Monday, February 15, 2016

Crown of Midnight - Sarah J. Maas (Throne of Glass #2)

Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass, #2)I am so torn on this series.  Granted, I'm two books behind everyone else--book five should be coming out in September--but I have a pretty good memory of the original Fictionpress draft, and the similarities and differences continue to confound me.  But even without that, there are things I absolutely love about this book--which I do consider to be better than Throne of Glass--and things which frustrated me to nearly no end.

In Crown of Midnight, we pick up with Celaena in the months after she won the competition to become the King's Champion, which basically means his pet assassin.  Celaena isn't really thrilled at being his pet assassin, but it's better than being a slave, sooooo...  The King has her chasing to and fro all over the country, killing off people he considers to be his enemies.  Except, we quickly learn, she's not actually killing them off, but faking their deaths and allowing them to escape under assumed identities.  And then there's the mystical, dead queen who wants her to figure out the king's source of power and put it to right, and her complicated relationships with Chaol and Dorian, and... Yeah.

So, I'm going to cut to the chase her and throw out my two main frustrations with this series so far, which are both Celaena.  One of them is about her personality--the other is about her in a more abstract sense.  So, first.  Celaena is so stupid.  I can't get over this.  She's made out to be so clever, such an expert at everything she does, but despite all her knowledge, all her training, all her experience, and everything lurking in the past and in the present around her that she is aware of, she continues to make stupid decisions to trust people who are obviously wrong, to ignore things that are right in front of her, and to blunder right into dangerous situations with little to no preparation.  Granted, there are a few situations, such as a rescue, that she went into with the right mindset...but she wouldn't have had to if she'd used her brain a little more in the first place, and she continues to make the stupid decisions going out of it.  Celaena's purported knowledge and expertise and her actual behaviors in the book are completely at odds with each other, which is immensely frustrating.  Oh, and Celaena still hates on all women who aren't herself and Nehemia, which is also very annoying.  Because how dare other women admire the hot, eligible captain of the guard, right?

Second is the concept of Celaena as a larger character.  Here's the problem: she's supposed to be the world's most famous assassin, but she doesn't actually assassinate people.  She does kill a couple of people, but they are people who are completely, indisputably bad.  This means that, for all Celaena is supposed to be a morally ambiguous character, she really isn't.  There is, of course, a larger writing dilemma here: how do you write a character who is a functional assassin, who kills the people she is contracted to kill even if they're good and don't deserve to die, but still have a likable character?  Can you?  I think so.  I think it would be a challenge, but I think it's possible, and that such a character would be compelling in a way that Celaena just isn't.  All of her machinations to preserve people's lives are admirable, but they weaken her claim to being a great assassin because it means that it's all just hype, not fact.  When we can see this, it lessens her claim to greatness and makes her just a phony.

That said, I do admire how much Maas is willing to put Celaena through.  An event that I remembered from the original draft happened in this book, and I am so glad it did, because it really darkened the tone of the series overall.  Watching Celaena being hit by event after event after event is interesting, even if she doesn't ever really learn from them.  I think there's an interesting world lurking here, too, and that there are some good elements Maas can draw on.  The Ironteeth witches are intriguing, in particular, and I hope to see more of them (and maybe the other witch clans) in the later books.  Celaena's romances (while frustrating because everyone loves her) are well-written in the sense that they're absolutely delicious, and Maas isn't afraid to have her go through more than one relationship; there's not (so far) a "one true love" component here, which is the case in so many young adult books.  Celaena was with Dorian in the first book, and broke it off at the end; in this book, Maas builds up her relationship with Chaol.  Dorian is still interested, but it isn't an active love triangle because Dorian takes one for the team and steps aside, so there's no actual competition.  The way the relationships between these three evolve is great, and I really liked seeing how the dynamics changed throughout the book.

So, here's what I'm thinking: I'm going to continue to read the series, but I'm going to cut my losses and presume that Celaena will never be a really compelling main character.  The supporting characters and world are far more interesting than Celaena herself.  Her story is crystal-clear from the beginning, unlike everything else, and it's for those other, unknown elements that I'll keep reading.  Celaena doesn't have the ability to carry a series on her own, but she has a lot of other things going to bolster the books and keep me interested, so I'll continue to read...and ultimately, I guess that's what the author (and the publisher) really care about.

3.5 stars out of 5.

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