Monday, March 20, 2017

A Queen of Assassins -- To Whatever End

When most people think of fairy tales, they think of happy endings, true love’s kiss or the prince rescuing the princess. The question some recent authors have asked is what would happen to the story if an element could be changed. For instance, how would the stories of favorite princesses turn out if they were in the future, or they lived in the middle of New York in our time? What if instead of being the damsel in distress, the princess is the one who has to save the prince? Sarah J Maas asks a similar question as the inspiration for her series Throne of Glass, what if instead of Cinderella being a servant going to the ball to meet the prince, she was an assassin who went to the ball to kill the prince?
The story line of Throne of Glass revolves around a girl, Celaena Sardothien, who was trained as an assassin and must now fight for her life in a tournament thrown by the king who is responsible for the destruction of her own kingdom. As the story opens, we are introduced to a girl who has been a prisoner in a salt mine, where the life expectancy is only a few months, but she has survived for an entire year. She is brought to the crown prince, Dorian, who tells her that he can get her out of the mines, if she is willing to fight in his father’s tournament to become the King’s Hand, the person who does the dirty work of dealing with those the king has decided are of no more use or are a problem to his rule. Celaena barters for her freedom, agreeing to fight for the prince in return for money and serving the king for three years instead of five. As the tournament progresses however, it seems as if magic is afoot, killing off the other competitors and Celaena is visited by the spirit of a dead queen, telling her that she must fulfill her destiny. The confusion of these events are escalated by the fact that magic disappeared from Celaena’s world ten years ago with all traces of Faes with it. This is only the beginning for Celaena, who will have to face her past, accept her future, and she will not be afraid.
Sarah started writing this story when she was 16, calling it Queen of Glass. She originally published this story on a website for authors, FictionPress, garnering huge support and praise. Her inspiration for it actually came from listening to music. More specifically, she was listening to the music for Disney’s Cinderella, when she flees form the ball and Sarah thought of more sinister reasons for her to flee the ball to go along with the more dramatic tones of the music. From there, it spiraled into how she had gotten to the ball and what would happen to her afterwards. This was the basis of Queen of Glass, but it is vastly different from the final work, Throne of Glass due to revisions and plot changes. While the story is no longer a direst retelling of Cinderella and her night at the ball, there are still echoes of it in Sarah’s writing, most specifically seen in one section of the story, where there is a ball, there is a handsome prince, and the assassin gets to make her grand entrance in a beautiful dress, but I don’t want to spoil you too much.
What makes Sarah so interesting is how she talks about her inspiration. She finds it in music, sometimes using music as a basis of moving the plot forward or setting the scene. In one of her
newsletters that goes out to fans, she talks about how when she was writing a scene in her latest book in the series, Empire of Storms, she was heavily inspired by the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean and listened to certain parts of it as she wrote a scene that she had envisioned writing since she was 17. She also shares this inspiration through Spotify, making playlists to complement her books, allowing her readers to hear the story and see how it can enhance their own reading of Sarah’s works. To me this is a slight parallel to T. S. Eliot, who would take his creative product from several other sources and make it his own. Sarah takes a basic element from a favorite story and makes it into something that is uniquely her own, while also drawing on music from multiple sources to help her write stories that have inspired many others and are at the top of best-selling lists and sold across the world in many different languages.
I believe it also important to note how it was ten years from when she first wrote Queen of Glass and to when she published the final product, Throne of Glass, something Gardner placed special emphasis on when talking about creating. Sarah’s books have been on the best-selling lists for multiple weeks after first being sold, with millions of fans standing in line to have her sign their copy of the book and even making wonderful works of fanart that Sarah herself has praised and lauded over, even going so far as asking one of the fan artists to help draw for a coloring book for her other series, A Court of Thorns and Roses and using one of her designs as part of the cover for the last book in the trilogy. While Throne of Glass may not get the same treatment as the more illustrative writers before her, I believe that Sarah’s work has brought more acknowledgement to the New Adult genre as well as a change to what could be considered Young Adult. It also incorporates fans into the author’s world, giving them looks at how their favorite books come to life.
Sarah has also written novellas for Throne of Glass as well, giving more background on Celaena and showing how she ends up in the salt mine. It also serves as references to certain characters and plot lines that are further developed as the story progresses and even gives foreshadowing to certain plot twists and character reveals. This is what makes Sarah such an incredible writer, not only does her inspiration contribute to the story but the story itself inspires her to write more, as she has stated that one of her biggest problems is keeping the word count down for her drafts. She also has tried to outline her series, but has commented that it has been easier to let her characters steer, sometimes completely changing the plot from what she originally had! This can be best shown in how her plan to simply make a novella about one of the main characters, Chaol, ultimately turned into an entire novel in the series due to the additions to the plot and how Sarah wrote the story. She herself did not even know this would happen until she wrote much more than she had planned, but it still fit into the narrative she wanted to tell, making the series now seven books, instead of the original six.
The more I learned about how she has created such a large and encompassing world with diverse characters, plot lines, and some of the best dialogue I have ever read, the more I appreciate what Sarah has given us. After reading her later books, going back and reading Throne of Glass makes me see just how interwoven the characters are to the plot and how a throw away comment that I did not originally pay attention to, jumped out at me and I had to put the book down and think about how that one little fact was explored as a major plot point just two books later. It is also seen in how characters that were previously seen only in her novellas were brought back to center stage in later books. The wide range of characters also allows Sarah to share so much more of the world with us and I look forward to seeing what happens to these beloved characters.


  1. It's very cool how this author's writing not only inspires her fans to contribute their own creative works, but that she has integrated it in some of her projects as well. Also her use of music as inspiration for some of her writing is a particularly interesting insight into her creative process. You always think of music as complementary for visual arts, but as a backdrop to writing, that is quite unique. It'd be interesting to know how her Spotify playlists correlate to her books. Does she provide commentary explaining which song inspired a particular scene or chapter, or does the playlist as a whole create a tone similar to the novel's?

    1. She does. In her newsletters, she will talk about how she listened to certain tracks as she wrote different scenes. Sarah points out which parts of the music correlates to the actions as well, citing the exact point where she imagined the scene matching with the music as you listen to it.


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