Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Throne of Glass certainly seems to be one of the standout young adult fantasy titles this year. When I first caught wind of this release, my excitement owed as much to the fact that the story had first appeared on Fictionpress.net as it did to the intriguing premise. I’m a huge fan of sword and sorcery novels, particularly those in the vein of Maria V. Snyder’s Study series, so a novel with a female assassin protagonist sounded right up my alley. Ultimately, Throne of Glass didn’t enthrall me as I had anticipated going into the novel, but having perservered through a somewhat rough beginning, I’m glad I stuck with it.

As Throne of Glassopens, we are introduced to Celaena Sardothien, self-proclaimed (and universally acknowledged) master assassin. It took me a good while to warm to Celaena. A cool, calculating demeanor is only to be expected of an assassin, yet I wasn’t a fan of Celaena’s seemingly unflappable confidence, which I more often than not interpret as mere arrogance in literature. Yet, there have been a number of series where it took me many chapters, indeed, sometimes an entire book or two to feel sympathy for a seemingly acerbic heroine; Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series and Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series are excellent examples. I’m glad to say that Celaena ultimately fell into this category, as Maas went down an unexpected route in the characterization of her protagonist. As we get to know Celaena, her haughtiness becomes more subdued (presumably due to her increased comfort with her surroundings and companions). It’s all well and good to assert that you’re the

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

best assassin in the world, but to me, the more you feel the need to proclaim your status to all you encounter, the more I tend to doubt your abilities. Luckily, Celaena quickly disavowed herself of the need to remind others of her experience, and I soon found myself rooting for her despite my initial disinclinations. What’s more, Maas imbued Celaena with an inherent girlishness that complemented the severity of her killing nature. Celaena might be ruthless when need be, but she’s also a woman and enjoys certain frivolities and vices. I particularly loved the Yulemas scene in which she receives and proceeds to eat a massive amount of candy, as it serves to contrast the harshness of her maturity with the innocence she is still capable of displaying. However, the thing I loved most about Celaena was the fact that she wasn’t afraid to admit when others were right. There is a particular scene in which she is told that, in order to win, she must forsake her pride. While most heroines would doggedly adhere to their convictions regardless of the wisdom such action would entail, Celaena laughed it off and conceded that the strategy was a good one. I loved that she was confident enough in herself to acknowledge when others had the right in the matter.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as impressed with most of the other characterizations. I’ll admit, the love triangle is shaping up to be an interesting one, and for once, I’m not quite sure who I think would be the better choice for Celaena in the long-run (though I believe I know who her endgame will wind up being). Chaol is a good idea of a character, but we didn’t get to know him nearly well enough for me to really root for him at this point. I felt that Maas’s brief transistions into his point-of-view actually hurt the story by removing some of the doubt and ambiguity. I would have preferred to learn of his feelings gradually as Celaena did rather than having them gift-wrapped and hand-delivered to us. Dorian was a bit more interesting, yet I feel that he, too, served a limited purpose. His resistance toward his father’s method of ruling and belief in marrying for love felt too neat and did little to create depth of character; rather, they merely served to make him a stereotype for the ideals that Maas hopes to champion throughout the series. Still, I enjoyed Celaena’s interactions with both men and look forward to seeing how Maas maneuvers these relationships as the series progresses.

For the first half of the story, there were few magical references save mention of some fantastical creatures who inhabit the forest. I was glad to see Maas incorporate a heavier fantasy element in the second half of the story and felt that she handled the magical system she created well. We saw just enough to keep us intrigued while holding back ample material for sequels to explore. Overall, the world Maas created is an interesting one that, while not particularly unique, nonetheless manages to combine oft-used elements into an attractive whole in which action and magic meld together. Throne of Glass is a solid contribution to young adult fantasy, yet I’m hoping that Maas focuses more attention on creating depth in her characters in upcoming installments. If she manages to do that, I believe that this series could shine above many of its peers.

