WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND
The structure of this review is going to be a tad rambly, and I apologise in advance.
I wanted to like this book, just as I really, really wanted to like this series. Everyone raves about it across all corners of the internet concerned with reading and books and it just makes me yearn to understand why the Throne of Glass series is so incredible. I had some serious misgivings with the first book in this series, but I'd heard from many a discerning critic that Crown of Midnight was far better than its predecessor. In some ways, it was. But it wasn't that radical, game-changing departure from the flaws that I saw in Throne of Glass which made me push myself to finish it. That was probably the most disappointing part of my reading experience - although I can appreciate the good parts of this book, I just can't understand what makes some people froth at the mouth over it.
Let's start with the fact that I consider myself to be a very good Mary-Sue spotter, and all through Crown of Midnight, I saw a serious Mary-Sue arising. Yes, although I admit I like the fact that Celaena is a kick-ass, bad-girl heroine, she is far too good at everything (and far too attractive to all male characters) to be safe from the Sue-label. Add in the fact that on the front of the American covers, the cover art model looks uncannily like Sarah J Maas and you have all the elements for suspecting that something could be afoot in the protagonist's characterisation.
One of my major gripes with Throne of Glass was that the reader was constantly being told how Celaena was so good at killing, and yet, she barely killed anyone. Celaena loved to tell us how amazing she was at being Ardalan's assassin, and yet, we never got to see her skills. At the beginning of Crown of Midnight, with the confession that the protagonist has been helping her would-be kills escape, I internally groaned at the thought of having another round of arrogant-assassin-who-never-assassinates. Yet, Maas actually showed us that Celaena lives up to her killer instincts in this book. She is a talented murderer, and although it can edge into the distasteful at times, it lent the prose and characterisation the authenticity it lacked in ToG. Big tick here.
The first half of the book I found dreadfully slow. The point of the narrative was lost on me as the main arc was thrown in amongst the tedious love triangle trope that seems compulsory in all YA fiction. Although I didn't care much for Chaol in the first book, I found him slightly more than one dimensional here. But it still wasn't enough to make me a) like him or b) feel at all drawn to the romantic relationship between him and Celaena. I didn't care if they had sex, it slowed the story down, complicated the plot which became stagnant and made me yawn. Celaena, as we have established, is a badass female. She don't need a man, honey. Why bog her down in this unrealistic relationship? And why make Chaol's one really good character attribute (his loyalty) seem very flimsy as he switches his previously narrow-minded, no-questions-asked loyalty over to a girl he previously showed very little affiliation for in a matter of weeks/months? Does it take that little to stray the King's captain? Maybe the castle is built on sand rather than glass.
Once again, Maas' world-building is fantastic, and with the expansion of the reader knowledge into the background of Ardalan, the surrounding territories, the Fae, the witches and the Wyrdgate, I found myself very much more invested in the second half of the book than the first. The pacing was much better here, the emphasis on the brutal killing, the mystery and the passion behind each of Celaena's decisions. I liked the dual narrative with different character POV's. I loved looking into the King's eyes, even just for a few pages. I found myself surprisingly drawn to Dorian's perspective and his relationship with magic.
Speaking of characters, why why why why did Nehemia have to be killed off? She was undeniably my favourite and most interesting character. She was ballsy and beautiful, and wasn't afraid to tell it like it was. She felt like a guiding presence, and was the one character in this book who seemed to be able to put Celaena in her place. Unbridled by Nehemia's influence, Celaena became increasingly Sue-like...
Which is where we end this review. My fear that, as the story progresses, we will engage a growing Sue with more power and influence than ever before. I'll admit, an unrealistically drawn character is more than enough to stop me from reading a series. Which is partially why I am so confused why I want to pick up Heir of Fire. I think it must be the plot (which is actually very good) and world building. I want to see what it's like outside of the castle and the city. I want to travel across the water and see Maas do what she does best, and expand her already fantastic world. However, one cannot deny that Celaena is getting a little bit unrealistic.
So first, she's stunningly beautiful (from the very start despite coming out of the mines of Endovier and apparently looking like a sack of bones). Every male character bar the king and his right hand men seems to fall head over heels for her (despite her lethal capabilities). She's a talented assassin who can take on pretty much any adversary in any number and kill them. She can go through a laborious battle in two different dimensions and come out of it with enough energy to track down and kill another assassin with similar talent and skill. She is a powerful Fae. She is also the lost Queen of Terrassen. She cares for animals even where she should realistically be thinking about saving her own skin. She can work out complex riddles to find objects which barely anyone else has managed. She can open portals with her knowledge of the Wyrdmarks which she learnt in a very short amount of time. She is inherently "good" despite killing so many people (because she only kills when she has to and everyone she kills is "evil"). She manages to find secret places in the castle which apparently no one else has managed to find without help even though she's only been there for a comparatively minuscule amount of time.
I know it fits well within the plot, but still...can we not see how the author has given the main character a bunch of very desirable and powerful traits, whilst giving her very few weaknesses? Yes, Celaena is vain and arrogant, and she does misunderstand the power of opening the Portal. But alongside all of these good and powerful traits, do these flaws really create a realistic character? I'd argue not.
I really would love to see the emphasis switch to Dorian who has just revealed himself to have magical ability. I think that it would be very refreshing for Celaena to just calm down a bit with the amazing character traits and let someone else jump into the spotlight. Like mate...I know you're the protagonist, but it gets boring being so perfect, right?
I probably will pick up the next book, purely because this world and plot has piqued my interest. But I probably won't buy it just in case I can't stand the Sue which may lie within its pages.