Review- Crown of Midnight

DSC01749Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)
by Sarah J. Maas
418 pages
Published 2013

From Goodreads:  “A line that should never be crossed is about to be breached.

It puts this entire castle in jeopardy—and the life of your friend.”

From the throne of glass rules a king with a fist of iron and a soul as black as pitch. Assassin Celaena Sardothien won a brutal contest to become his Champion. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown. She hides her secret vigilantly; she knows that the man she serves is bent on evil.

Keeping up the deadly charade becomes increasingly difficult when Celaena realizes she is not the only one seeking justice. As she tries to untangle the mysteries buried deep within the glass castle, her closest relationships suffer. It seems no one is above questioning her allegiances—not the Crown Prince Dorian; not Chaol, the Captain of the Guard; not even her best friend, Nehemia, a foreign princess with a rebel heart.

Then one terrible night, the secrets they have all been keeping lead to an unspeakable tragedy. As Celaena’s world shatters, she will be forced to give up the very thing most precious to her and decide once and for all where her true loyalties lie… and whom she is ultimately willing to fight for.


My Thoughts

I read Crown of Midnight as a buddy read with Danielle over at Books, Vertigo & Tea. I probably wouldn’t have read it otherwise. I found the first book, Throne of Glassdisappointing, as Celaena read like a wish-fulfilling Mary Sue instead of a fully fleshed, dynamic character, and Maas’s writing was clunky and uninspired.

Crown of Midnight… is marginally better. Celaena has more depth this time around, and because the story is not lurching toward the end of a protracted contest there is more time to explore her growth as a person and develop her relationships, both romantic and platonic. She’s an assassin with a heart of gold, and it’s made clear early on that she’s only pretending to carry out the king’s orders. Celaena’s ruses go off without a hitch, so that even her closest friends believe that she’s killed all those people.

And, of course, her friends- Chaol, Dorian, and Nehemia- look at her sidewards because Celaena is an awful person for killing them (even though she hasn’t). Despite the fact that they already knew she was an assassin.

What did they think she did before they met her? Skip through meadows and pick flowers while singing to the animals?

*sighs*

Odd expectations of an assassin’s morality aside, the other characters did a little growing up, too. Dorian rose in my regard after he made a particular discovery, though he’s still content to sit back and watch his evil father continue to plan evil things. It seems his idea of ‘making a difference’ is to object to some of dad’s plans in the council chamber, but his objections hardly seem to make much of a difference. I’m sorry, Dorian, but you can’t just thumb your nose at authority and expect things to change on a fundamental level.

Nehemia continues to be one of the most interesting characters in the story, but alas, we hear more from a doorknob than we do the princess of Eyllwe.

Maas’s writing has improved since the first book though the prose is still workaday, walking from one event to the next and doing its job without much flair, like it just wants to get through the day so it can go home and take a nap. Plot twists are telegraphed so far in advance that you could use binoculars to see them coming. There’s no surprise to them, just the satisfaction of knowing you were right.

I have had an issue with the lack of specificity in the two books. We’re accustomed to fantasy novels having foundations in historical lands, whether it’s the Anglo-Saxon-based setting of Tolkien’s Rohan, the medieval Russia of Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, or the late-Renaissance Amsterdam-like atmosphere of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. The world of Throne of Glass is harder to pin down and so it’s harder to get a sense of the place, as Maas pulls from a variety of sources to inhabit her world. The character of Baba Yellowlegs, for example, is analogous to the crone Baba Yaga from Russian tales, while the fae spoken of in other parts of the books resemble those of Welsh and Irish stories. In the first book Celaena listens to minuets, a type of dance popular in eighteenth century France. While I realize that Celaena’s world has a variety of cultures, the lack of specificity about any of them makes it difficult to get a concrete sense of the place and thereby get lost in the world. I kept coming across vague terminology (or things that were just used incorrectly) which would make me stop and ask, “What kind of weapon is Celaena using? It just says ‘sword’. There are a lot of different kinds of swords”.

And so, while the characters have grown more likeable in Crown of Midnight, and there is some political intrigue going on, I just don’t have enough interest in the story to want to go out and read the rest of them. I’ll be the first to admit that I am a snobby reader, but when there are so many amazing fantasy novels with more engaging stories than those of the Throne of Glass books, I just can’t see myself taking the time away from them to read about characters I only sort of like.

Sunday Sum-Up

Another week has come and gone, and once again I’m wondering where all that time went. I really need to get that temporal vortex out of my closet. I know some of the time was spent in finally watching Stranger Things on Netflix, and a little bit was spent watching Will. As for the rest of it? I dunno. Not nearly enough of it was spent sleeping.

*sighs*

DSC01749I only finished one of the books I started the week with, and that was Sarah J. Maas’s Crown of Midnight, the second book in the Throne of Glass series. I’ll have a longer write-up later this week, but for now I’ll just say that, while Maas’s writing has improved somewhat, I’m still not a fan. It was fun to do the buddy read with Danielle from Books, Vertigo & Tea, though, and I’m hoping she’ll want to do it again.

 

The other book I’ve been reading is Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion, which is one of my all-time favorite books. If you want a master class in world building and political intrigue in a fantasy setting, then this is the book for you. The characters are beautifully written and utterly believable, and even the villains have logical reasons for what they do. And while the world of the five gods has more books, The Curse of Chalion can act as a standalone novel if you’re not in the mood to embark on yet another lengthy series. I’ll have a further review when I finish it.

