YA recommendations with lists, pictures, and frequent parentheticals.
I’ve made a really dumb decision, god help me. I’m ten chapters into recapping/critiquing the ridiculous (and ridiculously popular) Throne of Glass chapter by chapter, and it is an eye-rolling, rage-filled disaster.
This post—which includes my recap for chapter one—will serve as my one and (presumably) only announcement on Booklikes that the read-along is ongoing on my website. And also my Tumblr. Everyone's free to join the fun.
“Nothing is a coincidence. Everything has a purpose. You were meant to come to this castle, just as you were meant to be an assassin.”
When magic has gone from the world, and a vicious king rules from his throne of glass, an assassin comes to the castle. She does not come to kill, but to win her freedom. If she can defeat twenty-three killers, thieves, and warriors in a competition to find the greatest assassin in the land, she will become the King’s Champion and be released from prison.
Her name is Celaena Sardothien.
The Crown Prince will provoke her. The Captain of the Guard will protect her.
And a princess from a foreign land will become the only thing Celaena never thought she’d have again: a friend.
But something evil dwells in the castle—and it’s there to kill. When her competitors start dying, horribly, one by one, Celaena’s fight for freedom becomes a fight for survival–and a desperate quest to root out the source of the evil before it destroys her world.
This is my first read-along, so bear with me while I find and don my finest recaps-and-rage socks. It might take a couple chapters.
Direct quotes will either be bolded or put in block quotes. If it’s neither bolded nor in block quotes—even if it’s in quotation marks—I’m paraphrasing.
Let’s do this.
So a first chapter has two goals: (a) present the protagonist’s chief characteristics, and (b) hint at their impending conflict. Something like Juanita is quiet but stubborn, and has a strong sense of justice, or Charming extrovert Hadia fears she’ll never step out of her totally-perfect sister’s shadow.
Let’s see how Throne of Glass’s first chapter portrays our heroine, shall we?
After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point. Most of the thousands of slaves in Endovier received similar treatment—though an extra half-dozen guards always walked Celaena to and from the mines. That was expected by Adarlan’s most notorious assassin.
Okay. The jaw-grimly-clenched tone compliments the casual arrogance of the “Adarlan’s most notorious assassin” claim, which—
Wait. If “thousands of slaves” are “escorted everywhere [ . . . ] at sword-point,” and the occasional special assassin snowflake merits seven guards, how many guards does Endovier employ? If I’m doing my math right—let me open my calculator—we’re talking thousands of guards. Sounds like a reasonable use of a kingdom’s military resources.
But back to Celaena, because that wasn’t even the entirety of the book’s first paragraph and already my Ridiculous YA Heroine alarm is wailing.
I’m supposed to believe a teenager is the country’s most notorious assassin, and warrants both shackles and an armed guard of seven to escort her wherever she goes? Come on guys, just give her a Bane mask and strap her to a gurney and be done with it.
So The Most Assassinist of Assassins emerges from the mines after an invigorating day of slavery to find she has a visitor: a man in Ominous Black and a face-hiding hood (someone please tell me how a hood can totally obscure the wearer’s face but still allow them to see out of it, I want to know). The sight of him waiting for her “hadn’t improved her mood.”
That’s it? A creepy dude comes for you after a year of slavery, and all you can say is the sight of him didn’t improve your mood? What about—oh I don’t know—curiosity, fear, surprise, wariness? Could you show any emotion beyond arrogance and badassery?
At least my impending rant about her fearlessness wasn’t necessary. See, she’s only 99% fearless:
[H]er ears had pricked when he’d introduced himself to her overseer as Chaol Westfall, Captain of the Royal Guard, and suddenly, the sky loomed, the mountains pushed from behind, and even the earth swelled toward her knees. She hadn’t tasted fear in a while—hadn’t let herself taste fear. When she awoke every morning, she repeated the same words: I will not be afraid. For a year, those words had meant the difference between breaking and bending; they had kept her from shattering in the darkness of the mines. Not that she’d let the captain know any of that.
“Not that [you’d] let the captain know any of that”? Girl, what makes you think he cares?
