This is the third book in Sarah J. Maas‘s THRONE OF GLASS series, detailing the journey of Celaena Sardothien throughout the fantasy world of Erilea; specifically her ongoing struggle to use her assassin’s training to pursue justice throughout the land. Given that she’s in the employ of the corrupt King of Adarlan, this requires a fair bit of subterfuge and deceit, for as we learned at the end of the previous book, Celaena is actually the lost queen of Terrasen and the heir to its throne.
In a reasonably good twist on the usual fantasy clichés, it turns out that Celaena knew her true identity all along and was simply keeping it a secret. Now sent on a mission to assassinate the rulers of Wendlyn, Celaena is instead discovered by a fae nobleman called Rowan and forcibly taken to her aunt Maeve, a powerful queen who offers to lend her niece assistance in defeating the King of Adarlan if she undergoes training to remaster her magical gifts.
Seeing no other options, Celaena agrees. But instruction under Rowan is gruelling and demoralizing, especially when she’s distracted by the discovery of dead bodies in the vicinity, all of which seem to have been brutally murdered.
Meanwhile, her friends back in Adarlan have their own problems to deal with. For the first time Maas moves the narrative focus away from Celaena to explore the viewpoints of other characters, particularly Captain Chaol Westfall, left heartbroken by Celaena’s departure and secretly plotting against the king even as he pretends to loyally serve him, and Prince Dorian Havilliard, the king’s son who is beginning to explore his own magical powers, knowing all the while that he’d be executed if his father found out.
Finally, a seemingly unrelated subplot introduces us to the three witch clans; bitter rivals that have nonetheless come together to serve the King of Adarlan as his airborne warriors. Predominant among them is Manon Blackbeak, a cold and conscienceless killer inspired by the wyverns provided to them as mounts and keen to vie for control over the assorted clans.
It had been a while since I read the second THRONE OF GLASS novel, so my memories of the characters and plot were a little fuzzy. However, once I got past the first few chapters, the multitude of motivations and setups came back to me, and I could settle into the groove of the story. I had never really warmed up to Celaena in the first book since her abilities seemed to stretch the boundaries of credibility, so I appreciated not only the explanation that she was fae all along, but that this book requires her to go through considerable training in order to harness her magical power.
The political intrigue back in Adarlan is also interesting, with Chaol making an uneasy alliance with a war general who knew Celaena while she was still Aelin Galathynius, and Dorian forming a relationship with a young healer in the castle. The subplot with Manon doesn’t really link into the rest of the story in any significant way, but this only heightens my anticipation for later instalments, as she’s bound to collide with Celaena at some point.
In many ways Heir of Fire (2014) is a “middle book” – all the characters and conflicts have been introduced, but nothing gets resolved in any definitive way. Celaena and Manon’s plotlines in particular are essentially very long training montages, and though some questions get answered, the ending is wide open for future adventures.
But I feel invested in the story at this point, especially Celaena’s internal struggle as she tries to rebuild her self-esteem and sense of purpose. The world Maas has created is epic in scope, and she adds just enough detail to get us invested in the people who inhabit it. Her prose is workmanlike without being particularly inspired, but it gets the point across without tipping too far into melodrama. And I appreciate the thickness of the book, which means you get several nights worth of reading material (still rare in YA fiction!)
So I guess I’m in it for the long haul…
It doesn’t read like the corrupt king has any loyal people around him. That’s interesting.