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

Contrast, Part I: Lessons from Bestselling Books

Over the next three weeks, I’ll be sharing some writing tips I picked up. Where did I find them? In some very famous books by skillful authors, books I couldn’t stop thinking about.

I wanted to know just what made these books so memorable, and what drove me to keep turning the pages. Some of it has to do with a generous helping of mystery, and some of it, like today’s tip, comes from a look into a character’s past. But after thinking about it, I noticed these books all have one thing in common: well-developed characters that leap off the page and plotlines that strike a chord. And to make that happen, the authors used contrast.

This is the first of three types of contrast that helped bestselling writers build deeper, more memorable stories and characters.

Use Contrast Part I

I. The contrast of innocence and (cruel) reality

In this lauded work of historical fiction, the contrast between the characters’ innocence and reality drives the main character’s choices and creates the book’s theme.

In The German Girl, by Armando Lucas Correa, heroine Hanna shares a free-roaming, adventurous childhood with Leo, who swears he will marry her as soon as they’re old enough. In the midst of being forced out of their homes by Nazis, their relationship is sweet and wholesome—with an almost inevitably tragic end. But it doesn’t truly end there.

Hannah carries Leo with her throughout the rest of her life. Through every atrocity she sees and no matter how she suppresses it, that bittersweet memory is there. Leo is a force long after he’s left the story, their innocent love representing everything that is simple and good.

This does three things: anchors the book in a relatable emotional core; portrays Hannah as more than just a victim (she gets a life of her own affected by but predating the forces of the story); and provides respite from (and therefore depth to) a tragedy.

That contrast is how the cruelty in The German Girl becomes more than just acts of outright evil: it’s also found in the indifference of the people around Hannah. If we never saw what no-strings-attached caring looked like in the story, that theme would be weaker and easily missed.

Here’s another example of it working, this time from the fantasy genre. In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, innocence versus cruelty is the reason the Hound’s attachment to Sansa lifts her storyline: it’s a break from the almost unending selfishness and cruelty in King’s Landing. If there is no touch of relatable innocence, all that backstabbing and abuse of power blurs together.

This contrast humanizes the Hound (there’s a heart in there somewhere) and gives supposed good guy/victim Sansa a critical flaw (she can’t see past how ugly and scary he is. Cersei ain’t the only selfish gal in King’s Landing).

See how innocence versus cruelty brings more to a story than just good versus evil?

The Lesson:  Innocence is something everyone relates to. It triggers the reader’s reflex to be protective, which makes the reader invest in the character’s fate. The Hound becomes unforgettable in an onslaught of characters and names. The German Girl leaves an indelible mark, but it’s pure-hearted Leo and his relationship with Hannah—the way these innocents only wanted to live a normal life together—that breaks readers’ hearts the most.


That’s all for now! See you next week for Part II.