In other news, I picked up a couple more books this week, because why not? One was a ‘blind date with a classic’ from one of the indie bookstores downtown. My last experience with a ‘blind date’ book was dreadful, as I ended up with Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, which remains the only book I’ve ever thrown at a wall. This one sounded more interesting, though, and given that it was in the classics section I figured another Philippa Gregory incident would be unlikely.

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So what did I get?

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It looks fascinating. I’m debating taking it to Iceland with me to read on the plane. We shall see.

I bought two books in all last night. Passing because of the intrigue factor of the ‘blind date with a classic’, and The Ramayana, because I want to develop a better understanding of more literature from around the world.

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What’s up for this week? Lots of preparation. I leave for Iceland on August eighth, and while I’m prepared as far as reservations, passports, and currency, I will need to do laundry and give my apartment a good cleaning so I don’t have to do that when I get home and am exhausted and jet-lagged. I’ll also need to figure out how to pack my camera gear, since I’m taking most of it with me and security restrictions regarding electronics are higher these days. C’est la vie.

As for books, I’ll read what I can. I should finish up The Curse of Chalion in the next day or so, and then it’ll be on to Ann Cleeves’s Raven Black, a mystery series set in the Shetland Islands off the northern Scottish coast. I have a friend who grew up in the Shetlands, so I’m interested in where he’s from. Also, there’s a great TV series based on the books, Shetland. I think there are only about eight episodes, but it’s fantastic. It’s available on Netflix streaming, though you’ll probably want to turn on the subtitles as their accents are quick thick.

I started listening to a new-to-me podcast today. It’s called Writing Excuses, and features four writers who discuss various elements of writing and how to do things like world building and pointing out that descriptions of a thing can change drastically based on a character’s point of view. It’s entertaining and three episodes in (they’re all about 15-20 minutes long), the hosts have given me a lot to think about regarding my own writing and in the books I’d reading.

Sunday Sum-Up

I am pleased to report that I did not melt this week after dealing with heat indexes approaching 108°F (42°C), and actual temperatures that didn’t drop below 90°F until after 10:00pm. I felt like I swam to work yesterday morning through 90% humidity. But thanks to several coffee shops and bookstores with their wonderful air conditioning, I survived the heat wave. This morning is much cooler, and without my window unit rattling away, I’ve been able to properly listen to my podcasts, in particular, LeVar Burton Reads. The newest episode is, ‘Graham Greene’ by Percival Everett. It’s an intriguing story set in Wyoming, about a man contacted by a 102 year-old woman who wants him to find her son.

6260576It felt like I didn’t read very much this week, and part of that is due to the heat and the humidity frying my brain and making it difficult to sleep. I started and finished Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s My Soul To Take, which was fine. I didn’t find it to be particularly creepy, as the reviews say it is. But then, my reaction to creepy stuff has always been rather blase. I doubt I’ll read any more of this particular series. I didn’t object to the writing, translation, or the pacing, but the MC, Thora, just didn’t interest me very much.

After getting excited upon hearing that they were going to be releasing a series of comics based on the Showtime series, Penny Dreadful, I sort of forgot about it until something reminded me of it the other day. I did a quick search through my Hoopla app, and there they were! Volume 1 is a prequel to the series and does a good job of fleshing out certain questions I had regarding the first season, namely, ‘What happened to Jonathan Harker and the others who were in Dracula?’ and ‘What brought Malcom and Sembene together?’ and ‘Why is Malcolm not phased by this supernatural lunacy going on around him?’ The art is fine, though it doesn’t approach the brilliance of Sana Takeda’s work in the Monstress series.

The second set of comics deals with the aftermath of the series. While the show ended they way I always thought it would, it felt a bit abrupt. So it’s good to see that they’re continuing the story (and not pulling any punches). Once again, the art is fine, and while the dialogue is true to the Victorian nature of the show, the pacing leaves out much of the poetry and the quiet scenes many of the characters shared. I’ll be curious to see if future issues flesh out those quiet moments more than the current ones have.

 

Because Danielle over at Books, Vertigo & Tea and I have been planning to do a buddy read of Sarah J. Maas’s second Throne of Glass book, Crown of Midnight, I bought a digital copy, since I didn’t want to have to wait for a library hold to come through. I’ve written before about how disappointed I was in the first book in the series, so I’m hoping that the second book takes a big leap forward quality-wise, as I have yet to see why so many people say that Maas is ‘one of the best fantasy writers out there’.

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I had to go downtown on my day off to run some errands. I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t have made some pit stops at the two independent book stores there. They offered me free iced tea when I walked in the door at Francie & Finch, and Indigo Bridge Books has always had a great little cafe with both hot and cold drinks. I bought an iced coffee and spent about an hour wandering around looking at all the books. I picked a book at each shop- Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant and volume 2 of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s graphic novel series, Monstress. They go along with the copy of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man I bought at Barnes and Noble the night before. The heat may make it hard to sleep, but at least I have some new books to read while I’m lying awake at night!

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I intended to do a lot of things when I got home last night, but it was so hot and gross, and I was so tired after a week of lousy sleep that I ended up not doing much of anything. What I mainly did was discover that the entire current season of The Great British Baking Show is available through Nebraska’s PBS streaming service. I have an NPR membership, which gives me free access to the service (yay NPR!) I had been watching an episode every Friday night, thinking that they were premiering on the streaming service when the episodes were playing on TV. But they weren’t! The whole season was available right from the start! So I binge-watched the remaining few last night, and was thrilled to see that my favorite baker won the whole thing!

I have not caught up on TNT’s Will. I meant to last week, but it didn’t happen. I blame the heat and general fatigue for that. It’s hard to get excited about anything when, outside of work, you feel like you’re trying to breathe soup. This week? A little cooler! I might have some energy!