Let’s Read: Throne of Glass

In the spirit of Ronan Wills, Jenny Trout, magpiewhotypes, and others, I have decided to take a book apart chapter by chapter. Because fantasy is still what I gravitate towards, and because it’s what I consistently try to write (one day!), I’ve gone for fantasy. And the recent poll for a book to do a read-along with over at papercuts podcast gave me a clear contender.

And then I read the first two chapters plus a few pages on a break at work, and oh my god. It’s so bad.It’s exactly what’s wrong with YA fantasy right now.

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin. Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.

Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another.

Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.

Yes, I’m going to read Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas.

But first, let’s take a look at the current American cover. Because really, the “everything wrong with current YA fantasy” starts there.

This is our super-special badass heroine, Celaena, shown here in the full glory of one of the trendy types of YA fantasy/dystopian/etc. covers. Look, I’ll fully admit I’m a traditionalist who prefers an actual illustration of some type for covers, especially in fantasy, which should be rich ground for it. But this kind of cover, and this cover in particular, manage to be both boring and offensive.

Is she super white? Of course. Does she have a unique hair color? Naturally. Is it hair that’s probably impractical for her but looks cool? Would you expect otherwise? Is there any meaningful background? Pfft, we just need photoshop filters everywhere.

And she’s wearing an outfit that’s more designed to look cool and kind of punk than to reflect the setting or events of the book at all. A huge belt with an ornate buckle, a tank top possibly made of ribbons, a necklace which will surely catch on things. Her armor is minimal and clearly decorative- the gauntlets are carefully decorated, her shoulder pads seem to be tacked on, and basically everything else is completely exposed. Showing she’s “hot” is way more important than demonstrating she’s competent. Ah, the glorious tradition of women in fantasy.

Continuing on that vein, and what actually bothers me the most, is the fact that she simply looks like a supermodel. She’s incredibly thin. Not lean, thin. She doesn’t seem to have any real muscular definition. Her arms are just little tubes inside her sleeves. Ab muscles? Nah. Thighs with a smaller space between them due to a large amount of muscle? Heaven forbid. She’s not fit, she’s someone’s waif fantasy. The pose is hopelessly generic as well. If she wasn’t carrying swords, she could be on a runway. I mean no offense to models, but that doesn’t scream “assassin.”

Speaking of swords…



Yeah, that’s basically an ebony sword from Skyrim.

You’re not even trying, Bloomsbury. You’re not even trying.


13 thoughts on “Let’s Read: Throne of Glass

  1. I understand that looking awesome is the #1 priority for a super secret assassin, but girl, PULL UP YOUR PANTS. And put some shoes on! She’s going to be defeated by a tack.

    • Oh man, I hadn’t been sure about the shoes before and was trying to give the benefit of the doubt, but now that I look again you can totally see her toes can’t you.

      Enjoy your deadly assassin tetanus, I guess?

  2. The more I look at this cover, the less sense it makes. Is she wearing a tank-top made out of electrical tape or something? How does she even put it in? What the hell is going on with her pants? The belt doesn’t actually seem to be attached to them in any way, it’s more like they’re painted onto her legs or something.

    I wonder how the author felt about this? You always see authors gushing about their amazing covers, but sometimes I suspect they’re just doing that because they know it’s expected of them….

    • Having now looked closely at the cover in person, it seems that she’s wearing a torn grey tank top with electrical tape wound over it. And her pants are just completely falling off her left hip because…uh, because.

      I’m working at a bookstore now, and we recently had an event by a romance author who HATES her covers. Covers seem to be really out of the author’s control. I guess most authors probably feel like they should be grateful for someone else’s work, but some at least draw the line at being thankful for photoshopped male torsos.

  3. Also: is it even possible to hold a sword like that, between you thumb and finger without grabbing it? Shouldn’t your fingers curve around it? I hate drawing hands with a passion but this just looks like it’s not going to work at all.

  4. With respect! I think those are actually the elven sabers from Lord of the Rings. That ebony thing looks a little thornier than the ones she’s got.

  5. It can be hard finding good covers on fantasy YA. I’ve definitely seen more offensive things (for example: white characters representing non-white main protags on the cover), but this really is pretty generic. I never thought “assassin” while looking at it, that’s for sure.

    A cover I liked was the one for “King Callie”: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25099986-king-callie
    Her being skinny actually makes sense since she was raised to be a ‘proper’ lady, but her outfit isn’t about letting us know she has breasts and she’s holding a giant axe. (Actually, when I first saw it I thought maybe she was a bishounen, since all female fantasy armor can usually be summed up as “boobs go here,” so not showing the breasts was surprising). There’s nonsensical fantasy stuff about it, but overall I like it a lot and wish more covers were like it.

    • You’d certainly never know from the U.S. covers for the Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy that the protagonist is Hispanic and heavy (she starts out overweight, looses a lot of weight due to trekking across desert, but flat-out states she’ll never be thin).

      That’s actually a really fun cover! I would be interested based on that (I am more interested based on you liking it).

  6. Well, in defense of the thinness, it could be representative of the time she spent as a slave in Endovier and the cover could be her right after she was starving for a year as a slave in the salt mines.

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