Review: Throne of Glass (Maas)

Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas, Review Graphic

This was not 100% my kind of book…yet I found myself reading it for hours on end!

At 18, Celaena Sardothien is the Queen of the Underworld, the most accomplished assassin in Adarlan and a prisoner at the Endovier death camp. She’s physically weak and scarred—but mentally she’s unbroken. Her mantra is “I will not be afraid.” Yet when the son of the King she hates arrives with an offer to win a place as the King’s Champion, it’s one she can’t refuse. It’s a miracle she’s survived a year in Endovier as it is.

Life at the palace isn’t easy. Celaena is torn about working for the man who cost her everything, but has few alternatives. Surrounded by guards at all times and with the threat of being sent back to Endovier hanging over her, she must face other champions in a series of tests, and there are some very strange markings on the castle grounds. Those markings prove to be Wyrdmarks, symbols with strange properties no one can quite agree on, in a kingdom where magic is outlawed.

Things get trickier still when she meets the ghost of Elena, a long-dead queen of Adarlan. She has a message for Celaena, and naturally it’s a cryptic one.

The early part of the story reads like more traditional fantasy, with a stony protagonist skilled with weapons ready to square off with injustice. It proves far more nuanced than that, thankfully, and conflicted characters abound. Throne of Glass walks the line between multiple fantasy genres, so can appeal to many types of fantasy readers.

Technically, Throne of Glass is impeccably written. Celaena’s story is riveting, too, with a highly skilled assassin who ends up as an underdog because of physical and political circumstances. Though I wasn’t sold on the premise early on, it had an uncanny ability to keep me wondering what happened next.

Since I love monsters and paranormal elements in fantasy, I really got absorbed in the story once Elena entered the picture. The Wyrdmarks are creepy and fascinating, and I am team Chaol all the way. A female protagonist who is notably arrogant, not to mention equal parts skilled and confident (perhaps overconfident, given her uphill battle to return to her old Adarlan’s assassin form…but just a little) was different and refreshing.

This is partly because, strong and unbreakable as she is, Celaena has a softer side, too (she loves books and dogs, after all!). She cries at times and has traumatic memories she can’t allow herself to think about. I felt that she could do anything, but was please that her story involved so many understandable struggles. There were no half-hearted challenges here or hero’s problems that were actually easy to overcome. Celaena is a strong woman who still needed–and could accept–help.

I can see why so many people love this series! There is the promise of more magic (though Wyrdmarks are somehow outside of it) and multiverse involvement, plus those paranormal plotlines. Though I thought the climax to be a bit drawn out, it allowed all Celaena’s strengths and weaknesses to come together. I also wanted to shake her a few times (of course you should figure out where that scent is coming from, Celaena!), but that’s a sign of how deeply invested I was in her story.

I look forward to seeing what Celaena Sardothien will do next, and what (or should that be who?) she’ll turn out to be.

To learn more about this author, visit her website at

YA books that changed the game (#2 of 9)

Did you see?  I have a mailing list now!  It’s right there, in the sidebar!  (Or maybe below, if you’re on a mobile device).  Now, without further ado…

Today’s YA novel that shaped me and countless others in the pre-Harry Potter days is 1995’s Sabriel.

Sabriel Review

In high school, I had a wonderful English teacher.  No matter how much you disliked a book from the summer reading list or complained about it with your classmates, you left her class appreciating that book.  Then there were the non-reading list books you read for fun, that you’d prefer to spend your time with instead and couldn’t wait to get back to.

Sabriel is in both those categories for me.

As a kid voraciously reading it, I loved the interesting world with just enough horror to creep me out but not keep me up at night.  A disdainful talking cat?  A magic book?  Yes, please!  It was unlike anything I’d ever read.  But that was where the trouble started: the ending.

Without spoilers, I will say that I read to the end, a part I usually savor, and thought, What?!  That’s it?!

It was so abrupt, it left me feeling cheated after all that excitement.  But that was the thing: I’d never read a book that didn’t wrap things up pretty neatly at the end.  I didn’t know where the characters ended up, if they ended up together, how things worked out…no happily ever after, or ever after mentioned at all.

To top things off, the sequel, Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr (I think that was the original title) didn’t come out when expected.  I kept searching each time I went to the bookstore, because young people didn’t and probably couldn’t look for books on the internet then, you see, and each time nothing was there except Sabriel and Shade’s Children.  Where was it?!  What happens next?!!!!

