The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas
Over the past few years I’ve been reading Sarah J. Maas‘s THRONE OF GLASS series, though thanks to my dislike of e-books, never got around to reading the five novellas that explored some of the early years in Celaena Sardothien’s career.
Celaena is a famous assassin in the employ of Arobynn Hamel, the ruthless master of the Assassin’s Guild. Though few have seen her face, Celaena already has a fearsome reputation despite her youth, and is recognized as Arobynn’s protégé among the other recruits.
The five stories within The Assassin’s Blade (2014) involve separate but connected adventures that are mentioned throughout the THRONE OF GLASS books, and shed insight as to how Celaena ended up where she is at the start of the first book in the series.
As such, they’re best read as what they were written as: prequels. Though it’s tempting to read the series in chronological order, a lot of the information here is deliberately kept secret in the series itself, all the better to reveal it in climactic revelations. I’d recommend reading (let’s say) the first four or so books in series before coming back to The Assassin’s Blade.
Initially released separately as e-books, the stories are called: “The Assassin and the Pirate Lord” (in which Celaena disobeys Arobynn in favour of her conscience), “The Assassin and the Healer” (the most superfluous of the collection, though it does introduce a character that’ll pop up much later down the track), “The Assassin and the Desert” (the best of the lot, in which Celaena travels to another cabal of assassins to hone her craft), “The Assassin and the Underworld” (focusing on the relationship between Celaena and fellow assassin Sam Cortland) and “The Assassin and the Empire” (which details the terrible betrayal that takes Celaena right up to the beginning of Throne of Glass).
As ever, the stories are quick and fun to read, with an emphasis on Celaena as an unabashed wish-fulfilment character for young readers. It makes next to no sense that an assassin would be a staggeringly gorgeous beauty with striking white hair, or that she would be a stone-cold killer by the time she’s seventeen, but this on-going story has never been about logic or reason. It’s the grand spectacle of a girl pitting herself against an empire, and it’s here that we read about her origins for the first time.
At the time of this review, I’ve already started the second-to-last book in the series (Tower of Dawn) and I have to admit that the whole story has gotten under my skin. Despite some obvious flaws, I’ll be sad to see it end.
A prequel to Throne of Glass, this collection of five novellas offers readers a deeper look into the history of this cunning assassin and her enthralling-and deadly-world.
Included in this volume: The Assassin and the Pirate Lord The Assassin and the Healer The Assassin and the Desert The Assassin and the Underworld The Assassin and the Empire
Having come of age during a string of assassinations, including Martin Luther King and both John and Robert Kennedy, I find it bewildering and rather disturbing that an assassin is now a stock heroic figure in fantasy and a “wish-fulfillment character for young readers”. When did this start and how did it become popular? Most of the assassins in modern times have either been deranged fanatics or hardened contract killers (I assume the fantasy assassins are of the latter sort). What made authors think there was something admirable about people like this?
Paul, I think maybe they’re a response to a pervading sense of powerlessness and rage at corruption? If you believe you can’t trust the systems that have always been in place you may feel that assassins are the only alternative.
I wonder when it did start. I’m thinking about a book George Takei authored back in the 90s (? 80s, maybe?) and it was about a ninja who was sent to kill someone. That’s the first SF assassin I remember. Oh, wait, no, there was some awful Harlan Ellison novella with a trained assassin who is sent to murder his own father. He has lasers implanted behind his eyes and doesn’t know it. I’ve blocked out the name of it. Before killing his father he stops to rape the lone woman character in the story as I recall.
I think Paul’s question deserves further discussion, as I know I’ve been disturbed by many years now by the way violent, manipulative, emotionally stunted and deeply unpleasant men are written as ideal love interests for teenage girls, but in this case the character of Celaena is very much the Robin Hood of Assassins – only killing those who deserve it or in self-defense (and only doing THAT for the first couple of books; after that she reverts to standard fantasy hero).
When I call her a wish-fulfillment character, I’m not referring to her career as an assassin (like I said, she doesn’t do much of that) but rather her fantastical beauty, ability to defend herself and others, boundless confidence and string of cute boyfriends).
And honestly, you only need to see the cover of the book to know that they’re the equivalent of cotton candy. A real assassin with striking long white hair isn’t going to last long in a profession that requires stealth and anonymity.
As for when the trend started and how it became popular, I think we can safely point to the Assassin’s Creed videos games, the first of which came out in 2007, for popularizing this specific YA-level anti-hero. You can even see the similarity between Calaena’s hood on the cover and the distinctive look of the Assassin’s Creed protagonists.
Thank you for the background information, Rebecca. It sounds like the assassins in the video game are more of a secret society (like the original one in the middle east) versus the modern assassins, who are always made out to be “lone nuts” (although it’s unclear if that was true in all the cases). Certainly none of them are heroic figures at all.
Marian, I think some of the sense of powerlessness we have is the result of the successful assassinations of people who provided (or were working toward) some hope for a better future: Medgar Evers, John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Olof Palme–and, a little before my time, Gandhi, obviously. Maybe that makes a fictional attempt to “balance the scales” attractive to some, but it still seems very questionable to me (especially in YA).