Sunday, 7 May 2017

#CBR9 Book 41: "Crown of Midnight" by Sarah J. Maas

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

I put off reading this for the longest time, mainly because I figured I'd have to go back and read the first one, Throne of Glass, again to remember what happened, what with having read that way back in early 2013. But then the lovely Narfna tipped me off about this website, which allowed me to quickly recap all the stuff I only vaguely remembered, and I no longer had an excuse not to read it and it fit into my Monthly Keyword Challenge for April.

Oh yeah, this is book 2 in a series. It doesn't really work unless you've started at the beginning. There may also be vague plot spoilers in this review, so maybe skip it if you like going into books entirely cold.

Legendary teenage assassin Celaena Sardothien won the evil king's contest and has become King's Champion. It pretty much means she's supposed to kill whomever he points her towards, and now she shows up in the throne room throwing down severed, partially decomposed heads and severed body parts every so often as proof of her due diligence. Both of her love interests are worried and perturbed both by her seeming ruthlessness and efficiency. Yes, there are two love interests, although the love triangle isn't all that intense, as Prince Dorian, son and heir of evil king (I could look up his name, but I really can't be bothered) has pretty much decided that it's obvious his best friend, the stalwart and honourable Captain of the Guard, Chaol Westfall (while listening to parts of this in audio, I discovered is name is pronounced more like Cowl - which is not how I was mentally pronouncing it all through the first book, seriously, books like these should have a phonetic guide to all the different names) loves her more, but is unlikely to act on his feelings, because you know, it could get in the way of his duty. Yawn! And Celaena can't act on her obvious feelings for Chaol because the king is already threatening to kill him if she steps out of line, she doesn't want to give him more leverage against her.

 Except - SPOILER! Celaena hasn't been killing anyone at all, but making all of the people she was sent to kill fake their own deaths and flee far far away, leaving her with significant pieces of identifying jewelry she can put on on severed limbs she takes from random corpses and shows off as trophies for the king. Seriously, for a famed assassin, she spends a lot of time NOT killing people, at least for the first half of the book.

The king now wants her to murder a famous male courtesan, claiming that he's part of a conspiracy against the throne. Because Archer whatshisname is a former friend of Celaena's, she negotiates so she has a month before she needs to present proof of his death, and she goes about trying to find out both what she can about the possible conspiracy (an enemy of the king is a possible friend of hers) and so she can warn Archer to get out of dodge. About a third of the way through the book, she confesses the truth to her friend, Princess Nehemia, because she can't keep up the pretence of being a cold-hearted b*tch to everyone. Nehemia offers to help tutor her in the ancient language of Wyrd magic (because the ghost of an ancient queen occasionally appears to Celaeana and tries to emotionally blackmail her into doing dangerous things to figure out the evil king's ultimate end game, and since he came to power ten years ago, all use of magic has been forbidden - she needs the Wyrd magic to investigate in secret).

Chaol keeps fighting his attraction to Calaena and tries to stay loyal to the evil king, even though it's obvious that evil king is super horrible and really doesn't deserve any kind of loyalty. His pining for the King's Champion makes things tense in his friendship with Dorian, because the prince doesn't really tell his friend that he's realised that Celeana doesn't like him like THAT, because she only has sad emo eyes for Chaol. Dorian is making troubling discoveries about strange new abilities he appears to be developing and tries to enlist Nehemia to help him.

The first half of the book really is rather slow and I was having trouble caring much about any of it, and then things suddenly took a TURN and I became a lot more interested. For one thing, Celeana went all vengeful and super bad-ass assassin, going on a rampage of vengeance. After some probably understandable (she IS still just a teenager) moping and self recrimination, she becomes a hell of a lot more proactive and fun to read about. That her relationship with both Chaol and Dorian becomes more interesting and complex, with a lot more nuance than "I like you, do you like me - oh, it's impossible for us to be together!" was an additional bonus.

I keep seeing very enthusiastic reviews for these books, and I really want to like them. The first book was merely ok, and while the first part of this book was rather slow and had far too much YA melodrama and not enough cool action, the second part was really a very different book entirely, and I applaud Sarah J. Maas for surprising me with the aforementioned TURN in the plot. Some of the revelations about our intrepid teenage assassin later in the book were really not very unexpected, however, as there have been plenty of anvillicious hints in both of the books about the lovely Celaena's background and true identity. Frankly, I would have though Chaol would have put the pieces together sooner, but he has the misfortune of being part of the plot, not reading it from the outside. Also, as I often need to ask myself when reading these at the age of 37 - would I have figured all of these things out when I was the target audience for these books, or is it my many years of added reading experience that makes most of the plot twists so obvious?

Having been a bit lukewarm about this series after reading the first one, I am now rather excited to see where the series goes from here. I still think Maas' other fantasy series is better, based on the first book, A Court of Thorns and Roses (I will be reading the next books in that series later this month), but I can now see why a lot of internet peeps whose reviews I follow like these books so much.

Judging a book by its cover: Not only do they have what I'm assuming is supposed to be Celaena as some sort of albino-looking wraith girl on the cover (it looks like the drawing of her is mostly in black and white, with a splash of colour added for the cloak), but her hair is flowing freely, as if wind-blown (interestingly, her cloak is swirling the OTHER way - there are very strange wind currents at play here), when it's specifically mentioned in one scene in the book that Celeana always keeps her hair tightly braided when she's fighting (because she's a trained assassin, natch, but also because she's not an IDIOT). I kind of like the background in orange with red swirls. The alternate cover for this is just a stark white, with the sword wielding lady surrounded by swirls of red smoke. While the super pale, white-haired girl is still an odd choice by the cover designers to portray the protagonist, this cover at least has SOME colour.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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