Celaena Sardothian is the greatest Assassin in the world. Everybody knows her name, and that she was caught and sent to the mines of Endovia. What everybody doesn’t know is that she’s a 17 year-old blonde who absolutely adores candy.
I was listening to the audiobook. I can’t get the narrator’s “Ohhhhh, how she ADORED candy!!!! *tinkling laugh*” line out of my head. (And while we’re here, Elizabeth Evans who narrates is very good, her rhyming of shone with bone aside, and I would absolutely listen to her again).
Celaena is offered a chance to get out. The King of Endovia needs a champion and intends to hold a competition to find one. Dorian, the crown prince, will enter Celaena as his candidate. If she wins, after four years she is free; if she loses, she’s back to the mines.
So, one of the things I hate about terrible YA: logic has no place in our premise.
If I wanted a king’s champion, what I would not do is spend the best part of a year having a bunch of people show me they know how to use a bow and arrow, climb a tower, or other sedate things. This is, presumably, an open vacancy. Most people would want to fill it quickly. It seems terribly unfair to expect your champion to deal with a massive backlog of work because you were procrastinating.
And it’s more unforgivable because during the whole competition people don’t generally progress to the next round because they are rubbish at whatever boring test they’ve been given, they get there because their opponents get crunchily eaten by something mysterious which seems to be roaming the castle by night - and thank heavens for that storyline because I dread to think how long we would have been whittling it down to the final four otherwise. Kicking them out one at a time, as the official rules seem to play it, does not add to the non-existent tension. Mind you, neither does “person you’ve never heard of is messily dead! Let’s all not do anything about it!”.
I’m also not even sure what a King’s Champion is supposed to do in this world. Usually, your champion is your best warrior for one-to-one combat. You can send them out and decide the whole battle thing with a single fight against your enemy’s champion and avoid everybody having to get their armour sticky. But the suggestion is that an assassin is going to be a good candidate here, so let’s roll with it, just like we’re going to roll with the idea that Celaena is actually an assassin, and a good one. This review would be three times this length otherwise.
Then there are the names. They’re like normal names, but special, because this is terrible YA. Maas is particularly irritating in this regard. It’s like being stuck in an episode of Sesame Street where today’s letter is K.
We have Kale (or Chaol as the text has him), hunky guard captain and totally not candidate for a lurve triangle, Cain, named opponent for Celaena’s new job, and Kaltain, teh evuls scheming lady-bitch who insta-hates Celaena (which is at least pronounced with an Sss). I am not good with names at the best of times; even when I could remember what they were I couldn’t remember which belonged with which trope. Then we have Celaena and Elena because rhyming names are totally the next big thing.
Celaena herself is awful. We are told repeatedly how interesting she is - she even has a relatable hobby! - but she is not interesting. She lives up to precisely none of the promise her description offers. She doesn’t even have proper angst.
At first this was terrible but entertaining, and I did appreciate the presence of a period because I am British and the kind of person who instead of sleeping wonders if any of the Districts ever send oats to their lady tributes when food is scarce. I also thought the premise had potential.
But the longer it went on, the more boring it became. One of the challenges of these kinds of books is keeping it interesting even though everybody knows Celaena is going to win the competition. There need to be stakes and this doesn’t have any. There’s no real investment in any of the side characters - even when we’re in their POV they’re thinking and talking about Celaena. (“When Poochie is not around, the other characters should say things like, ‘Where’s Poochie’”)
If somebody told me this got better in the rest of the series I would believe them. There’s plenty of potential especially once you actually give Celaena something to do other than lounge around reading books and looking attractive. However, I’m not going to find out because I would rather eat my own head.