Let’s start a list of character traits for fair Celaena:
So Chaol Westfall, Captain of the Royal Guard, He Who Looms Skies and Pushes Mountains and Swells the Earth, takes Celaena on a stroll through the mine’s administrative building:
They strode down corridors, up flights of stairs, and around and around until she hadn’t the slightest chance of finding her way out again.
At least, that was her escort’s intention, because she hadn’t failed to notice when they went up and down the same staircase within a matter of minutes.
But an assassin as assassinly as she cannot be fooled:
If she wanted to escape, she simply had to turn left at the next hallway and take the stairs down three flights. The only thing all the intended disorientation had accomplished was to familiarize her with the building. Idiots.
Actually, I agree. If he’s this concerned, why didn’t he blindfold her before tromping her through the entire building?
Celaena pauses her scornful inner monologue to assure the reader that she’s not some dark-skinned uggo—
She adjusted her torn and filthy tunic with her free hand and held in her sigh. Entering the mines before sunrise and departing after dusk, she rarely glimpsed the sun. She was frightfully pale beneath the dirt. It was true that she had been attractive once, beautiful even, but—well, it didn’t matter now, did it?
—which will make a lovely addition to our list:
Meanwhile, her interaction with Chaol Westfall, He Who Looms (etc., etc.) is just brimming with tension. (Just kidding, it’s not.) She’s pleased by his voice, at least: “How lovely it was to hear a voice like her own—cool and articulate—even if he was a nasty brute!”
Chaol asks a question, which she deflects, and his resulting growl launches her into fantasies of his blood splattered over the marble, followed by the delicious memory of “embedding the pickax into [her overseer’s] gut, the stickiness of his blood on her hands and face.”
Naturally, this makes her grin at him.
Celaena: [Grins at him.]
Chaol: “Don’t you look at me like that.” [Moves his hand back toward his sword.]
Whose bright idea was it to put this man—who goes all angry-werewolf when a criminal shrugs off a question, and almost draws his sword when she tries to unsettle him with a grin—in charge of the Royal Guard? He has anger issues and deep-seated insecurity and impending mass murder all over him.
Then it’s Celaena’s turn to ask a question (“Where are we going again?”), not get an answer, and display her resulting anger:
When he didn’t reply, she clenched her jaw.
What’s with these two getting pissed over nothing? It’s like watching two surly, entitled teens who—oh. I get it.
Having covered the basics of Celaena’s personality, the chapter fulfills its second purpose: providing (sledgehammer-subtle) hints of the awaiting conflict: magic has disappeared from the kingdom, and the King of Adarlan has been filling the salt mines with rebels from the countries he’s conquered. (I’ll be so surprisedwhen our heroine becomes the magic-wielding leader of a rebellion that overthrows the King.)
Celaena briefly shudders at the rebel-slaves’ plight, wondering if they’d have been better off dead. But before you go insist I label her “compassionate”:
But she had other things to think about as they continued their walk. Was she finally to be hanged?
Granted, I’d be more concerned about my impending execution, too—but brushing the slaves off with “[b]ut she had other things to think about” is harsh.
Their destination, when they arrive, surprises Celaena:
The [red-and-gold glass] doors groaned open to reveal a throne room. A glass chandelier shaped like a grapevine occupied most of the ceiling, spitting seeds of diamond fire onto the windows along the far side of the room. Compared to the bleakness outside those windows, the opulence felt like a slap to the face.
Because obviously an isolated prison camp/salt mine’s administration building requires an opulent throne room on the off-chance a royal will drop in for a—
On an ornate redwood throne sat a handsome young man. [ . . . ] She was standing in front of the Crown Prince of Adarlan.
I stand corrected.
Just for fun, let’s keep track of how many times some things happen every chapter. Let’s start with:
We’re told Celaena’s A Total Badass: 5
Celaena proves she’s A Total Badass: 0
Celaena fantasizes about murder: 3
Celaena murders someone: 0
Chaol’s surly teen-boy rage: 4
Our protagonist is unbearable.