[Empire of Storms: Throne of Glass V] Sarah J. Maas

Slight spoilers for the previous four books are below.

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Empire of Storms finally brings together everything that began in Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows. This penultimate novel in the Throne of Glass series showcases Aelin’s power–political, physical, and magical–in a way that really presents her as a Queen for the people. However, not everyone is as in love with Aelin and her fire as her Court is. Many fear what her power could mean for them, should she decide that she doesn’t like what they’re doing. As always, people who have power fear to lose it. Aelin has to prove that she won’t use her power to force people’s hands like she did in Wendlyn. She has to prove that she’s a Queen.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Some of the events were a little more boring than others, but ultimately every moment, no matter how seemingly insignificant, matter. There’s a lot of perspectives in this novel and they’re all intertwined in a cohesive, entertaining, and emotional way. The book focuses on dealing with the aftermath of what happened in Rifthold when Dorian and Aelin end the King of Adarlan’s reign and the seal on magic.

In the previous novels, characters had been introduced but we didn’t get a lot of time with them because of the focus on Aelin’s quest. This time, more of the pages were given to those side characters, and I think it worked really well. I enjoyed reading how characters functioned and acted when the group separated and Aelin was off doing something else. Rowan and Dorian, Lysandra, Elide, Manon, Aedion…and even characters that we’d previously been told were not necessarily allies got pages. While I liked them in the previous novels, Empire of Storms made me fall in love with them completely.

Manon’s storyline escalated in a way that had me cheering for her. It was absolutely wonderful. Character arc-wise, hers is so in depth and filled with emotion. There’s been few characters I’ve read who go through as much change and internal conflict as she does and comes to terms with it. I loved that she went from a character who believed in emotionless discipline to someone who realized that caring for another creature, witch, or human was not a weakness. She’s part of the group of strong females that Maas has written, and I appreciate it so much. It’s never about the men saving them. Manon takes control of her own life and doesn’t allow anyone to tell her otherwise.

Similarly, Lysandra moves from this former courtesan to an impressive force that uses her shifting power in ways that surprises everyone. She’d been treated as a commodity for nearly as long as Aelin was an assassin and now that she has freedom she uses her abilities to get as many different tastes of freedom. I wish there had been more in her point of view. Reading how she dealt with her past as she forged her future would have added a lot to her sections.

This time around, though, my favorite side character was Elide. Her entire life she’s been controlled. While she did escape in the last book, I felt like her true potential wasn’t realized. It is in Empire of Storms. She uses what she’s learned by watching the strong women in her life, namely Manon and Asterin, and manipulates situations to protect herself as well as turn them in her favor. She’s consumed by a desire to return to Aelin, yet she also is so terrified that Aelin won’t accept her. She’s similar to Aedion in that aspect; both had things done to them and did things that they’re ashamed of and so are afraid to return to Aelin. They want to return so badly but fear that she will turn from them. What they don’t know is that Aelin also has those fears, but they’re reversed. I loved reading how Elide came to terms with that as well as her journey into strength. Ultimately, I felt that Elide’s story matched Manon’s in emotion. It was hard to read the moments where she was desperate to survive and the moments where her heart hurt.

A driving force of these novels and also why I read them are characters like these. I’ve only really talked about the women so far because I feel like they have more to come up against, but the male characters were equally well-written. I can really appreciate when an author makes all of their characters, even the side-ones, important to the story and interesting to read. Back when Manon was introduced in Heir of Fire, I kind of felt like her story didn’t really have a point. To have her progress to a point where she’s vital to the story is amazing. And that’s what happens with all of the characters. They’re first introduced in small doses, planets rotating around Aelin’s star. But in this book, the focus turns to them and I was able to realize just how much they’re all meant to complement each other.

They’re all characters that have been told one thing for half or most of their life, characters who are beaten down to the point where you don’t expect that they’ll be able to change and come out of it. That’s what is so beautiful about Empire of Storms. Readers already know Aelin. By focusing on the others, readers are able to truly see how they all have come from these dark places but they don’t allow that darkness to control them. Their similar experiences allow them to heal one another.

When characters are around each other for long periods of time, I get why the romances happen. But I felt like there was a bit too much of this book dedicated to the creation or consummation of these romances. I understand that romance is a huge draw, but I also felt like I wanted to know more details about the travelling and growth of Aelin’s Court and people rather than the amount of times they thought about each other’s body parts. I get it. I just don’t need to be reminded of it constantly. Love flourishes even in the worst of conditions, but I felt that the characters lost their focus a bit on the main conflict of their world and that of the novel.

