I have made it my life’s goal to finally, FINALLY finish the Throne of Glass series in the year 2021, and it looks like this is gonna be the month I do it. After starting and stopping, rereading, and then forgetting to continue since 2013 (ouch I feel old.) the journey will finally have come to an end. And I gotta say… I am not loving the way things are going.
Now before you come to my house and kill me, let me say that I understand why this series is so well liked, and how it propelled the author to the forefront of the Young Adult genre. So if you adore this series and it’s your favorite thing ever, I completely understand and my personal opinions can’t take that away from you.
**Beware of spicy hot takes and major Throne of Glass spoilers ahead.**
So where did we leave off? I finished Queen of Shadows and I gave it a rickety 4 stars out of 5 almost entirely because of my love for the character Manon Blackbeak, and I do stand by that. Manon’s chapters were phenomenal, as was the introduction of Elide Lochan, and the culmination of Kaltain Rompier’s arc. All of those were shining points that I still consider to be impressively written and executed within the series. Before that, I really liked Heir of Fire (another 4/5 stars) with its intro to Rowan, and the development of his relationship with Aelin. Things were starting to go in a VERY different direction but I was on board.
Coming into Tower of Dawn and Empire of Storms…. Wow. The bad parts got so much worse, and I don’t think the positive aspects were enough to cover for them. But we’ll get into that.
Let me start this rant by directing my ire at whoever is in charge of marketing this series to its target audience. This book series starts as Young Adult– sure I can agree with that. There is a “fade to black” sex scene in the second book that, to me, falls in line with the Young Adult tag. By Empire of Storms, though, I think it’s a far cry from YA with sex scenes that are so explicit I actually had to pull my headphones out so I could listen to the audiobook without being shamed while doing the dishes. How dare you make me go to all that effort in a book that’s supposed to be for 14-year-olds. I’m being a little hyperbolic of course. It’s obviously not the biggest deal to me, (I’m 23, which makes me about 5,000 in YA years) but this is something I think is worth mentioning to people going in unawares.
I digress. I did a tandem read of these two books which means I followed a guide (graciously put together by this lovely blogger here, thank you!!) and basically switched off every couple of chapters, from one book to the other. This was very easy to do once I tabbed the pages and got the audiobooks downloaded. Fair warning: it will make these two books feel like one, really really long book.
I guess I’ll start in chronological order. So let’s rip into Empire of Storms first.
I’ll begin with the things I liked. There are four scenes in particular: When Manon faces off against her grandmother because she refused to kill Asterin, setting off a heart-pounding chase and aerial battle that leaves Manon completely wrecked on top of Abraxos. Then, Aelin and Elide meet for the first time. This scene was very emotionally impactful, not just for the two of them, but also for the fact that Aelin and Dorian come to understand the massive play of the game that Kaltain pulled at the end of Queen of Shadows. “She said to remember your promise to punish them all,” absolute chills. Next, is the chapter(s) where Manon and Aelin go into the witch mirror, and we all get emotionally sucker-punched by Elena. Finally, we have the ending scene where Aelin faces Maeve who strips her, chains her, and whips her, before shutting her in an iron coffin and kidnapping her. It is revealed that Aelin knew she was going to die either way and planned this grand scheme with Lysandra who will shapeshift into her place, etc. It was extremely brutal and impactful given that we know Aelin’s history of being chained and abused at the hands of people who strip her power from her. I also thought their plan was clever.
I will give Maas the flowers she is due for the fact that she knows how to write scenes that feel devastating and important. These scenes usually have very memorable quotes (“Nameless is my price,”) and involve characters that we’ve come to love (or in some cases, tolerate) being faced with extremely dire circumstances.
So that’s all well and good, and those 4 scenes are the reason I added an extra half star to my overall rating. Unfortunately, 4 scenes in a book that spans 689 pages, is not cutting it for me. I struggle to say that I like this book because, while I LOVED those scenes very much and they left a mark on me in some way, there was so much more that I hated.
