Book review: The Assassin’s Blade (Sarah J. Maas)

CaptureWith the popularity of the Assassin’s Creed series over the past seven years, it’s hardly a surprise that interest in assassins and their various worlds is at an all-time high. While author Sarah J. Maas may have originally envisioned her first novel Throne of Glass to be more a representation of Cinderella than anything, over time the world that she has created and her main character Celaena Sardothien have transformed into something far greater. It’s easy to make the assumption that this could be nothing more than a Creed rip-off, but to her credit Maas constructs a unique and enthralling world with a relatable and fallible heroine that anyone can enjoy.

Maas’ latest release is The Assassin’s Blade, a collection of five novellas that act as prequels to the debut novel and its follow up Crown of Midnight. Here we get a clearer introduction to Celaena as she takes various journeys and missions on the way to becoming who she is in Throne of Glass. The most important thing that Maas manages here is to give the reader just enough insight into Sardothien to make you feel as if you know her and understand her better, but not too much as to ruin the mystique and secrecy of the young assassin.

From action and suspense to heartbreak and tragedy, we are treated to some epic set pieces alongside more meaningful and personal moments. Celaena may seem all cloak and daggers, but strip away the expensive clothing and weapons and there’s just a young teenage girl struggling along in the world. Regardless of her strengths in battle and her strong wits, there’s a human in there with a young soul and a kind heart, and we see how these are torn in different directions with the decisions she has to make along the way. Ultimately these novellas form the story of her relationship with Arobynn at the Assassin’s Guild and the question of loyalty versus her own moral compass.

Life is never simple as an assassin, especially for a young female such as Celaena. Across the lands, the dominant men often underestimate Celaena, even if her reputation precedes her. Whether it’s a Pirate Lord or simply a few drunkards down the local public house, she always has to have her wits about her and looks to outsmart those who dare to look down on her. There is an air of ego about Celaena which is often for show, yet you get the feeling she does genuinely believe she is better than many – at least when it comes to combat. Luckily Maas manages to mix up the cockyness with more vulnerable moments which means the heroine never truly veers into unlikeable territory, instead giving a dry mocking tone that most seem to deserve.

It would be easy to over-sexualise a dominant female but while some of the characters around her are shown as flirty, Celaena’s primary focus is always on her personality and skills. After all, she’s hidden away most of the time, so looks rarely come into it. She is a free thinking woman who tries to make her own decisions, even if it gets her into trouble a lot of the time. We are given the opportunity to embrace Celaena as the protagonist whether female or not. While Maas does celebrate the fact that this is a strong female lead, she never dwells on it, and in fact pushes the strengths based on character, not gender. For the most part everyone is on equal footing, and the only thing dividing them is their social standing – something that Celaena looks to do something about.Capture

Maas herself has called these novellas vital to the audience’s relationship with Celaena and it’s hard to disagree. The characters she comes across along the way – Sam, Yrene Towers, Ansel and more – all impact on who Celaena is and who she becomes in the next two novels. She may try to stay away from forming bonds with people but her heart is not as impenetrable as her armour. The internal struggle of being an assassin with emotions is an on-going theme and one that elevates the series above a simple action adventure. This is a set of five novellas that come together to give the reader valuable insight into a character you can truly get behind, in an exciting roller coaster ride of action, adventure, emotional turmoil and betrayal. Sarah J. Maas knows how to deliver, and we hope she continues to do so in Heir of Fire, released later this year.

The Assassin’s Blade: The Throne of Glass Novellas is out 13th March and includes: The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, The Assassin and the Healer, The Assassin and the Desert, The Assassin and the Underworld, and The Assassin and the Empire.

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