Not Your Typical Assassin

Throne of Glass: Review

Much of today’s Young Adult genre is filled with fanciful world-building and a strong lead character who possesses the ability to save whatever turmoil they have found themselves in. This dystopian, action-packed style is best defined by books like The Hunger Games, Divergent, Matched, or Six of Crows. 

Throne of Glass fits perfectly into this subgenre. The protagonist is Celaena, a world-renowned assassin who was betrayed by her own allies and was sent to Endovier, a torturous prison camp where she endured whippings and lengthy manual labor. Within the first couple of chapters, Celaena’s life is changed a year after capture, when a prince named Dorian arrives with the proposition of freedom–– if, and only if, she proves herself by participating in and winning a series of competitions against fellow “Champions”–– assassins, criminals, and soldiers. 

Celaena agrees and finds herself living luxuriously in Dorian’s castle, training with a young captain named Chaol, and finding unlikely friends amidst an environment of competition and rivalry. Tension builds when other Champions, like herself, are found week after week dead in their chambers, gruesomely murdered beyond healing. Even so, Celeana continues to train and even finds herself caught in a “love triangle”–– both Chaol and Dorian fighting for her attention, all while her freedom is on the line.

Throne of Glass is widely praised by Young Adult and fantasy lovers. Sarah J. Maas’s world-buildings and character-building skills are easy to admire. Her plot is original and appealing, advertised as fierce battle for freedom and young woman’s ability to put her strength to the test. For the most part, the plot was just as amazing as it was advertised to be, leaving the reader on cliffhangers at the end of chapters and retaining interest until the very last page. 

The issue that arises as the story progresses is the main character, Celaena. She came across overconfident and vain, complimenting herself on her beauty in nearly every chapter. She seemed extremely unbothered and unaffected by her year being tortured in a prison camp, and had an unusual lack of awareness of her surroundings for being such a successful assassin. There are many instances where people have snuck up on her and startled her, when the person was not making any effort to be quiet. Due to the third person perspective, there are many times where people are walking in and out of Celaena’s rooms while she does not even stir. For how much her assassin skills are emphasized, most readers expect a bit more awareness, especially when people are walking around and talking in her room while she sleeps, and she remains blissfully oblivious. Additionally, without spoiling anything, I won’t delve into the “candy incident.” (Although I’m sure those who have read this book know what I am talking about.)

Even so, Celaena was the only character I had an issue with. Chaol, her trainer and Captain of the Guard, is by far the most well-developed character in the novel. Handsome yet gruff, very guarded and focused on his character, the reader sees glimpses where his persona cracks and vulnerability slips through. It creates connection and affection for the character, and understanding of his motives and his actions without needing the words spelled out. Dorian, while stereotypical, is also well-developed: a prince who wants to deflect his traditional duties but is still under the scrutinizing gaze of both his parents and his country. 

The romantic aspect of the novel greatly overpowers the action-packed aspect of the novel, something I did not expect. Throne of Glass advertising mentions the romance, but is much more focused on the competition and Celaena’s skills as an assassin. Many of my dislikes of Celaena’s character could be solved had I known the book would be primarily a romance novel. 

Despite this, the book was still incredibly well-developed and interesting, the entire book even ending in a cliffhanger that convinces the reader to continue the next novel in the series. Overall, the praise is well deserved. Well done, Sarah J. Maas.

Rating: 4/5

A Band of Thieves

Crooked Kingdom: Review

While this review contains no spoilers, do not read if you have not read the first book, Six of Crows. See Six of Crows review here.

The motley crew of the Dregs returns in the ferocious, fast-paced sequel to Six of Crows: Crooked Kingdom. All our favorite characters are back and performing deadly heists once again, this time with a little more urgency as each character finds themselves in life-threatening situations. This is a typical night for the Dregs, however, and we could expect nothing less than to be sitting on the edge of our seats with anything written by Leigh Bardugo. 

There are two major differences between the first book of the duology and the second: Crooked Kingdom finally has a little more romance involved, and while our characters are all performing deadly missions, there is a sense of finality to it. You start to realize things are going to come to an end early on in the book, which makes each precious scene even more enjoyable. This book contains more main characters, and even more instances where Kaz is left to be admired by his impeccable ability to navigate heists and business deals.

