I've been waiting for this book to be released since I read some of it on FictionPress.com more than 5 years ago. If its original hook of 'What if Cinderella had been sent to the ball to kill the prince?' had been kept, it would have made things a lot simpler. It's a great read, but not quite for the reasons it's been hyped up to be. It's an action-packed coming-of-age romance set in a fairytale world, with all the intrigues, impossibilities and archetypes that that implies.
If you like that sort of thing, buy this book. If you read and liked the original version, buy this book. You're guaranteed to love it, so I'm going to write this review for people who don't know what to expect and who are a bit hesitant or sceptical. If you believe the hype and nothing else, you might find the story a bit too much, but if you go in knowing what you should REALLY expect, you'll find it an enjoyable, perceptive, read.
The facts are these. Celaena Sardothien, previously Assassin of Adarlan, is retrieved from prison camp by Captain Chaol Westfall, to represent Crown Prince Dorian in a tournament devised by his father, the despotic king of Adarlan, to find a Royal Champion. If she succeeds, Celaena will be the king's personal assassin for 4 years before being pardoned and freed. But as well as winning the competition, there is something evil lurking in the glass castle, that Celaena must destroy...
Now, what makes Celaena a fairytale heroine rather than a kick-ass warrior? She not only boasts the status of greatest assassin (and when I say boasts, I mean: Celaena herself boasts, and then some), she also happens to be a stunning 18-year-old girl, complete with a blurry past, a sense of honour that (she feels) distinguishes her from street criminals, and a dislike of corsets that (she feels) distinguishes her from backstabbing courtly ladies. 19-year-old Prince Dorian is THE stereotypical exception to the rule: he's a pampered, unassertive idealist, but his pseudo-scholarly charm is a great threat to Celaena's would-be populist prejudices! Proof of their shared exceptional status? THEY LIKE TO READ.
Luckily, once you're armed against these two rather insufferable personages, the book is actually a lot more intelligent than it sounds. Celaena and Dorian are off-set by the exceptional Chaol (the Captain), who alone makes the book worth reading, and Nehemia, a visiting princess from a conquered land. Chaol - totally un-archetypal and instantly likeable, even if it's ridiculous that he made it to Captain at 22 - persistently reminds Dorian that he's a privileged prince whether he claims to like it or not, and Nehemia is learned and captivating, a grounding influence on Celaena whose naive self-righteousness might otherwise have been unbearable. It's also quite bold to give the characteristic, undiluted arrogance of the villain to the heroine. Celaena's constant bragging is vindicated by her struggle to make her weakened body match up to her own glorious notions about her abilities, and by Chaol's faith in her, reluctant but 100% sincere. And surprisingly enough considering both the genre and the characters, the romantic element of the book is extremely well played.
I won't go into the pros and cons of the story because the plot followed the pattern of 'I can see what's coming from a mile away but I still can't put it down'. As for the writing, it's full of vivid descriptions, plain but acute characterisation, and some extremely witty remarks and exchanges. There were occasional anachronisms, and the inevitable, but still depressing, 'from whence'; but overall, the book is charmingly written. The author has talent and a likeable style, and this is a novel she started when she was 16; I expect she'll become a real gem of YA Fantasy with her subsequent books.
Like I said, if you like character-driven fairytales, buy this book, you're guaranteed to love it. If you don't HATE them, it's still worth a try for its perceptive take on its own clearly defined genre. The story's origins are betrayed by the fact that its view of its well-drawn world, with an empire in chaos, is limited to the perspective of beautiful, important people (and by the 'glass' retained in the title, which is, otherwise, not very relevant), but that shouldn't, and doesn't, condemn it. As infuriating as the characters may sometimes be, and despite the obvious plot, this is a pretty accurate portrayal of what Good But Flawed people at the top are likely to feel. I won't lie, it's not for people who can't stomach characters who are superior to their peers in class, motives and ability; but for people who are interested in the struggles of characters in that situation, this take on it is deceptively resonant.
The characters that drive this story are ridiculously young, but the book knows that, and gives them room to grow, and learn. If I could give this 3 and a half stars I would, because it's far more than average, but it clearly needs its subsequent instalments to round itself off perfectly - as far as I recall, the original story really got going after the tournament. But that isn't to say I didn't enjoy this book, because I couldn't put it down and read it in one sitting. It's a promising and charming introduction to an ambitious series, and I for one am certainly interested to see where Celaena will be going next.