Thursday, March 24, 2016

CBR 8 Review 5: The Assassin's Blade by Sarah J Maas

“Life isn't easy, no matter where you are. You'll make choices you think are right, and then suffer for them.” 

If you haven't read any of the absolutely brilliant Throne of Glass series, beware, for spoilers will abound. It's impossible for me to talk about the novellas that make up this book without addressing their connection to the wider world Maas has created. Before I delve into spoiler territory, suffice it to say that you can absolutely read these without having read the rest of the series. The whole set of 5 novellas included take place before any of the events in Throne of Glass, the first book in the actual series. They make for great reading to lay the foundation before you start, and even better reading after you've read all the rest of what Maas has to offer (though now I want to read all 4 published works *again* to see how the novellas resonate throughout them). I personally like them better as a prequel that you consume after you've already gotten into the deep end of your addiction to the series, but I can also see their value as a starting place.

Ok. So those of you who haven't read the other books, go away. Just know that these novellas are awesome as stand-alone, or as a part of this world, but better as part of the whole.

(Looks around) Are they gone? Just left with people who read the other books and/or don't mind spoilers? Good.  Welcome! This is going to be long, so settle in.

As previously stated, The Assassin's Blade is actually a compilation of 5 novellas, known as Throne of Glass 0.1-0.5. The stories included are The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, The Assassin and the Desert, The Assassin and the Underworld, and The Assassin and the Empire, along with a fifth story exclusively available to this collection, The Assassin and the Healer. The stories involved are all about our darling Celaena in her days before Endovier and everything that followed. The whole set is delightful and adds so much to what we know about these characters and the world they live in. Celaena is a bit more of a brat in much of these, but considering her age and life experience, it makes sense. You also get to see her progress from insufferable and self righteous to something more substantial and thoughtful, even though she has a lot more development and maturity to go in the course of the series. You know there's only so far she can grow up to be where she is by the time Throne of Glass kicks off. 

The Assassin and the Pirate Lord
This novella is all about Celaena and Sam journeying to an island to do business with the Pirate Lord on Arobynn's behalf. We get some of the power struggle in Rifthold straight out the gate, with a meeting in the Assassin's Keep. Tensions between everyone are high, but especially between Sam & Celaena. The two are sent away ostensibly to address the murder of several of their own, but in reality, to broker a slave trade between Arobynn and the titular Pirate Lord, Rolfe. This was lovely because it really set the groundwork for Celaena's objection to slavery, which runs through all the books. Even as an assassin, she's still capable of working for the greater good, and she has a constant moral center. This novella also gives us our first hint of chemistry between Sam and Celaena. While readers know where this is headed going in (passion, love, betrayal, death), it's fun to see where it started and how contentious their relationship was in the beginning. Sam's affection may be slightly less obvious if you don't know to look for it, but I doubt it; still, having not read these with virgin eyes, I can't say for certain. This novella also sets up not only the other novellas, but the pathway that leads to Endovier and everything to come. Celaena's actions here are a catalyst, and the chain reaction they set off is monumental in scope. 

The Assassin and the Healer
This novella was a bonus to this book, and chronologically goes second. Celaena is waiting for a boat to head out to the Red Desert, where she has been sent as part of her punishment for her actions in the previous novella. The other part of her punishment she tries to conceal under heavy hoods and coats - Arobynn beat her to within an inch of her life before she was sent away, and the bruises have yet to heal. She has no idea what happened to Sam, other than a memory of him being held back and made to watch as she was beaten. While holed up in the crappy little town of Innish, she meets and ends up helping a barmaid, who was raised as a healer when there was magic in the land. I *loved* the relationship between Celaena and Yrene Towers. I thought it developed nicely, and it helped establish Celaena's trouble with female friendships, but also how much she benefits from them. 

The Assassin and the Desert
Celaena continues on her trail to regain her place with Arobynn by arriving in the Red Desert to train with the Mute Master. I loved that she wasn't instantly taken under his wing, that she had to earn her place in his training. I also enjoyed yet another important female friendship being formed, with Ansel, another trainee at the fortress. I saw Ansel's betrayal coming a long way off, but it hardly mattered. What she did to the Fortress and the others was terrible, and helped put Celaena in a place to earn her letter and a ton of money from the Mute Master, but their relationship was what mattered most to the story. Once again, I enjoyed seeing Celaena learning how to be friends with another woman, and in this case, to learn what a betrayal of that friendship could mean. With attachment comes the chance to be hurt, and this is only a stepping stone to what she'll endure with Sam, and later, Nehemia. I hope Ansel comes back into the world somehow - I'd like to see her tie back into the story, see what Celaena has become.

The Assassin and the Underworld
More slave trade issues, more betrayal by Arobynn, and some solid progress into a relationship between Sam and Celaena. Again, I saw the betrayal coming a long ways off, but in this case, it bothered me not a whit because it made complete character driven sense for Celaena to complete miss the signs. As is stated in many an argument with Sam, she is far more willing to forgive and trust Arobynn than she should be, a lesson that really isn't driven home to her till these novellas reach their conclusion. But we'll get there. Dynamics have shifted as Sam and Celaena play the games we all do when attraction is suddenly realized. We also get the introduction of Lysandra to the story, which was fascinating in contrast to her story-line in Queen of Shadows. I love the way Sam loves Celaena, and that his trade for forgiveness was that Arobynn would never lay a hand on her again. I love the way they work together. I also appreciate Celaena's reticence to both move out and buy out her contract - her ties to Arobynn are deep and binding, and breaking loose from something like that should be a challenge, especially for a troubled young woman like our heroine.

The Assassin and the Empire
And...the heartbreak. Knowing exactly what's coming doesn't make it any easier. In fact, it's the latter, because you watch the dominoes line up and *know* how they will fall, but have to endure your beloved characters remaining oblivious to them all along. Sam and Celaena are technically free - they're still part of the Guild, but no longer indebted to Arobynn, and both living in the apartment Celaena owns. But that freedom has come at a price - no one has contracted them and money won't be around forever. The pair decide to take one last big job to pay their way out - no more Guild, no more living in Rifthold. A fresh start where Arobynn has no connection to them or control over them anymore. How neither of them sense the threat that poses to his proprietary feelings, especially concerning Celaena, is baffling. The man is pure ego, and the two of them attack it at every turn. We know Sam's about to die, and that Celaena is about to end up shipped off to Endovier, but watching it unfold still *hurts*. It's so much worse knowing how it all fell out, and seeing the man who brutally murdered Sam elevated to a position of power as a reward for it. Celaena's heartbreak is palpable. 

You see step by step how Celaena is broken down and reformed to someone other than who she was when she began. 
“The girl who'd taken on a Pirate Lord and his entire island, the girl who'd stolen Asterion horses and raced along the beach in the Red Desert, the girl who'd sat on her own rooftop, watching the sun rise over Avery, the girl who'd felt alive with possibility...that girl was gone.” 
She will never again be what she was. She finds pieces of the girl and uses them to form the woman she becomes, but the girl who starts The Assassin and the Pirate Lord and the one who enters Endovier at the conclusion of The Assassin and the Empire are not the same.

These novellas are brilliant. They flesh out story and character pieces we were missing, rounding out an already beautiful universe. Maas made a brilliant choice in writing them, where many authors would have intentionally abandoned that history to start where their story really hits the ground. It's so much nicer having all of this bonus material. The Throne of Glass series still stands without it, and fantastically so, but it's a richer picture when you add The Assassin's Blade into the mix.

If you love the series, and you should, you must add these to your To Read list immediately.

Check out more great reviews at Cannonball Read!

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