Now, this book was interesting. I bought it because I'd heard that it's meant to be a sort-of retelling of "Cinderella" (although it doesn't appear to market this) and I'm currently mining a vein of YA fairytale retellings for my degree. It tells the tale of Calaena Sardothien (cool name, by the way, very Game of Thrones-y), Assassin of Adarlan, rescued from a labour camp by the prince of that tyrannical kingdom to compete in what I can only describe as a bizarrely sanitised version of the Hunger Games for the honour of being the King's Champion.
Since the Champion competition plotline is the weakest part of Throne of Glass, I'll expand a little. There are twenty-four competitors who are to take part in thirteen Tests, one per week. At each test - usually violent, dangerous ones like climbing the castle walls or sparring with the king's guards - one competitor is eliminated, until there are four left at the end for a duel. I mean, the maths is obviously kind of off here, but apparently competitors are also expected to die. I can just about buy this. But here's the thing: most of the court don't actually seem to know what's going on. This isn't a courtly form of public entertainment, a fantasy medieval version of The Apprentice. So why the odd setup? What's the point of this ridiculously complex charade if no-one's watching?
The answer is, of course, so that Maas can have a tension-generating plot to hang her love triangle on. Calaena's initial promising efforts to escape the castle quickly become laughably desultory, given that she's an assassin who's just been taken from the most notorious death camp in the kingdom, as she turns her attention to the oh-so-attractive Prince Dorian (against her will, of course) and her stubborn, emotionally stunted guard Chaol. Even the whole fandango with the magical Queen Elena seems bolted on, too easily resolved, too unimportant.
But I have given Throne of Glass three stars. Why? Well, for a start, I enjoyed living in Adarlan's sanitised medieval world, with its shiny trinkets, its assassins and strange magics, its hints at a dark underbelly. I enjoyed all the little materialistic details - descriptions of dogs, buildings, dresses.
Ah, yes, the dresses. That brings me onto one aspect of Calaena's characterisation that I did like. You see, Adarlan's Assassin has a weakness for pretty clothes. She likes to dress up, to look pretty, not because she's silly or vain or somehow unable to stand up for herself, not because she wants boys to think her pretty, but just because she can. I liked that. It's unusual.
Throne of Glass is obviously trying to be vaguely feminist, trying to subvert the old fairytale, and in some aspects it succeeds. Unfortunately, these are rather superficial aspects, and the whole thing comes off as a conventional piece of YA fantasy: not offensively bad, but not terrifically good either.