See, this is one of those books where you just NEED half-star rating options. Cough cough someone should get on that (GOODREADS). This is a three and a half star book, straight up. I liked it more than three stars worth, but did have some issues that prevent me from fully endorsing it (which is my line for giving something four stars–also, if I would re-read it, and not sure if I would yet). I’m choosing to round down for now, because I think it has room for improvement, but I’d appreciate a third option (GOODREADS!!!).
For those of you who have missed or ignored this series like I did, Celaena Sardothien, the infamous assassin, has been a prisoner in the salt mines of Endovier for a year when the Crown Prince of Adarlan and his Captain of the Guard find her at the beginning of the novel. She was taken in and trained to be an assassin at the age of eight, and she was very good at it, that is until she was betrayed and imprisoned by the King for her crimes, the same King who has been conquering nearby nations and is responsible not only for the destruction of her childhood home and culture, but of magic itself. He’s not a good dude. But his son maybe is, and he’s come in search of Celaena, largely because he knows that it will rankle his father. There is to be a competition, allegedly for the position of King’s Champion, but what it really means is that the winner will be the King’s personal assassin. The nobles in the court each choose a champion to compete for the position, and the winner receives a pardon for their previous crimes. This is Celaena’s only way out of the mines, working for her most hated enemy, so she agrees.
So here’s where my first issue comes in. With that description, even with the context of the opening chapter and the bleakness of the mines and her situation, I found myself with certain expectations of what the tone of this book would be, and those expectations were not met. This book was way more leisurely and upbeat than I was expecting, and it really threw me until about 100 pages in, when I just sort of embraced it. Don’t go in expecting Hunger Games levels of competition. The competition is actually mostly back ground noise to Celaena’s recovery and training, as well as the mystery haunting the castle: someone or something is murdering the champions one by one.
There was also nothing really NEW going on here. Thankfully, I didn’t come into it expecting to be blown away. I wanted fluff and I wanted it badly, and fluff was what I got. Celaena is a smartass, and is very girly, and once I got used to her and Maas’s writing, I came to appreciate her for her contradictions. Her personality was the lone thread of originality here. I hope that as the series goes on and we get into more specifics, this world will start feeling less generic, but it didn’t help that there is a damn love triangle in here, although for love triangles, it’s actually pretty harmless. I’m also convinced I’ve spotted something that isn’t supposed to be revealed for books, and it wasn’t concealed very well. Plotting, at least in this first book, is not Maas’s strong suit. I found it predictable, and since I prefer to be a more passive reader and just experience the story, if *I* can predict your plot twists, you should probably do a little better with it. I also hope in future books she gets much, much better at showing not telling. We are told and told things (like Celaena’s talents, the friendship between the prince (Dorian) and the Captain of the Guard (Chaol) instead of being shown, for the most part.
And finally, a common complaint I’ve seen in other reviews, SPOILERS Celaena, the world-famous assassin, doesn’t kill a single person in this book. her reputation is entirely based on her past actions, and it hurts the story that we just have to imagine it for ourselves. END SPOILERS. It’s hard to match up the image we get of her and the image of the person Maas is trying to write her as. Maybe that’s intentional, but it also undercuts her character and makes for some weirdness at the beginning.
Still, there were elements of a good story and interesting characters* in here and it kept my attention the whole way through. I wasn’t hugely compelled to pick it up again when I wasn’t reading it, but once I had it in my hands, it was hard to put down. I’m going to read the next couple of books at least, and hope for the best. I like to like things, and hope I end up really liking this series.
*Yes, of course the reserved and noble Chaol captured my attention, because I am nothing if not consistent.