Released in Canada on March 3, 2015, The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J Maas features all four of the previously published e-novellas – The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, The Assassin and the Desert, The Assassins and the Underworld, and The Assassin and the Empire – along with a story now available for the first time, The Assassin and the Healer. I will be reviewing each of the five novellas individually, then reviewing the novella collection as a whole.
Celaena Sardothien is Adarlan’s most feared assassin. As part of the Assassin’s Guild, she’s sworn to her master, Arobynn Hamel, yet Celaena listens to no one and trusts only her fellow killer for hire, Sam. Celaena’s missions take her from remote islands to hostile deserts, where she fights to liberate slaves and avenge tyranny. But by acting on her own terms, will Celaena truly free herself from her master, or will she suffer an unimaginable punishment for such treachery?
The stories told in The Assassin’s Blade follow Celaena before her time in Endovier – before Dorian Havillard and Chaol Westfall showed up and offered her a chance of survival in Throne of Glass; before she befriended Nehemia in Crown of Midnight; before she accepted her true self at Mistward in Heir of Fire; before she plotted and schemed to created chaos in Rifthold in Queen of Shadows; and before she and her court faced down Queen Maeve in Empire of Storms. No – these novellas follow a young, over confident and rebellious young assassin with everything to lose.
There are two recommended times to read The Assassin’s Blade – before you read Throne of Glass (Sarah J Maas herself has stated that she considers The Assassin’s Blade as Book 0, and therefore implies that it should be read before Book 1), or in publication order (Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, then The Assassin’s Blade). No matter what, this novella collection should be read before Empire of Storms!
The Assassin and the Pirate Lord
On a remote island in a tropical sea, Celaena Sardothien, feared assassin, has come for retribution. She’s been sent by the Assassin’s Guild to collect on a debt they are owed by the Lord of the Pirates. But when Celaena learns that the agreed payment is not in money, but in slaves, her mission suddenly changes—and she will risk everything to right the wrong she’s been sent to bring about.
“I’m the world’s greatest assassin. I’m not afraid of anyone.” – Sarah J Maas, The Assassin’s Blade, p.75
The Assassin and the Pirate Lord is the first story in the The Assassin’s Blade novella collection, and it was (in my opinion) a fantastically well done tale, in terms of introducing all the major players in Celaena Sardothien’s pre-Throne of Glass life – namely a young Celaena, her fellow assassin Sam Cortland, and their master, Arobynn Hamel. Celaena is introduced as a strong-willed and rebellious assassins, who is beginning to rebel against Arobynn Hamel and his nefarious dealings, despite his abusive control over her life. As he is portrayed in this story, it is no surprise that Sam Cortland quickly becomes many readers’ favourite assassin. He has a strong moral compass, and has already become disenchanted with Arobynn’s Assassin’s Guild, despite his continued deference to their master. But both young assassin’s, despite that rivalry with the other, are ready to hit back against their master, especially when it comes to a certain transaction involving a ruthless Pirate King and boat loads of slaves.
“Come on Sardothien. If you’re done liberating slaves and destroying pirate cities, then let’s go home” – Sarah J Maas, The Assassin’s Blade, p.75
The Assassin and the Pirate Lord also introduces Rolfe, Lord of the Pirates, who is nearly as notorious as Celaena Sardothien herself, with a magic tattoo and an armada of pirate captains and their ships at his command – ships and crew he uses to deal in the slave trade. Celaena and Sam’s emotions and reaction to the slavers in Skull’s Bay reveal a lot about their characters – and in Maas’ usual, roundabout way, the story turns out to be far more intricate and detailed than it would initially seem.
I really enjoyed this novella, and I felt that it set a strong tone for the rest of the collection, and did an apt job of introducing the characters and setting.
The Assassin and the Healer
Celaena Sardothien has challenged her master. Now she must pay the price. Her journey to the Red Desert will be an arduous one, but it may change the fate of her cursed world forever.