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Review: Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

I’ve been holding my breath for Thieftaker to come out since last year. D.B. Jackson isn’t an author I’ve read before,  yet he seems to have built himself a nice following. Thieftaker represents the subgenre of historical urban fantasy, one that I haven’t had much exposure to, and I’m sorry to say that I doubt I will be reading much of it in the future either. That shouldn’t be taken as a statement against Jackson’s abilities as a writer nor Thieftaker as a novel. This wound up being a read in which I could sense the quality of writing, but simply couldn’t connect on a personal level.

Thieftaker takes place in 18th century Boston, a setting that I never anticipated

Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

being featured in an urban fantasy novel. Yet depite its unlikely locale, Thieftaker has all the trappings of the genre, in particular a skilled narrator in Ethan Kaille. Ethan reminded me of what Harry Dresden’s ancestor might have been like. That might be part of the reason why Ethan and I never clicked. (I only got through the first two books in The Dresden Files). I love reading books told from a male point-of-view, but not when the male in question exhibits that annoying habit of stoicism that so often seems to accompany the Y-chromosome. Ethan clearly has much in life that he’s passionate about: his profession as a thieftaker (a fascinating and apparently real relic of historical times), his failed engagement to a beautiful woman of his past, the question of whether to commit to the beautiful woman in his present, and the potentially lethal frustration of dealing with his main competitor, the (obviously beautiful) Sephira. Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman and so less susceptible to this particular power of suggestion, but I got a bit tired of hearing about all of the beautiful women in Ethan’s life, no matter their relationship with him. I found Sephira in particular was a tiresome character, as her continual presence causing trouble in Ethan’s life never convinced me of anything aside from her feral grace. While we are told that she is a deadly foe, I witnessed no evidence of her competence aside from the muscle exhibited by her hired goons.

Despite my grievances, the magical system that Jackson has created is rather compelling and I’m sure that many will not have the same issues relating to characters as I did. I have no doubt that Thieftaker will be one of the breakout fantasy books for the year; it just wasn’t for me.

Beneath the Dust Jacket: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Beneath the Dust Jacket is a new feature in which I spotlight some exceptionally pretty books and the little artistic details that set them apart.

The Night Circus has been one of my favorite reads this year. Reading this novel was a beautifully sensory experience, even apart from Morgenstern’s lushly vivid descriptions of the circus and its inhabitants. The book itself is one of the most gorgeous books that I own. The cover is gilded, the pages have a lovely weight to them, and the illustrations are as darkly ethereal as the prose.

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been thoroughly swept up by a story. Even rarer still is the urge to savor each and every last word, whiling away the entire day simply immersed in words. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern took me by surprise, denying me my staunch speed-reading tendencies in favor of a long, lazy day soaking up the fantastical world described within.

I’m not usually a fan of flowery prose, and so was prepared to side with those readers who felt that this book’s flashy show didn’t make up for a lack of substance. While Morgenstern was undoubtedly aiming for a crowd-pleaser with her novel detailing the mysterious workings of this nomadic nightly circus, it has wound up being rather divisive amongst readers who either love it or hate it. I place much of this blame on the publishers, who through a misleading jacket blurb and marketing campaign mistakenly touted this novel as a story of fierce rivalry and heated competition. While the competition is a central, necessary element through which the plot unfolds, it’s certainly not an action-packed affair. Those readers hoping for a story about bitter foes and grand spectacles were likely disappointed to find instead a quiet, meandering tale of subtle acts of love.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Morgenstern’s fledgling effort certainly isn’t without faults. Reviewers criticizing the inadequate character development, unexplained worldbuilding, and confusing conclusion have valid complaints. In other circumstances, these flaws would be enough to mar my enjoyment of the book (indeed, characters and plot are the two essential facets of a story, and if done poorly, there’s probably not much left to recommend your writing). Yet what these reviewers don’t realize is that, while Celia and Marco are, in a sense, the story’s protagonists, they are nevertheless not the main characters. That honor goes to the circus itself, and the exquisite care with which Morgenstern describes this particular character does more than enough to make up for the less-than-fleshed-out string of secondary characters. Likewise, while Morgenstern might not manage to convincingly convey the mechanics behind the competition and the magicians’ resultant connection to the circus, these plot holes are mere quibbles when one considers the story to be merely a vehicle through which the audience is able to experience the circus for themselves.

