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.

I Understood That Reference

The other day, I received a comment about a story I posted online a while ago. The reader seemed rather put out that I had made such a blatant Game of Thrones reference. Now, I realize that the comment was text only, and that I could be misreading the tone completely, but it seemed to me that the reader was reacting like I’d brought cheeseburgers to a vegan party.

So I read through the offending chapter (I wrote it over a year ago, so I didn’t remember everything about it), and I think I found the phrase the reader was talking about: ‘”With fire and with blood,” the melodramatic fantasy character said’ (paraphrased, obviously, because I’m not bothering to go all the way back and find the exact line).

I’m aware of house Targaeryan’s motto. It’s “Fire and Blood”. And I see how the phrase I wrote could be taken as a reference to George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. But it wasn’t. Not on purpose, anyway.

You see, when I see the phrase, “with fire and with blood”, the first thing I think about is not Game of Thrones, but Ridley Scott’s film, Legend. During a climactic scene toward the end, Princess Lili says, “May my offering be made of flesh and blood,” and I always misremember the line as “fire and blood”.

I sent a note back to the reader to explain this, and that was the end of that. But it got me thinking. In a world where the internet is ubiquitous and we have to ability to pick apart and examine every last bit of every film/television show/book/web series/whatever, no matter how old or how obscure, is it even possible not to make a reference to something else? Or to write a stock kind of line like “with fire and with blood” and not have a reader email you to say, “OMG. I can’t even believe you just referenced Whatever Movie or TV show in this story. How gauche.”

When does every mention of the word, “Rosebud”, conjure up Citizen Kane, or every utterance of the phrase I Volunteer”bring to mind The Hunger Games? In our media-soaked culture, can we even try to avoid referring to something else? And is it even a problem?

I don’t think it is. If you consume enough culture, you’re going to remember certain tropes and commonly used phrases. Human memory is associative. One thing leads to another. If I recall the moment in The Avengers when Tony Stark mentions the flying monkeys, I’ll think of the creatures from The Wizard of Oz, which makes me think of Dorothy’s ruby slippers, which reminds me of the 1948 film, The Red Shoes, which reminds me of Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and The Beast (even though Cocteau had nothing to do with The Red Shoes), which reminds me of Disney’s animated film and the live action film in production, which reminds me of Emma Watson (who is playing Belle), which reminds me of Harry Potter, and on and on and on. The references never stop.

So what’s a girl to do when one reference leads to another ad infinitum? I’ll either roll my eyes if it’s obvious or poorly done, or I’ll think, “I wonder if they meant to do that?” if it’s subtle.

And then I keep reading.