Bardugo does not miss a beat when giving the readers what they want. Spilling with tragic backstories yet unique, unordinary characters, Bardugo incorporates disability, LGBT+, and racial diversity into a genre that is typically filled with simply straight white characters. In her plot, I often found myself reading along and wishing this one twist would happen, or this one scene that bloomed in my head would somehow find its way onto the pages. By some strange ability, Bardugo seemed to include nearly every possible situation I wished would make it into the book. 

Even so, at times it felt as though Bardugo’s dialogue felt a little unnatural, or as though she was trying a little too hard to make her characters appear edgy or tough. Even with the most cruel character with the most unfortunate backstory, it still sometimes seemed a little overboard on the cynical-ness of some characters. It almost came off as cliché, as though I read the dialogue quote somewhere on Tumblr but could never imagine someone saying it in real life. 

At this point, however, I’m picking at threads trying to find something to criticize. Crooked Kingdom, and Six of Crows for that matter, is a masterpiece. Any Young Adult lover will adore this book, and the fantasy-world building, down to every detail, is flawless. For any reader that prioritizes character-building, this is the book for you. Each character has enough background and depth that an entire series could be written about each one. And if Bardugo ever decided to attempt such a thing, I’ll be the first in line to buy myself a copy.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Click here to listen to my Six of Crows Spotify playlist to listen as you read!

A Witch and Her Pigs

Review: Circe

Thanks to Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson children’s series, there has been a recent comeback of classical mythology retellings in contemporary fiction. Seemingly boring, textbook-style myths become renewed in the form of elaborate tales fit for modern day readers. It is every mythology-lover’s dream–– a resurgence of new ways to listen to their favorite myths, spun in a different perspective each time. Someone who has executed this idea particularly well is Madeline Miller, author of two novels retelling mythology–– The Song of Achilles, and Circe.

Circe jumped to reader’s favorites lists and filled the timelines of social media platforms. With a stunningly beautiful bronze cover, Circe easily caught readers’ eyes. The book details the goddess and witch Circe, who was commonly known throughout mythology as a goddess of magic. The book spans most of Circe’s lifetime, from a young child to hundreds of years old. Disliked and rather unloved by her extensive family and relatives, Circe was known as the ugly, mistaken daughter of Helios, who was believed to hold little to no talent. In comparison to her beautiful sister and brothers, Circe was outcast and humiliated day by day, and was betrayed consistently by people she thought she could trust. But as Circe realizes she possessed the power of witchcraft, something nobody expected her to have, she begins to allow her power and her life to grow (even while being exiled to an isolated island). 

With iconic appearances from classic mythology heroes like Promytheus, Hermes, Athena, and many more well-loved beings, Circe draws readers in and somehow makes a story spanning thousands of years seem short. It is remarkable how Miller creates a character such as Circe, an immortal goddess and witch, so incredibly relatable to whoever opens the book. Many characters come and go, some with much more lasting impression than others, but Circe remains powerful and endearing throughout the novel. 

Miller’s writing makes Circe feel straight out of a fairytale, with formal writing and proper dialogue that feels perfectly placed for a mythology retelling, but makes one wonder how it would possibly fit in any other work of fiction. Even so, her talent in this genre of fiction is so spectacular that I hardly care enough to find out. 

Circe battles the ongoing question of morality and what makes a person good or bad. Circe constantly finds herself stricken over fatal mistakes, always trying to be more trusting and more giving, all while her witchcraft becomes more powerful and more dangerous. Her lasting legacy within mythology has been her tendency to turn men into pigs. Circe also delves into discovering her identity, something that any reader can connect with. Despite her immortality, Circe is still discovering her own worth and her true purpose while hundreds of years old. She experiences love, heartbreak, tragedy, loss, and even the pains and wonders of motherhood. 

Read this with background knowledge of mythology, or read it without having read a single text of mythology ever before. Circe can teach anyone of all ages what it means to resilient and true.

Rating: 5/5 stars