I can be a skeptic of young adult books at times.
Oh so and so is the YA Game of Thrones? Sure it is, if Song of Ice and Fire was simplistic and emo.
Yo, book X is the next Harry Potter over here! Please, if the magic of HP ever gets replicated again I will be absolutely shocked.
But I don’t write off YA completely because I have read some damn fine books within the sub-genre. I am just a bit pickier, a bit more guarded. Basically I make a few other bloggers dig through the muck and find the hidden gems. Still, halfway through Throne of Glass I was feeling I had maybe been bamboozled, tricked, pull the other one it has bells. Because while I am perfectly willing to read about a seventeen year old female assassin I didn’t think I had signed up for a Hunger Games knock off with a love triangle.
WHY DID ALL MY FRIENDS LIE TO ME?
Oh what is that? They didn’t? No, turns out they were all right. This is a pretty damn good book. Not just a good YA book, but a good book.
Oh it has a few trappings that pull it down a touch. There really is no question of the outcome, nor of the villain’s motives (though the means to achieve them were pretty cool). A few attempts to throw off the readers trail are pretty transparent and will be seen through by most veteran readers. And while Celaena Sardothien was a great character (more on that in a bit) there were several characters who got major page time yet never rose above the role they introduced as (specifically those less friendly to our protagonist).
But, BUT, I got a book I didn’t expect despite this. That Hunger Games comparison? Hardly apt; there is a competition watched by nobles that make up the base of the story, but it isn’t the whole of it, this isn’t a death match tale. The actual plot is surprisingly complex as it all rolls out; from Celaena’s past to the King’s current actions, a banning of magic and the disappearance of fae.
We know Celaena only by her reputation, first meeting her in a work prison. When given an offer to win her way out she has to accept. She is picked by the crown prince to compete for the title of King’s Champion, a bitter irony as he is the one who had her locked up for reasons that will slowly unfold. She is taken to court, paraded in plain sight, and rubs elbows with the prince, some nobles, and a princess from a captive land; all while under heavy guard.
George Carlin once said that every joke depends on its exaggeration, and I often find that books run the same way. For Throne of Glass to work one has to buy that a sixteen year old girl can be the most feared assassin in the land. But everything else about Calaena is perfectly believable. She likes good clothes, is crush prone, and even reads a trashy book. I am not saying this is ‘’typical girl behavior,” because I am not dumb enough to suggest there is any such thing. But in the era of backlash against Disney princesses we have often gone the complete other direction; in many books the girl acting like Calaena would be the mortal enemy while our protagonist would be forced to a tomboy role. I like a tomboy story just fine, but suddenly this was the change of pace.
Is Throne of Glass the most complex story I read this year? Not even close, though not bad. And it does take a certain detachment from reality in its very premise; something I struggle to give my reads at time. And there is a love triangle that I know causes some to cringe, though I run into them rarely and this one feels fairly organic (no mention of true love in sight, just a lot of teenage crushing).
A snarky, fun to follow protagonist with a cast that includes several other memorable characters I haven’t even gone into (How often does a housekeeper or maid stand out)? And there is a princess that only seems less intriguing than Calaena because she gets less page time. I really hope her story is expanded as I read on. I had fun, and as I was looking for a light distraction when I picked it up I would consider this a success.
Sometimes a great main character is all it takes, but this one has that and quite a bit more going right.