“Let me give you bit of advice, from one working girl to another: Life isn’t easy, no matter where you are. You’ll make choices you think are right, and then suffer for them” – Sarah J Maas, The Assassin’s Blade, p.101.
The Assassin and the Healer is a significantly shorter story than The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, but it is arguably just as important to Celaena’s character development, and the introduction of the world Maas is creating, as any other novella in the collection.
This tale finds Celaena, cowed by Arobynn following her actions in Skull’s Bay, in a rundown port city, waiting for a ship to take her to the desert, to serve out the punishment Arobynn picked for her. It is at an inn, waiting for her ship, that Celaena encounters Yrene Towers, who is currently working as a barmaid to earn her passage to Antica – to study to become a healer at the famed Torre Cesme. But unfortunate circumstances, and a greedy barkeep, have kept Yrene trapped in a dead-end port city with no hope of escape – until Celaena intervenes to save the girl, seeing something in her.
“Irene Towers would return to this continent, and maybe, just maybe, heal their shattered world a little bit” – Sarah J Maas, The Assassin’s Blade, p.116.
This story once again introduces readers to the world Maas is building, highlighting the destitution the King of Adarlan’s creation of an empire has created as Maas introduces settings such as Fenfarrow, Antica, the Red Desert, and Melisande. Celaena’s cahracter is also built upon once again, further breaking down her outer facade of a ruthless assassin – and perhaps revealing a few hints about the truth behind the mask that is Celaena Sardothien (to the careful reader).
The Assassin and the Healer is a carefully written piece that lays the foundation of a story far greater than the scope of a short novella, making is an intriguing and enjoyable read.
The Assassin and the Desert
The Silent Assassins of the Red Desert aren’t much for conversation, and Celaena Sardothien wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s not there to chatter, she’s there to hone her craft as the world’s most feared killer for hire. When the quiet is shattered by forces who want to destroy the Silent Assassins, Celaena must find a way to stop them, or she’ll be lucky to leave the desert alive.
“If you can learn to endure pain, you can survive anything. Some people learn to embrace it—to love it. Some endure it through drowning it in sorrow, or by making themselves forget. Others turn it into anger.” – Sarah J Maas, The Assassin’s Blade
In this novella, Maas once again presents a well written, well rounded story that is perfectly suited to the length of the novella, and provides readers with additional insight in Celaena’s world – and perhaps even a brief glimpse at the past, for the observant reader.
The Assassin and the Desert is probably my personal favourite novella in this collection, for several key reasons. First, like the other novellas in The Assassin’s Blade, The Assassin and the Desert is integral to Celaena’s story before Throne of Glass – in regards to her relationships with The Silent Assassin’s and Ansel, the experiences she gains in the desert, and the personal growth she undergoes. I just can’t get past these stories of growth – for it is in the desert that Celaena begins to remember the taste of freedom, and it is in the desert that Celaena remembers to dream of something more than the life of an assassin.
“The stag remains constant – no matter the season, he’s always there. So the people of Terrasen will always know how to find their way home. So they can looks up at the sky, no matter where they are, and know that Terrasen is forever with them.” Sarah J Maas, The Assassin’s Blade, p. 179
Maas also once again displays her masterful world building and storytelling in this one, seamlessly weaving in hints of the greater, overarching plot that is to emerge in the Throne of Glass series – without ever giving away her hand completely. In doing so, she sets the stage for the latter half of the series, while also drawing readers further into the shadow of Celaena’s past.
“What would he say if he knew that Adarlan’s Assassin has never been kissed? She’d killed men, freed slaves, stolen horses, but she’s never kissed anyone.” Sarah J Maas, The Assassin’s Blade, p. 194
Some of the nuance in The Assassin and the Desert will (perhaps) only be appreciated once you’ve read Empire of Storms, but no matter how enthralled you’ve become by the Throne of Glass series, you’re likely to fall in love with this fast-paced novella riddled with assassins, deadly plots, and daring escapes on horseback.
