Before she was imprisoned in the salt mines and then chosen to be the king's champion, Celaena was the most famous rouge in Ardalan and had the ego to go with it. This is the year before her downfall.
To get this out of the way, I don't recall the prose in the main story being so bad and it was very off-putting and made me completely forget that one of the stories was in fact written more recently. If anything, the newest novella, "The Assassin and the Healer", had the worst plot and was completely unnecessary for advancing the over-arching series of events. It seems as if Maas can't write a female character whose "strong" without being strong in a fight and I'm sure the point of this story was the exact opposite of that! Apparently Celaena was also amazingly cocky before her year in the salt mines and she's completely repellent to read about. She's "quippy", the strongest fighter in groups of crazy-martial-art-movie-strong fighters, and yet she always seems to draw people to her or at least magically keep them from completely hating her.
She's at the heart of all the stories so it seems silly to discuss the rest of the details in them, always a bad sign, but it also seemed like Maas was trying to hit every single fantasy cliche within four shorts. We've got a slave plot line, more prostitutes, pirates (although no actual sea journeys), promises of far off mystical lands, deserts AND ninjas within the same story, looking at it as a whole it certainly feels like a mishmash of ideas. And despite all of these adventures Celaena has had and how they did ultimately help change her character, in the long run they don't matter at all. Maas has written the books so that they're very rarely brought up (even Celaena's former lover Sam, whose subplot felt too rushed for me by half) and while I understand that she needed to write the main books without relying on these stories since many readers wouldn't have heard of them, if you can make a large chunk of a character's journey not even matter then you've structured your story wrong.
I said it might have been a mistake to read this book first since, while I went into it fully intending to read Heir of Fire after it, with a little break in between so I wouldn't confuse the events in my review, but actually I think I'm done with the series. I'm very tired of assassin's anyway, I think I made that clear in my Mortal Heart review, and I'm not as interested in Maas' newest book but that's because it sounds like it's yet another retelling of a fairy tale and rather steamy which is never my thing. And I guess that's another part of it, when I went to the book signing the room was mostly women, late teens and early 20s like myself, largely white (unusual for DC) but not wholly so and it was clear that for these other readers that the love triangles for all three books were VERY engaging and it really made me feel out of place. So, I guess best of luck to Ms. Maas and I just won't be around for that.