While I’m happy with the pairings that Maas set up, I also felt like it was too tidy. Everyone is paired or has the potential for a pairing. As a result, there are some that I prefer over others, and the rest exist purely so there can be some romance when the chapters switch to their point of view. Some of the characters lost a little bit of their importance because they were so focused on the object of their affection. That said, it’s only a minor squabble I have with Empire of Storms. Not everyone needs to be paired and it’s not realistic that everyone is paired in my opinion.

I found Empire of Storms to be the second most emotional book of the series for me. There were so many events happening, some of them behind the scenes, that when they played out or revealed had a big emotional punch.  All the pieces came together–all of the things that Aelin had kept from her Court and the reader fell into place. It shocked me at how well Maas had taken all of those separate storylines and knitted them together into one to the point where I wasn’t expecting things to happen. This certainly is the definition of a penultimate book: villains showed their faces, enemies turned into begrudging allies, people were protected, and romances were realized. Like all of Maas’ Throne of Glass novels, Empire of Storms had a cliff-hanger ending that promises lots of conflict in the next novel. I’m very excited to see how this series concludes, yet I’m also afraid to read it because I know that there’s no way everything will be happily ever after. But I can hope for it.

Sitting pretty comfortably at 4.5 stars exactly. I liked the plot a lot, but it did get bogged down by the focus on the romances.

 

[Queen of Shadows: Throne of Glass IV] Sarah J. Maas

As always, slight spoilers for the previous novels.

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Coming fresh from reading Heir of FireQueen of Shadows lacked a little bit of the punch that the other did. Perhaps it was because she was back in Adarlan where I was already familiar with the villain, but I felt that this book dealt with a lot of the logistics of setting up the next book in the series and dealing with the aftermath of what happened in Heir of Fire instead of really doing anything new.  For me, Celaena’s journey back to Adarlan and the duties she had to address there were a little boring after the excitement of her training and coming into her identity as Aelin, as well as the excitement and horror at the capture of Aedion, Dorian, and Chaol. In Queen of Shadows, not only does Aelin have to address her past, but she also has to address the future of her kingdom as well as the continuation of the one she’s known for half her life. And unfortunately, a lot of that was planning and plotting.

In the last book, Celaena’s character growth was something that I truly enjoyed reading and that growth is not quite done. Yes, she came into her power and name, but there are moments in Queen of Shadows where Aelin can’t quite shake her identity as Celaena. She’s been Celaena for half her life to survive, so getting rid of that persona completely is likely impossible. There are skills and allies she made while she was an assassin and she finds that it is necessary to masquerade as Celaena for a few moments longer.

This time, however, I liked reading how that caused conflict within her, as well as shock for the characters around her. The characters who only knew her as Aelin sometimes struggle with her actions as Celaena, while the characters who knew her as Celaena struggle with seeing her as anything else and don’t always trust her actions as Aelin. That leads to conflict between all the characters involved, which was a source of a lot of the tension in the book.

This book really focused on the internal tension. As always, there’s the outside tension that comes from their enemies and their movements, but this one really focused on the tensions between characters and their allies. They didn’t always trust each other even if they all were working toward a greater goal. Aelin no longer can rely on the magic that she’d nurtured because she’s back in a land where it was cutoff. She can’t rely on the fear tactic of showing her power, although she does still have the fear tactics of an assassin. Instead, she has to rely on her words and her diplomatic skills. It was a nice change because she had to come into her other power: that of a Queen. As Queen, she can’t just force her potential allies to their knees. She has to address their concerns as well as her own, and come to a decision, which could often be a compromise.

This was shown through her interactions with Chaol. When she left and he discovered that she was Aelin through the hints she gave him, he really struggled with coming to terms with that information. The girl he thought he knew was someone completely different. He wanted to ignore that she was an assassin, but he couldn’t ignore that she is the lost Queen. He also has to deal with the heartbreak that he still feels about losing her and being unable to love all of the different parts of her character. Aelin, likewise, hasn’t quite dealt with how their relationship ended. They both have anger in them, and that makes it nearly impossible for them to compromise. Until they’re able to forgive the things that have happened between them–and the decisions that they both make to protect what they love but doesn’t necessarily protect what the other loves–they don’t work well together.

