The Assassin’s Blade
Sarah J Maas
I strongly believe that it is best to read in the order in which books were written. Thus, that would put this collection of novella’s squarely after the second novel, Crown of Midnight. I hold to this theory because I consider an author’s thought process important, even more so than the timeline of the novels. The Assassin’s Blade has been fully written to explore events hinted at in the series as events shaping Celaena’s life. I have no doubt that they have existed in some form or another in Sarah J Maas’ mind already, but they received their final shape after the second book. She does some foreshadowing, as we meet characters we have not yet seen in the series but have obviously already found their way in her story notes. I like to see what author does and does not yet know in the order of it being written.
It can be a pitfall. With Cassandra Clare you can see very well that she has written her Infernal Devices trilogy after book #3 in the Mortal Instruments series. The characters of the second series don’t start appearing until book #4 of the Mortal Instruments. As I read the Infernal Devices first and then the Mortal Instruments in one go, I saw the break very clearly. I also think novella’s – which, let’s be honest, to most authors means working on their own fan fiction – are not the right way to introduce people to your series. Novella’s are harder to read, they are loose threads based upon a fictional world with which we are not acquainted. You cannot provide the right depth and emotional bond for these stories without the immersion in your main world and story.
After having said all that, I think Sarah J Maas might actually be right in recommending people to read The Assassin’s Blade first. As an introduction before the Throne of Glass series. Because these are not actually, technically, novella’s. They form a full story together: a short one, but sequential and cohesive. That of Celaena at the height of her power, being brought low by choices that she made, that Arobynn made, that others made. How they interacted before all of it went down and scarred Celaena for life. It helps you understand who this girl used to be. Her life was shattered for the second time, no less poignant than the first, and far more recent.
It also helped me with a small issue I had with Throne of Glass. I had not expected the hardened and cold assassin coming out of Endovier in that first chapter would love luxury, and books, and dresses. It seemed odd to me when that was revealed, because you don’t read of that very often. I have wholly embraced it since, but if I had read The Assassin’s Blade before the series, I would have understood Celaena Sardothien from the start. I also appreciate it does not tell us something we don’t yet know in the series, only what Celaena in her heart also knows to be true. Except maybe for a rooftop conversation in The Assassin and the Empire.
It builds Celeana’s character, and it is fun to see what she was like then. The sheer arrogance (and shortsightedness) of someone considering herself invincible. How young she truly was, and how organic her development, from this girl to the woman we come to know in Throne of Glass. I admit that it slightly irks me how she is outsmarted by others most of the time – even though she is the best assassin Adarlan has. But The Assassin’s Blade is not a story of revenge. It is a story of the events setting up our main story of revenge. Her ties must remain ambiguous because they will not be resolved until then, having work to do in Throne of Glass. And might I add, I love how this book adresses Arobynn’s ambiguous place in Celaena’s life head on.
The only problem, and that is truly the single fault I can even find in The Assassin’s Blade, is the second novella. The Assassin and the Healer. It has absolutely no business being in there. We have no need to see Celaena worshipped. Who she is, and how awesome she is, speaks loud and proud from the stories Celaena crafts herself through her actions. The show of benevolence is unnecessary. If only because that particular side of her is also adressed in The Assassin and the Desert.
The only reason I can find for this story to have any actual, contributional meaning, is the parallel between the gift of money as freedom, here and in The Assassin and the Desert. But it remains so that the girl has done nothing to deserve the gift, while Celaena survived a real test of her character. She also has nothing tying herself to the filth she is living in, but for her fear of the unknown. While Celaena certainly knows that fear as well, she does have strong ties that are deeply emotional. Their situations simply cannot be compared, and I can’t see any real reasons for the story being in here.
So, I loved these novella’s even though I thought I wouldn’t. As stated, I am not usually a fan of them, although I consider them a nice addition when you love the storyworld. But this is far different from your standard out-of-series novella’s, though. It is a cohesive prequel to the Throne of Glass series, And you can read it whenever you choose. Before (yes, I can recommend it), during (as it was written), or after (as I have done). It gives you a deeper understanding of the girl Celaena started out to be, which is welcome if you know her already or are about to. It complements, never intrusive or overdrawn. Do yourself a favour: read it.