I normally skip over lengthy passages of mere description, yet I couldn’t bear to spare even a single line of The Night Circus the attention it deserved. The Night Circus is a book whose strength lies in its imagery and the atmosphere it creates. The nonlinear storyline and shifting perspectives enhance the otherworldly quality of the circus itself. I’m likely overlooking many mishaps that would prove fatal in another book, but my opinion represents the sheer wonder I felt while immersed in Morgenstern’s world. The Night Circus isn’t a perfect book, but I’ll be darned if it didn’t feel that way as the pages flipped past.

Review: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

I adore fairy tale retellings. While some scoff at the simplistic lessons and unrealistic conclusions to these stories that held us all enthralled as children, I’ve yet to allow the cynical hand of adulthood leach the wonder out of these classic tales. There is a reason why we cling so eagerly to them in our youth, and why they have endured in countless iterations throughout generations and across cultural ties. They speak to a part of us that never tires of contemplating the potential for hope and happiness, no matter how improbable the odds or circumstances.

While I’ve long heard Juliet Marillier’s praises sung, for some reason, I’ve never before picked up one of her novels. Yet today I found I could no longer ignore the reviews that hailed Daughter of the Forest as one of the best fairy tale adaptations to date, and I’m glad I finally gave Marillier a chance, because her tale did not disappoint. Her take on

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

the Celtic tale of Wild Swans is epic in emotional impact if not in action. This is a tale in which a woman must strive to become her own savior and that of her family; her strength is not questioned and discounted by those around her, and she delivers on her promise, quietly suffering to fulfill the salvation that only she can bring about.

I often find fault in heroines whose innate goodness seems unmarred. Though unfortunate circumstances are heaped upon their shoulders, they bear it stoically and kindly, and we the readers know the vast injustice that they face to bravely. Sorcha could easily have come across as this type of heroine, and in truth, Marillier does little to create the faults that might otherwise be necessary to flesh her out into a believable character. As it is, Sorcha’s unwavering resolution in carrying out her mission seems more than any one person could hope to undertake. Yet I never felt resentful toward Sorcha as I so often do toward heroines whose qualities are irreproachable. Perhaps it owes to the weight of the tasks she is forced to perform and the isolation in which she exists for three years, but each time some new adversity was forced upon her, I could not help but long for the day when Sorcha’s accomplishments would be acknowledged, no matter how unlikely their achievement might seem in real life. For what else is the purpose of fairy tales but to make the improbable seem possible?

For most of the book, I adored Sorcha’s relationship with her brothers. Often, when so many characters are introduced, particularly in a familial setting, it becomes inevitable that some of their personalities fail to distinguish themselves. Yet Marillier succeeds brilliantly in creating each of Sorcha’s brothers as distinct characters, ones whose love for their sister and heartbreak over their fortune makes the reader all the more sympathetic to the necessity of Sorcha’s success in her endeavors. It was due to Marillier’s success in evoking my emotional investment in Sorcha’s brothers that I was so upset by their attitude towards her after their curse is finally lifted. Maybe Marillier wished to contrast the effects of the curse on the male and female figures involved, showing a stunt in growth on the brothers’ part that stood out against Sorcha’s emotional development. Yet whatever the case, her brothers’ failure or disinclination to take Sorcha’s own desires and happiness into account after all she had sacrificed for them was disheartening. It undermined the very strength of sibling bond that justified and necessitated the heartbreak that has sustained the story thus far.

I’ve read many reviews that debate Sorcha’s decision to stay with Red rather than Simon. Suffice it to say, after finishing the story, I’m not sure how this can even be a topic of discussion. Sorcha’s connection to Simon was fleeting at best, and founded on the same superficial hopes that the tales she recounted to him warned against. While many lament the fact that, in contrast to Simon’s colorful energy, Red is too boring and unemotional to warrant Sorcha’s love, I found Marillier’s slow and subtle evolution of Sorcha and Red’s romance utterly charming. Red is exactly the type of hero I prefer in my stories, fairy tale or otherwise. His emotions simmer below the surface, yet they are fiercely present to those who know to search for it. His ambitions and desires reflect the mature mind that Sorcha needs upon emergence from the traumas of her childhood. Even had she been given the chance to get to know Simon better, he could offer her little more than the idealistic dreams sprung from youthful fantasy.

