Sarah J. Maas On Her Teen Assassin Heroine And Throne Of Glass

Author Sarah J. Maas' debut, Throne of Glass, is a stunning fantasy YA tale that not only earned a Top Pick!, but was also earned a nomination for our August Seal of Excellence Award. The story follows the adventures of young Celaena, a deadly assassin who has been imprisoned but is given a chance at freedom by her nation's prince as the king's royal assassin. She must battle 23 other people for the job, and the other competitors are just as dangerous as Celaena. Today the author reveals her inspiration behind her extraordinary heroine and the rest of the Throne of Glass universe.

The origins of Throne of Glass—and its heroine, Celaena Sardothien—stretch back about ten years. I was sixteen, bored, and listening to the soundtrack to Disney’s Cinderella (confession: I am a HUGE Disney fan). And while playing the track that plays when Cinderella flees the ball, I found the music to be gloriously dark and intense—far too intense, actually. And somehow, I thought the music would be far better-suited to a story where Cinderella had done something REALLY bad—like steal from the prince. Or even better—she was an assassin who had just tried to kill him. Thus, Celaena and the world of Throne of Glass were born.

The creation of Celaena went hand in hand with the creation of Erilea (the world of ToG). And all the questions about who she was (and why had she been sent to kill the prince, how had she become an assassin, WHO wanted the prince dead, WHY had she spared the prince that night, etc.) led me to answers about her world, too. I knew almost immediately that her world would be dark and dangerous, and broken, and that the events the night of that fateful ball (which now doesn’t occur until MUCH later books!) would be both a turning point in her character as well as a turning point for her world. 

From those few questions—and the answers that bubbled to the surface—I was able to formulate the basic sketch of the plot. I knew that she was an assassin, but an assassin with a soul. In knowing that, I realized that for her to even attempt to kill that innocent foreign prince, she’d have to be without choices—she’d need to have something major (like her freedom, or the safety of someone she loved) being lorded over her by someone with a lot of power (like a tyrant king of a mighty empire—the source behind that dark and broken world). So, in order to explain all of those things, and out of my own curiosity, I decided to start the story way, way earlier than that royal ball—start it in another kingdom, where she would be in the position of having no choices left (in a labor camp, imprisoned for her crimes).

A few months after I got that initial kernel, I began writing the story. Slowly at first, because answering those few questions led to more questions (who would offer her freedom? What if it was the evil king’s son—the Crown Prince? And wouldn’t the prince be heavily guarded, perhaps even by the Captain of the Guard himself?). But the more I wrote, the more I learned about Celaena and her world (Side note: the question of “What was Celaena’s life like before the Salt Mines?” ultimately led to the creation of the four e-novellas.). 

There were times when it felt like the world and the characters already existed, waiting for me to discover it. Then other times when I had to sit down and research. A LOT. Like: how you actually kill someone with a dagger? Is it better or worse to eat breakfast before going for a grueling jog? What is the history of cotton/silk/wool/any kind of fabric? (I’d be surprised if I’m not on some government watch-list at this point.) 

And the research about the world-building often led back to more questions about the characters themselves—what WAS it like (emotionally) to kill someone with a dagger? What does it say about someone who prefers the closeness of a dagger to the distance/anonymity of an arrow? Which would Celaena prefer? (Answer: anything that gets the job done quickly and quietly.)

It took me six years to write the first draft of Throne of Glass, during which time it became more of an original fantasy than a Cinderella retelling (again, thanks to all of those pesky questions). Then I spent another four years rewriting and revising (the last two of which have been spent getting it ready for publication). It will be just over ten years in total by the time Throne of Glass hits shelves—ten years, and I still find myself asking more questions every day, and discovering new things about Celaena and her world. And I can’t wait to see what questions she leads me to ask next. 

- Sarah J. Maas

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