The Assassin and the Underworld
When the King of the Assassins gives Celaena Sardothien a special assignment that will help fight slavery in the kingdom, she jumps at the chance to strike a blow against an evil practice. The misson is a dark and deadly affair which takes Celaena from the rooftops of the city to the bottom of the sewer – and she doesn’t like what she finds there.
“And from today onward, I want to never be separated from you. Wherever you go, I go. Even if that means going to hell itself, wherever you are, that’s where I want to be. Forever.” – Sarah J Maas, The Assassin’s Blade
This story finds Celaena back in Rifthold, struggling to choose which pathway to follow forward – the path of apparent safety and security that Arobynn offers her within the Assassins Guild, or a path entirely of her own, if she could find the courage to leave everything the knows behind. Here, Maas captures Celaena’s indecision and youth in perfect contrast with the hardened demeanor she presents to the world, resulting in a short story that is heartfelt and powerful.
Beyond being a very personal story, in regards to Celaena’s experience, that is also a story about relationships – about mending relationships, cutting ties, and the birth of a romance.
In relation to the other novellas, and the rest of the Throne of Glass series, The Assassin and the Underworld is an important story – it is the first true step towards Celaena’s eventual fate, and it intertwines with the other novellas, especially The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, very well. The reader is also introduced to a couple of key characters as well – such as Lysandra, and maybe even a certain blue-eyed Prince and his captain.
Unfortunately, this story does not really stand out from the rest – in fact, before re-reading The Assassin’s Blade, I had all but forgotten about it, blurring it into The Assassin and the Empire. Despite this, readers will certainly enjoy the story.
The Assassin and the Empire
Celaena Sardothien is the assassin with everything: a place to call her own, the love of handsome Sam, and, best of all, freedom. Yet, she won’t be truly free until she is far away from her old master, Arobynn Hamel; Celaena must take one last daring assignment that will liberate her forever. But having it all, means you have a lot to lose…
“She preferred the silence. In the silence she couldn’t hear the worst question of all: had she brought this upon himself?” – Sarah J Maas, The Assassin’s Blade, p.338
The Assassin and the Empire is the novella every fan of Throne of Glass wanted – because since first reading about the infamous, self-assured, sassy Celaena Sardothien, every reader has been dying to know – how exactly did Adarlan’s Assassin find herself imprisoned in the Salt Mines of Endovier? And readers certainly won’t be disappointed by this final novella. Maas once again delivers a heartwrenching reading experience that will keep readers on the edge of their seats as they root for Celaena and Sam, and silently cursing all those who oppose the assassin duo.
This novella also gives readers a sneak peak at the person Maas truly intends Celaena to be – hopeful, caring, and strong. Readers often complain about Celaena’s attitude in the first couple books of the Throne of Glass series, but through reading this novella, it quickly becomes clear that in those books, her personality is a front for the hurt and trauma she is struggling with. Because the Celaena in this book is for more similar to the woman she will eventually become, than the hurting assassin she begins the series as.
“She was fire, she was darkness, she was dust and blood and shadow.” – Sarah J Maas, The Assassin’s Blade, p. 406
Overall, this story was a stunning conclusion to The Assassin’s Blade that will leave readers reeling – and needing more. Maas weaves a highly complex tale quite efficiently, despite the short length of the story, answering many of the burning questions readers have about Celaena’s past.
This collection has all the elements that readers of the Throne of Glass series love, with new and familiar characters that are sure to ensnare the heart, and tales guaranteed the enrapture the imagination. Truly, The Assassin’s Blade is a piece of the Throne of Glass series that absolutely should not, and cannot, be missed. Maas hasn’t just drafted a self-contained collection of prequel novellas here – she has woven integral bits of Celaena’s story into The Assassin’s Blade, and without these pieces, no reader will truly have experienced Celaena’s journey (4.5/5).