The Assassin and the Pirate Lord
The Assassin and the Desert
The Assassin and the Underworld
Source: kindly sent for review by the publisher
Beautiful. Deadly. Destined for greatness.
The character of Celaena is extremely well-developed in this novel (and in the accompanying e-novellas). She is a complex character (as people tend to be...) who swings between brattish arrogance and uncertainty. As an eighteen-year-old with exceptional skills in a strange - and deadly - environment, this makes emotional sense, allowing us to warm to her despite her bouts of sulkiness. I also appreciated her moments of girlishness, delighting in fine clothes and being obsessed with the court parties and feasts.
The plot is centred on the tournament to find a Champion, and it is this that drives much of the action, but it is not the main focus of much of the novel. This is a story about people and relationships, trust and loyalty, and that is where most of the action is really concentrated. That is why the book is not one action scene after another, and some of the tournament's heats are barely touched on. A slow-burning love triangle, the social comings and goings of a royal court, and the mystery of how competitors are picked off outside of the tournaments by something vicious and primal all complicate and add further intrigue to the story. I enjoyed the hints at an element of magic which are seeded throughout and am keen to see how this line progresses, as magic has been banned by the power-hungry King.
There are many secondary characters worth a mention. Both Prince Dorian and Captain Chaol Westfall are worthy heroes, at least in some ways. Reinforcing the idea of Celaena's dual nature as girl and assassin, the two men both see her quite differently, responding accordingly to her. This contributes to revealing and building up her complex nature. The Princess Nehemia, on a diplomatic visit from another Kingdom, proves to be another interesting character (and gives Sarah Maas the distinction of having not only the central female be strong and active). The way her relationship with Celaena develops forms another subplot supporting the theme of trust and loyalty.
Overall, this is a compelling and complex novel introducing a world which has been thoroughly realised by its creator and peopled with rounded, realistic characters. I would strongly recommend it to fans of YA fantasy.