Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas

Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Title: Crown of Midnight
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genre: fantasy, young adult
Series: Throne of Glass #2
Pages: 434
Published: August 27 2013
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 5/5

An assassin’s loyalties are always in doubt.
But her heart never wavers.

After a year of hard labor in the Salt Mines of Endovier, eighteen-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien has won the king's contest to become the new royal assassin. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown – a secret she hides from even her most intimate confidantes.

Keeping up the deadly charade—while pretending to do the king's bidding—will test her in frightening new ways, especially when she's given a task that could jeopardize everything she's come to care for. And there are far more dangerous forces gathering on the horizon -- forces that threaten to destroy her entire world, and will surely force Celaena to make a choice.

Where do the assassin’s loyalties lie, and who is she most willing to fight for?

THIS BOOK. This book right here. It just... It wrecked me. It played with my emotions. It gleefully tossed me form the height of happiness to the depths of despair. You know that saying "heart wrenching"? That is Crown of Midnight in two words. I get it now. I am wrenched; my heart is so wrenched it may never recover.  

I wasn't expecting to have such an emotional, visceral reaction to this book. I readily admit that I went into it with a lot of trepidation. Though there were things I enjoyed from Throne of Glass (Chaol, strong female characters, hints of magic, Chaol), there was a lot of room for improvement as well. Celaena herself was a bit of trope, she didn't assassinate nearly enough people to back up her incredible arrogance, the mystery tied into the plot was overt and way too obvious, and don't even get me started on the love triangle. But, here in the series' second outing, almost none of those issues reappear. Maas has grown into a much more deft and subtle author; I understand and can empathize with her characters better; Celaena's romantic life is an important facet of the story but not a main focus.

Crown of Midnight may not be technically perfect. I can see some of the technical issues others will have, but my rating is 4 stars for the writing, plot, characters and another star for how much I was engrossed and captivated by the entire novel. This book left me feeling so very many things. Vindication because I called it - a big reveal. Despair because Maas whiplashed me from joy to despair so many times in just 440 pages. Anxiety because I don't have a sequel in my hands waiting to be read. Excitement because Celaena kicks so much more ass in this installment. Hope because I refuse to give up. Envy because this book is so good and I know I will never write like this. Worry because I absolutely can't predict where the story will go from here.

The plot of the novel is more straightforward than the murder mystery/race to the finish at the heart of Throne of Glass. There are some minor questions that Celaena has to work out, but she does, and not dozens of pages after readers have already figured it out. The mysteries are less intrinsic to the plot, and the more subtlety Maas writes with, the less predictable her books and plots become. The solid hints about Celaena's past are also woven into the story with more care, and though I had that figured out before the start of the book, the big reveal at the end was set up very neatly and works well to hint at future plots in the next books.

Celaena was a big obstacle for me in Throne of Glass. I didn't exactly sympathize or identify with her before. Thankfully, I was directed to read the four prequel novellas before embarking on this heartbreak of a book (thank you, Gillian!), and it really adds to Celaena's depiction. I understood her better going into Crown of Midnight, and Maas took more time to flesh out her protagonist into a truly three-dimensional person. I like a flawed, human character better than any paragon of perfection, and oh boy is Celaeana flawed. She's stubborn, arrogant, tends to underestimate anyone without the last name Sardothien, and she makes a lot of mistakes. However, for all her imperfections, this is a great, strong female character. She might make mistakes, but she learns from them too.

Let's talk about love triangle, because it's still hanging on here in Crown of Midnight. Happily, Maas doesn't jerk her main character from love interest to love interest as she did before. Both Dorian and Chaol may have tender feelings for the deadly Celaena, but for all her flaws, the girl isn't indecisive. She makes a choice, and though there are complications between the two, it isn't about what man Celaena wants to be with. I can't say the love triangle is entirely dead (this is YA, after all) but Maas handles it with maturity and I didn't mind how it was used for tension amongst the three principles.

I may have been a tepid fan before, but no longer. I'm fully on board this ship (and the Chaol + Celaena ship), and will be buying copies of this series. I was so entertained by this actiontastic thrill ride; I was heartbroken at some of the twists and turns; I was emotionally whiplashed as Maas kept the reveals and betrayals coming. For better or worse, I am invested in this series, these characters, this world. It's going to be a long hard wait for book three, but I am counting down the days. This is an author that has grown into her story and really impressed me with her sophomore effort. 

 If you're on the fence like I was, if you liked but didn't love Throne of Glass -- don't give up. Read the prequels. And then read the second because you won't be disappointed. Crown of Midnight is the rare sequel that exceeds expectations and surpasses its predecessor. This is YA fantasy - with a female main character! - done so right.

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