This is my second foray into young adult literature lately, and again, I’ve been surprised by how engrossing an experience it was. Sarah J. Maas has created a world layered over a darker one, a mythology that intertwines with her protagonists, and some great characters with often very believable faults. Although it is far from a perfect read, and though it draws on the success of other popular YA books, it is gripping, and will keep you turning pages while you cling to the edge of your seat.
Celaena Sardothien is the world’s most notorious assassin, and was thrown into Endovier, a prison/slave labor camp, at the young age of 17. A year later she’s released by the order of Dorian Havilliard, the Crown Prince of Aderlan, who wants to sponsor her to become the King’s Champion. This will entail defeating 24 other contestants in all areas of skill and might. If she wins, she is granted her freedom (after remaining his champion for a period of four years). This, of course, won’t be an easy task, especially noting many contestants are dying in mysterious murders left and right.
Despite her notoriety as an assassin, she does draw close with her sponsor, Dorian the Prince, and her bodyguard Chaol Westfall, Captain of the Royal Guard. Both are good men, and care for Celaena dearly to be sure. Both are equally deserving of her in their own right. And Celaena shows both affection and attention, inevitably leading to your very typical YA love triangle. And worse yet, the two men are great friends, or were. This leads to plenty of awkward moments throughout the narrative that are really too ridiculous to care much about. And Celaena doesn’t even realize she’s doing what she’s doing.
That said, as close as she is to both , she doesn’t much trust them. At first this is logical, because they do not trust her. But as the relationships she makes grow, you kind of expect her to show less caution amongst them. Throughout the story Celaena learns things, encounters magical objects and extra-planar creatures. She discovers the cause of the murders. Guess who she tells? No one. This book holds one of the gravest examples I’ve seen of a character so unbelievably incapable of telling the right people the necessary truths to get things done quicker. Seriously, Celaena. You couldn’t have just yelled out “bloodbane”, when there were people nearby who could’ve helped?
And what kind of castle keeps on doing the same old things while murders are happening on a semi-regular schedule, the bodies mutilated and emptied? Nobody thought, oh let me take my champion out f the tournament? Nobody thought to question each and every one of the sponsors? They just kept on partying and pretending as though these deaths were anomalous and insignificant? Why is the only one seriously looking into this Celaena and that foreign princess? And so on.
Despite it all, it was such a fun read, and the characters were incredibly fleshed out. They didn’t simply fill roles, but were part of the bigger world. They had lives before this book, a personal history. It was all very well done.
The world sometimes fell apart for me, but only in rare instances. Although it’s a fantasy, we see elements bleeding in from our world and culture that wouldn’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) necessarily have developed amongst this world. The billiards table stuck out like a sore thumb. Yulemas is just Christmas with a different name. Samhuinn is a carbon-copy Halloween (or its pagan ancestor Samhain).
But overall, this is a great intro-fantasy novel for younger readers. And it’s an extremely fun romp, even hair-raising at times. Definitely one to check out, if you haven’t already. This would make for a great film or television series (and I believe it’s been optioned).