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 exhilirating. 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.
Readers seeking the political intrigue of Kristen Cashore's Graceling and its sequels or the deadly competition at the heart of The Hunger Games will find both in Maas's strong debut novel. Celaena Sardothien is considered the best assassin in Adarlan, and she has been condemned to the salt mines for her work. As the story opens, she is plucked from slow execution by the calculating crown prince, Dorian, to be his candidate for champion, competing against "hieves and assassins and warriors" to become an enforcer for the king. The stakes are freedom or death: win or return to the mines. Youthful captain Chaol is charged with preventing Celaena's escape, and though she fantasizes about killing him on occasion, he becomes a far different target of her attention. This is not cuddly romance, but neither is it grim. Celaena is trained to murder, yet she hasn't lost her taste for pretty dresses or good books, and a gleam of optimism tinges her outlook. Maas tends toward overdescription, but the verve and freshness of the narration make for a thrilling read. Ages 12 up.