I’m glad I’ve finally given Marillier the attention she deserves as a masterful teller of tales told many times before. The ability to make such a story seem at once fresh and enchanting is a rare talent, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Fanart: The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

We still have another few years to wait until the next book in Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series is released, so to tide myself over I’ve been immersing myself in fan communities dedicated to discussing the various subtleties and puzzles of Turner’s story. Amidst the wonderful discussions and contributions, I’ve come across a few beautiful depictions of Turner’s characters. We warned that the following pieces of art could spoil several key storylines for readers who have yet to read Turner’s work.

Bridges by MandereLee

MandereLee’s deviantart account can be found here.

The Love of Kings & Queens by La-Lepre

La-Lepre’s deviantart account can be found here.

Eddis & Sounis by Irrel

Irrel’s deviantart account can be found here.

Review: A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

When I first started the series (dubbed by fans as) The Queen’s Thief over the summer, I was expecting a pleasant, youthful take on a young man in ancient times. Nothing could have prepared me for the complexity of characters, the expertly veiled plot twists, the achingly truthful writing, or the utter love I would develop for these characters and this world.

A Conspiracy of Kings continues Turner’s tradition of turning point-of-view on its head, this time leading us along in alternating first and third person accounts by Sophos, who

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

had been captured and thought dead at the end of The Thief. With each book, Gen’s voice becomes one step further removed, and Turner’s stylistic choice continues to keep readers guessing despite how well we have gotten to know Gen, or at least the fact that with Gen, we can never be sure exactly what we do know. It is interesting that, in some ways, our certainty of Gen’s motives is more tenuous when viewed through the eyes of Gen’s good friend than when witnessed from the perspective of a newcomer in the previous book. This is likely because Sophos is aware that Gen is not as he seems. Thus, even seemingly straightforward interactions can never be taken at face value. Yet Turner gives us sparing glances at Gen in this novel that attune us to the fact that Gen has his own insecurities, ones not telegraphed in past books and thus all the more honest to discover in this one.

Unlike some reviewers, I took to Sophos from the start, recognizing that he was not Gen and wouldn’t exude the exuberant energy that we had come to love from our star character. Though he looks up to Gen, Sophos is outwardly his antithesis in nearly every way. His story doesn’t lack for action; indeed, we are thrown into turmoil far sooner than in two of the series’ previous books. Yet Sophos is a quiet man, and his reflections are likewise tempered. I discerned ample personality, though perhaps not as explosive as Gen’s; his subtle sarcasm and self-effacing humor in the midst of self-conscious insecurity showed a man who has not yet realized his own strength. I loved how from the first, Sophos’s actions and the reactions of those around him belied that strength, yet he remains ignorant of his own abilities.

Unfortunately, the pace of this novel is more disjointed than in previous installments. While some sections brilliantly displayed Turner’s mastery of manipulative prose and gave welcome insight into certain characters’ ongoing development, other sections rushed action and explanation while never quite capturing the transcendent coalescence of the climaxes in prior installments. I also wasn’t completely sold on the romance, despite Turner having sowed the seeds for it in previous novels. This might owe partly to my failure to fully connect with the love interest in the past. Unlike other characters, Turner has tended to tell more than show her virtues, and so, while she is no less flushed out than her companions, she nevertheless has appeared more two-dimensional to me. This tendency to tell-not-show extended to the relationship in this book, thus making the scant glimpses of Gen and Attolia’s relationship swoon-worthy in comparison. Though we are told that Sophos and his lady are in love, we witness Gen and Attolia’s love through a subtle hand wave and brush of the cheek.

Despite these detractions, A Conspiracy of Kings was a delightful addition to this series and a necessary bridge between the past and what is to come. It pains me to have to wait another two years or more until the next book, but until then, I will content myself with reading the first four over and over.