Chaol wants to protect his kingdom, and Aelin wants to protect hers. I thought that Maas did a wonderful job at showing the pressures of being the sole heir of a kingdom but she also wants to be a girl, a friend, and a person. But so much of Aelin’s identity now is the fact that she’s that heir, and it definitely gets to Aelin. She has to step into her role as a Queen and the leader of her Court, and sometimes she doesn’t quite fit. Her journey to fit into that mold yet still remain true to her friends, her Court, and herself was plotted out really well. It wasn’t instantaneous and she had to balance all those parts of herself.

In the last book, Manon Blackbeak was introduced as an Ironteeth witch, a type of creature that had previously been shown as a villainous one. She’s in charge of the Thirteen, who are thirteen Ironteeth witches that are basically the best at what they do, and what they do varies. In Heir of Fire, her storyline wrapped up with the Ironteeth witch storyline was interesting but I wasn’t sure why it had been included. It seemed like it was just there to divide the narrative and to show more of the world without any real function.

There’s more of a focus on that story in this novel and I ended up really liking her character. Her character arc was really well done, and reading her part was a welcome change from the kind of boring set-ups that were occurring in the Aelin, Chaol, and Adarlan storylines. She’s built up as a character who has these strict rules that she follows, but more and more she’s put into situations where she questions her upbringing as an Ironteeth witch. She questions if everything she’s known her whole life is as black and white as it seems. I honestly think that she’s my favorite character in Queen of Shadows because of that internal conflict. It’s the reason why I liked Celaena in the last novel so much; I love the internal conflict as characters come up against things they’ve avoided for a chunk of their lives. I’m really excited to see what happens with her and her Thirteen and if Manon will change.

While I did really enjoy this story, particularly the Manon/Thirteen storyline, I did feel like it lacked some of that page turning excitement that the other had. I felt that Queen of Shadows ended kind of abruptly, with several conflicts and storylines wrapping up a little too neatly for my tastes, even though there were consequences that will linger in the next book. While some parts of the book are definitely worth a 5 star rating, I didn’t have as many feelings of pure enjoyment that the previous novel gave me.

4 stars.

[Heir of Fire: Throne of Glass III] Sarah J. Maas

Spoilers for Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight are below.

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Celaena is broken. Broken for the second time by a death she couldn’t prevent, she flees Adarlan and lands in Wendlyn, where Fae still live. There she languishes, unable to pull herself out of the pit she has found herself in. When a Fae male finds her in an alleyway, Celaena can no longer hide. Although she’s barely able to hold herself together, Celaena must address the many things she’s been running from–and figure out who she really is and who she wants to be when she comes out on the other side. If she comes out on the other side.

Something that Heir of Fire does extremely well is addressing the anger and sadness that you feel after the death of someone you love. Celaena is a fictional character, but art often reflects life. And life has loss. I thought that the way Maas wrote what Celaena was going through was incredible. The feeling of being lost, of being dead inside and having no will to move on…it was completely empathetic and resonated with me emotionally. There are times when you have to close yourself off completely and feel nothing or else you will shatter.

When she first meets Rowan, the Fae male who has been sent to find her for training, he is this hard character who has little sympathy for Celaena, who he views as a spoiled brat. She is unable to tell him exactly why she is so angry and sad all the time because she hasn’t come to terms with it herself. It is only when she is able to express this loss that he is shown as softer. Out of all the Fae and demi-Fae around them, he is someone who can truly understand what she is going through.

The rough start to their friendship is the reason that I loved Rowan as a character so much. He is so multi-faceted that it reflects back to Celaena and allows her to grow in ways that hadn’t been addressed in the first two novels. His rough yet kind attitude allows her to come to terms with the things she has been running from for nearly half of her life. She in turn helps him.

They’ve both had loss in their lives. It’s very easy to blame yourself for things you can’t control and they’ve both had this shadow over them. I loved reading how they related to each other and worked through their guilt, forgiveness, and understanding together. He is definitely my favorite character (sorry Chaol!). I’m intrigued to see how their friendship progresses in the next novels, especially with the little moments where I felt like there was something more there.

