With five novellas together in one book this is a bit of a mixed bag. Some are better than others. Some I loved, some were great and one was just OK.
All are prequels to Throne of Glass and fill in a lot of the gaps of Celaena’s background as the worlds greatest assassin and the events leading up to her incarceration in the Endovian salt mines. I read this after Queen of Shadows (the fourth book in the series) but you could probably read it at any point. I kind of wish I’d read it before Queen of Shadows as it gives a lot of details as to why Celaena has such a grudge against certain people and there are a few characters that pop up in Queen of Shadows from these stories.
I should say I’m generally not a fan of novella’s or short stories, I tend to find that they aren’t long enough to allow for a decent plot or any real character development and most of the time it feels like just as they are getting going they come to an end or that nothing really happens. In this case however, having all five in one book is almost like having a full story albeit that there are some breaks and changes in style between the individual tales.
Anyway, it’s not fair to review as one so thought I’d go a novella at a time.
THE ASSASSIN AND THE PIRATE LORD
The first story sees Celaena off to deliver a message to Rolfe the Pirate Lord with her fellow assassin Sam. It turns out that the message is that Celaena’s master (the King of Assassins) wants to go into partnership in Rolfe’s slave trade business. Something that doesn’t sit well with Celaena and makes her consider going against orders. If she does there could be some serious consequences for both her and Sam.
I loved that this story was just classic Celaena. It starts with her disrespecting the pirate lord on his own ship, ignoring what everyone says and doing exactly what she wants. These are probably the attributes I love most about her as a character. She’s at her best when she’s cheeky, rude, proud and just a little bit crazy and out of control. This is also the story where we first get to meet Sam who is so sweet and so obviously crushing on our heroine although she’s oblivious. Initially they seem to just annoy each other (which leads to some great banter) but somehow Sam manages to sneak under her defences and she’s forced to trust him. It’s a great start to the novel.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
THE ASSASSIN AND THE HEALER
This was a shorter story than the others and in my opinion the weakest in the collection. Celaena has stopped en route to the red desert in a dive of an establishment where she waits for her ship. It’s full of thieves and mercenaries and Celaena is looking for a fight but the barmaid would rather keep her head down. The narrative flits between Celaena and Yrene (the barmaid) which I found a little bit irritating. I don’t usually mind the different perspectives in the Throne of Glass series but in this story neither narrative was particularly captivating.
Celaena was being grumpy and miserable and didn’t really care about anything or anyone. Yrene was more of an observer than a participant and I found her lack of action a little frustrating. There was little dialogue which I think was also partly the problem for me. It’s kind of an interesting story but nothing special or particularly exciting. Who knows though, maybe Yrene will reappear in a later story.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars
THE ASSASSIN AND THE DESERT
In this story Celaena has made it to the desert and the league of silent assassins with whom she is to train. She need to impress the master if she wants to return home but how long can she stay on her best behaviour and can she trust those around her. To me this plot felt a bit like the Karate Kid with Celaena doing a series of seemingly pointless tasks at the instruction of a new master. While they initially all seem pointless there is a secret purpose to them which will be revealed at some point. Think “wax on wax off” and you’re not far off.
What is most interesting about this story is that it’s the first time Celaena meets another girl the same age and in a similar position to herself. This could be her first chance to make a friend if she can learn to trust. It also lets her meet a different master of assassins and the contrast between the Mute Master and her own master Arobynn gives her something of a shock and leads Celaena to question a lot of her beliefs.
The ending is not particularly surprising but I thought it was a good read and it has a nice pace to it.
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
THE ASSASSIN AND THE UNDERWORLD
This for me was the best of the five novellas in this collection.
Celaena is back home in Rifthold and ready to give her master Arobynn what for but somehow he manages to knock the wind out of her sails and convinces her to stay. He showers her with gifts and convinces her to take on a job that she believes will achieve something good. However, things may not be as they seem and she has to decide whether to trust Arobynn. I think everyone at this point, me included, is shouting no.
The relationship between Celaena and Arobynn is one of the most fascinating aspects of this story. You can never really get a clear answer as to whether he truly cares about her or whether he is playing games and using her. The highlight of this story however is the romance between Celaena and Sam. They are just so sweet and funny together. He is still so obviously hung up on her from the first time they bump into each other but Celaena is back to pushing everyone away. She just can’t help being rude and nasty. I love how he sticks by her regardless of how much she exasperates him.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (mostly for Sam)
THE ASSASSIN AND THE EMPIRE
Having read the rest of the series I was kind of dreading this story. Anyone else who has read the books know how things turn out between Sam and Celaena and I didn’t want to read it.
The story starts with them together and free from Arobynn at last, or are they?. They are short of money and if they really want to get away and make a new start they need one last job. The job they take on however could actually be too much for even the greatest assassin.
Knowing how it was all going to end I had a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach from the very start. The tale itself was just what I expected frustrating and so sad. It didn’t have the same emotion or depth for me as Crown of Midnight or Heir of Fire but this goes back to the novella thing. I felt like Sam and Celaena never really had a period of happiness so I wasn’t rooting for their relationship as much as I could have been. It also felt like you didn’t know that much about Sam which is a pity. It would have been nice to have some of the narrative from his point of view to know what he was thinking. It does however explain a lot of what happens in Queen of Shadows.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
In terms of the book as a whole, I did enjoy it and would recommend it but maybe read it earlier than I did as I think you’d get more out of it.