And that, right there, was the mark of an excellent book.  For all my grumbling I wanted more, perhaps because of the way it ended but mostly because of the experience of reading it as a whole.  I loved Sabriel.  I still think of it as one of my favorite books, because of the book itself and because it changed reading for me.  Even for a Goosebumps fanatic (that link there is to the first one of those I read), it opened up a whole new kind of world.

Sure, there were some growing pains for me.  But Sabriel has stood the test of time, not just as a popular read and YA book of legend, but in my own memory.

Years later, I finally met Lirael and the Disreputable Dog.  And while that is one of my favorite books, too, Sabriel is special.  It’s not just the first, but one of a kind.

YA books that changed the game (#1 of 9)

Today, I want to take a moment to share one of my favorite YA books from when I was that age.  This is the first of nine posts about books in the Young Adult genre that changed me and countless other readers.

Talking to Dragons (Wrede) Review

 This is the last of four books in the series The Enchanted Forest Chronicles.  I actually read it before the others (apparently most people did when it first came out in 1985, because it was published first, as a standalone.  I picked it up in the 90s and was none the wiser).  Thanks to a strong attraction to the cover illustration and back copy (plus the other books in the series being sold out!) I ignored that “Book 4” business.  My mom bought it for me, and I read it multiple times.

The thing is, Talking to Dragons is great on its own.  It’s the only book in the series that jumps ahead to the next generation, though reading it first did spoil major plot points of books 1-3, which I then read like prequels.  I will always wonder what it would’ve been like to discover it right side up (you had to go out to a bookstore then, so I’m guessing the wait to get #4 was devastating).  But learning everything alongside the main character and having that element of surprise is worth it.

It all starts (finishes?) with Daystar, a boy living alone with his mother, suddenly discovering that his mom can use some pretty powerful magic.  I won’t spoil what happens next except that Daystar ends up leaving home on a great and perilous adventure with some odd new friends he finds on the way.  I laughed, I wanted a dragon (would give him some Jell-O dessert), and I kind of identified with the fire witch.  It was a wonderful world and story that invited me to dive in and join in my own way.

I recently found the series (I’m Kon-Marie-ing) in a Ziploc, tucked away in a storage container with many of my other treasures.  As I prepare to possibly donate my set of four to the library, I hope to be passing on my love of this series to others.  And getting a new digital copy, of course.

Indie Book Spotlight: Sunbolt (Khanani)

I’m trying something new tonight.  This is about to be my first Indie Book Spotlight:

Sunbolt Review

Sunbolt (The Sunbolt Chronicles #1), by Intisar Khanani (Clean YA Fantasy; 2013)

This one’s a fantasy, and would work for YA-readers.

Note: the author is soon to leave the indie ranks, though The Sunbolt Chronicles are staying in the self-published realm as of this post.

So what’s it about?  An ethnically mixed foreigner in a place where that’s a dangerous thing to be, where sinister government plots are afoot (plus those who are working against them).  The main character, Hitomi, dashes through a vibrant market, meets vampires and werewolves, steals to survive and rebels to live.

OK, so when I started reading this I thought, “Yeah, this is a good story.  Well-written.  Not really my taste though.  Why did I buy it?” Then I kept reading and found out.  Yup, Sunbolt was for me.  And I loved it.

Hitomi was a breath of fresh air, and Sunbolt and its sequel (Memories of Ash) taught me a lot about good world-building.  It was also a perfect remedy for the doom and gloom of other fantasy tales I’d been reading.

I actually had no idea the author was self-published until I reached the end (which did come too soon, but in a “Where are the sequels, I need them now!” sorta way).  Khanani, who will be traditionally published with a new version of her novel Thorn, writes clean fantasy, meaning her work contains suitable language for a wide audience.  Mind you, the monsters and violence in Sunbolt may scare younger readers and could be inappropriate.

Official synopsis:

The winding streets and narrow alleys of Karolene hide many secrets, and Hitomi is one of them. Orphaned at a young age, Hitomi has learned to hide her magical aptitude and who her parents really were. Most of all, she must conceal her role in the Shadow League, an underground movement working to undermine the powerful and corrupt Archmage Wilhelm Blackflame.
When the League gets word that Blackflame intends to detain—and execute—a leading political family, Hitomi volunteers to help the family escape. But there are more secrets at play than Hitomi’s, and much worse fates than execution. When Hitomi finds herself captured along with her charges, it will take everything she can summon to escape with her life.

That’s all.  Thanks for reading!