While I loved that a huge chunk of this novel was not occurring in Adarlan because it was nice to see another part of this world that had only been mentioned before, Dorian and Chaol are still in Rifthold. While there was the emotional tension in the scenes with Celaena, Chaol, and the Fae Queen, the tension I felt while reading about the events in Rifthold were of a different sort. The build-up to the climax of the novel was amazing. I felt lingering worry and the feeling that something bad was going to happen for the entirety of those scenes. Coupled with the beautifully written moments of Celaena learning how to forgive herself and coming into her heritage, this makes Heir of Fire my favorite book of the series, even after reading the next two books in the series.

Maas has a real talent in plotting out series and individual books. I was really able to see how things that were mentioned in the first two books came into the third one. The writing continues to be engaging and Heir of Fire definitely made me appreciate the series. There are connections that make sense now that the story has advanced to this point. I think that it’s helpful to read them successively because they do end on fairly intense cliff-hangers. I think that all of the talent that Maas demonstrated in the first two books (more the second than the first) finally culminated into an explosive middle book.

I’d like to end again with how much I loved Celaena in this book. She didn’t seem like herself because she wasn’t herself. Celaena lost who she was. She really struggled with the horrible things that had happened to her, her friends, and her family, and I thought that Maas did a great job of conveying this. I liked that Celaena was angry. She had a right to be angry. But she slowly found a way to keep that anger from controlling her. Celaena’s character progression in this book was my favorite thing about it and a  big reason why I liked it so much.

This book cemented the series as a favorite for me. I really love the inner and outer conflict and how it all is coming together.  I recommend this series for those who like fantasy and heroines and characters who are flawed but relateable.

5 stars.

[Crown of Midnight: Throne of Glass II] Sarah J. Maas

Just in case there are people who haven’t read Throne of Glass reading this review (I was one of you not long ago), this review has potential spoilers for Throne of Glass. There’s also a very, very light (and not specific) spoiler for Crown of Midnight, but since it’s already been mentioned in the official summary of the book, I think it’s okay to mention it in my review. Just a warning!

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I really hate when the summary of the book gives away too much the way it does for Crown of Midnight. There are some things I wish had been kept from the reader because I wouldn’t have been aware of it coming up and the impact would have been greater. Anyway. Review time.

Crown of Midnight is the second novel in the Throne of Glass series. Now the King’s Champion and assassin, Celaena is counting down the days to her true freedom–when she can leave Adarlan and disappear into the forests and mountains far away. So for now she bides her time, killing at the King’s whim and trying not to lose herself in the process. Celaena, however, has a secret–one that she hides from the King and hides from her friends. And when there are secrets, it’s only a matter of time before they come out. And she’s not the only one keeping them.

I was actually really impressed with how there was a sharp increase in talent in the writing of this one compared to Throne of Glass. Had that not happened, I would not have continued the series. So really good job, Sarah J. Maas, at getting someone who didn’t like your first book into liking and wanting to continue the rest of your series due to the second. The style became less telling and I was more invested in the characters as things were revealed about them slowly. It helped too, that the focus wasn’t on a competition (but the true focus was actually on the shoddy love triangle and obsessive vanity of Celaena) the way it was in Throne of Glass. The writing style was so much better, which translated to the plot, pacing, characterization, and setting being well-thought out and engaging. I almost couldn’t believe that this was the same series, it was such a change. A good change.

I loved how the friendship between Nehemia and Celaena grew and changed in this book. Sometimes they didn’t get along, which only made me enjoy their friendship more because it was something that was realistic. Everything wasn’t rosy and sometimes they couldn’t take back the things they said, only heal over them. The relationships between Celaena, Dorian, and Chaol changed as well. At times there were tensions between the three of them, which made for some interesting interactions. As is the point of love triangles, I favored one pairing over the other. I also feel like the writing was pointedly directing us toward this pairing, which made me feel like the other pairing was kind of a waste of time and pages. Fortunately, it wasn’t that big of a problem for me. Even though there was romance and a light love triangle, I felt that the focus still remained on Celaena and her story rather than the romantic relationship between the characters. I was glad the focus was not on that. Romantic or not, I really appreciated the way that the relationships where written in this book.

