie with Arobynn and the creepy abusive relationship vibes. Granted, I think it was supposed to be icky, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read about a character – a completely badass female – justifying a man beating the crap out of her because “he loves me and doesn’t know how to express it” and “it’s really MY fault, he only hurt me to cope with pain of my betrayal”. Ugh.
The Assassin and the Empire
The final novella in this collection starts with a time jump, with C stuck in a prison wagon, numb and distant, reflecting on how she brought this all on herself. The story then jumps back 11 days, with C in full exposition mode while sneaking in to see a performance at the theatre. C and Sam are now (somewhat) out of Arobynn’s clutches, living together in an apartment and trying to make ends meet. C has some savings, but Sam has taken to fighting cage matches at the Vault to try and earn some dough. His plan is for them both to leave Rifthold, and especially Arobynn, far behind them – but C knows that they would first have to leave the Assassin’s Guild to ensure that no one comes after them. To help them buy their way out of the Guild, Sam accepts a contract to take out the biggest crime lord in town, Ioan Jayne, and his sadistic psychopath #2, Rourke Farran. As per usual, shit does not go as planned.
While I appreciate that sometimes it can really work when a story starts in the present and then goes back to tell the story of how it got there, I think that writers need to be aware of the danger of completely losing tension. In this novella, I’ve already been told that C gets caught and is shipped to prison ALONE and sad. This means that, as a reader, I immediately know that a) the hit is going to go sideways; b) something terrible will happen to Sam; and c) Celaena will not be executed. Not to say it ruined the story or anything, but it just felt like there was less tension. Obviously, considering these are prequel novellas, this is probably not a big deal for people who have read the series because you know exactly the state the character is in at the start of the first book. Not to mention we, once again, have an extremely fucking obvious twist caused by a massive betrayal. At this point, I am kind of concerned that C is a terrible judge of people.
I know it seems like I had a lot to bitch about, but I actually quite enjoyed this collection. The biggest downside was that there weren’t really any stakes – if you’ve read even the description of Throne of Glass, you know that Celaena is going to be fine, and single, at the end of all this. After finishing the 1st novel of the series, I can confirm that not a single character from the novellas, other than C and the King, appears in that book. This is kind of disheartening, as I liked a bunch of these characters, especially Sam and the Silent Assassins. That said, I did appreciate a chance for additional insight into a character who manages to grow and improve over the course of 5 novellas. Obviously, I plan to continue with this series and I’m excited to read more about a pretty blonde girl kicking everyone’s ass.