Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas
In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake: she got caught.
Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament—fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted?
These books came highly recommended to me. I hadn't heard of the first one until the sequel came out and I started seeing reviews for it, but my interest was caught. I'm not sure why, exactly, other than the glowing reviews, because fantasy is something I've been straying away from.
If I'm honest, neither book was as good as I was anticipating. Taking the first one first, I found that the story got a bit lost in favour of introducing the characters and the world and setting everything up. I think this is intended to be a series of six books, and so naturally there's a lot to tell the reader about in the first instalment, but I would have liked a lot less information and a good deal more plot. Celaena is taking part in a tournament to become the king's champion, a tournament I was pretty sure she'd win since the other competitors were to be killed and she was probably going to survive long enough to make an appearance in book two. Perhaps this isn't something that bothered anyone who read the book closer to its release - they didn't necessarily know there was going to be a second book, and so were therefore caught up in the tension of the story.
The other issue I had with the first book is the world-building itself. It seems to take up a huge chunk of the narrative, but I struggled to visualise much of what was going on. For some reason, in the opening chapter as Celaena is being led through hundreds of corridors as the guards try to disorientate her, I kept picturing her being led through a mostly empty office block. I don't know why I had that particular image, but there wasn't much there to change it. There were many occasions throughout the book when I had no idea where something was happening or what it looked like. I just couldn't quite get my head around it.
So, I was expecting the second book to be a lot better. I didn't dislike the first book, although the last few paragraphs probably make it sound like I did, I was just disappointed. I was expecting better and I was sure the second book would deliver. It did and it didn't. There was more story, sure, and the characters getting bumped off this time were ones that I cared a lot more about than nameless competitors in the king's tournament. I loved the development of the relationship between Celaena and Chaol and wanted to cry when...stuff happened.
I did enjoy the second book more, I thought it was a lot better in terms of story and character and even writing, but there's still something lacking for me. There's something just not quite there for me. I think part of the problem is my mind makes an inevitable comparison to Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone series, the last high fantasy books I read and which I utterly, utterly adored. They're both high fantasy with strong female characters at their centre, written by female authors, and so my mind has linked them up and I can't help making comparisons. And I enjoyed Bardugo's series a hell of a lot more. That being said, I will read the third instalment of this series when it's released, but I think it will be a turning point for me - unless there's something in it that really resonates with me, I probably won't bother with the rest of the series. Okay, that's a lie. I have to have books. All the books. And even if this series starts to go downhill, I'll almost certainly keep reading it.