As I mentioned before, the book kind of shot itself in the foot when the summary basically destroyed any chance it had at a shocking moment. There was tension, yes, but once I realized who was safe it was obvious who was not. Any impact it had was kind of lost because I felt very bored while reading about Celaena’s flight to stop it. Getting away from that, there are other secrets in this book that are not ruined beforehand. Granted, they had been heavily hinted at earlier, both in this book and in Throne of Glass, so I already had my expectations. I did like how it was revealed and how it sets up the rest of the series, especially when Celaena’s personal life was left hanging at the end of Crown of Midnight.

It’s not often that I continue onto a second book after not liking the first one, but I am glad that I listened to the advice of other readers about this being a series worth continuing. Of course, I still have an issue with the fact that I have to finish two books in order to see what the series is really about, because this should be given to readers in the first book. This is probably the last time I’ll bring that up, but I think it is a true issue and deterrent to this series that other readers have. If you are willing to make it through that first book, however, the series becomes something that I’m really excited to continue reading.

4 stars.

I received this book from Tessa for a Book of the Month club.

[Throne of Glass] Sarah J. Maas

 

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Throne of Glass is the first novel in a series about Celaena Sardothien, an assassin who has been toiling in the slave mines of Endovier for a year when she is suddenly released under one condition: she must fight in a competition to be the King’s Champion. Only then will she win her freedom. As Adarlan’s Assassin, she strikes fear into the hearts of people who know her name; as Celaena, she’s only a girl to the men in the competition and easily brushed aside. As the competition continues, Celaena proves that she’s not easily ignored, but soon that’s the least of their worries. Something is killing the competitors–and it’s only a matter of time before it comes for her.

If you only read the synopsis of the novel, it sounds pretty good. It’s only when you open the pages and read the first few chapters that you realize it’s not that great. This novel came out a few years ago when I was still working at a bookstore, and I remember picking it up and dismissing it as something that I wouldn’t enjoy. That opinion held true to some extent. I still read through this book because I’d heard from several reviewers that I follow that this is one of their favorite series and that subsequent books are far better. This meant that as much as this book was overwhelmingly meh to me, I had to read it to see if the series is as good as everyone says.

That said, there were things that I did really like about this book. The idea of a female assassin was great, if poorly executed. I just didn’t believe that Celaena was that horrifying assassin. She focused entirely too much on sweets and outfits. There were more descriptions of the intricacies of Celaena’s outfits rather than her actions in this competition. That is what I was interested in. It made Celaena’s vanity–and frankly, stupidity–the focus of her character rather than her supposed talents of assassination. I do like that she is vain because it is a strange flaw for an assassin to have, but it became too much when I was looking for other aspects of her personality to shine through. I just didn’t buy that she was this feared assassin, even if she couldn’t come out and say it. However, I do think that it showed her age. She was vain and childish because she is a young character. It’s just too bad that I didn’t feel that I saw much of her mature side.

I loved that Nehemia existed as a friend that she could trust and that it wasn’t one of those fake, catty friendships that I really dislike. Nehemia was a character who was intelligent and interesting. She was trapped in the Glass Palace just as much as Celaena was, but in a different capacity. I loved reading how their relationship blossomed throughout the events of the story. It took the focus off of Celaena and opened the story up into something bigger than just this competition. Their friendship is something that I looked forward to reading.

Unfortunately, the big things that annoyed me were also the big things that make a book work–or not work. I felt that while the book was very readable and made for a quick read, the plot didn’t really stand out and was kind of standard. It felt rushed and very basic. I struggled to figure out what was going on in action scenes because they weren’t always written very clearly. Another thing that made it hard to figure out what was going on was the lack of action tags around dialogue. That works during an intense scene because it makes you read faster, but when I found myself reading huge walls of dialogue-text I was frustrated by the lack of feeling behind it. How were the characters standing? What did they look like when they delievered their lines? Were they acting a certain way in addition to their tense words? I wanted more.

I did make my way through the book very quickly because there were elements I was curious about and wanted to see through to the end, but I found it overwhelmingly mediocre, to be honest. There just wasn’t that oomph that really drags me into a story and the world presented within in Throne of Glass. So this book becomes an exception to my rule of not finishing series if the first book doesn’t keep me interested. Had I not known that many reviewers find this to be one of their favorite series and that it gets better after the first novel, I would never have continued this novel. There is a benefit to waiting years to start a series, and I’m glad that I’m starting at a point when there’s five books published. I’m able to see what this series is all about in a short amount of time.

2 stars.

I received this book from Tessa for a Book of the Month club.