Let’s start with Maas’ writing style which is repetitive, clichéd, self-important, and simplistic. This is not new, but I was hoping to see some improvement considering we’re now five books deep. Next, is the pacing, which is painful in this book. There are little bursts of action followed by pages upon pages of people just talking in a room and infodumping about the plot. Speaking of the plot, it’s not that interesting. The story of Empire of Storms is just Aelin and The Gang going around trying to recruit people, fighting off demons sometimes, and men being insufferable to their love interests.
Speaking of. The characters in this book and their romantic relationships are exhausting. Why on Earth SJM endlessly insists on pairing off every single character that sticks around for more than a chapter with their assigned soulmate, the answer completely escapes me. This might be okay if only they were all interesting and distinct from each other. Elide was interesting until she gets paired off with Lorcan. Lysandra was interesting until Aedion…happened to her. Rowan was really interesting in Heir of Fire and since then, his personality been flung to the side, and it doesn’t appear it’ll be coming back any time soon. MY GIRL MANON WAS INTERESTING BEFORE DORIAN GOT HIS GRUBBY LITTLE SHADOW HANDS ON HER. The problem is that it’s so predictable and every male counterpart is exactly the same. They are aggressive, territorial, snarly, muscular, deep-voiced, Adonis-bodied, carbon copies of one another with different hair colors. I’m so sick of “Fae males” oh my god. Seriously, please spare me. Every relationship is between a beautiful white man and a beautiful white woman in some kind of reluctant enemies-to-lovers formula. It’s so boring, and when it takes up the majority of the page space, it makes the book a chore to read.
I can’t take a book with 62 main characters when there’s not enough to distinguish themselves from each other. You couldn’t pay me to care about Lorcan, Gavriel, Fenris, Aedion, or Rowan. Elide and Dorian are on thin ice.
And. The magic system. It makes no sense whatsoever. There are no consistent rules aside from people just occasionally going Super Saiyan to level up. And there are magical artifacts that do stuff when the plot needs them to. Listen, I don’t mind a soft magic system when it’s a more minor aspect of the story (ex: Game of Thrones)– or vice versa, I can appreciate a really complex magic system with rules that takes up a big part of the story (ex: Stormlight Archive). But this series is really just showing that it wants magic to be massively involved in how events get worked out but there is no rhyme or reason to half the stuff going on. (If you’re interested, the author of Stormlight Archive and Mistborn has given a lecture on how to write effective fantasy magic systems. ToG breaks most of the rules.)
Anyway, my Final Verdict for Empire of Storms was 2.5/5 stars.
Onto Tower of Dawn.
I actually like this one more, overall. But it still got on my nerves for a lot of the same reasons.
Again, I’ll start with the parts that stood out to me in a positive way: The scene where Yrene has a very tender moment with the young healer she finds crying in the bath. The multiple scenes in which Yrene heals Chaol and it unravels painful memories for both of them, and that bring them closer to each other and justifies their relationship. The scene where Yrene and Chaol fight and she tells him, if he wants to go to war so badly, he can get up (he’s bound to a wheelchair). That was super badass and powerful. And finally, the scene at the end where Chaol sees the note Yrene keeps in her locket and puts together that it was Aelin who helped her all those years ago. I’m looking forward to that meeting in the last book.
Overall, the Tower of Dawn vibes were much more enjoyable. The location was refreshing (could it have been the diversity, perhaps?) the characters were overall more nuanced and likable. They aren’t perfect, and Chaol still gets on my nerves with his cranky attitude, but his relationship with Yrene is meaningful and sweet. I still think he and Dorian would make a better pairing but whatever. Nesryn is alright. I think her relationship with Sartaq is cute if not a little unnecessary.
The worldbuilding around the setting and the Torre in general was very interesting. I loved the Khagan politics. They felt original and believable. I’m honestly sad we’re leaving.
I don’t have much else to say. My gripes with ToD are basically the same ones I have with EoS. I wish so badly that the main cast was more interesting. I wish the romantic relationships were more dynamic, or better yet, cut down in quantity– by a lot.
My Final Verdict for Tower of Dawn was 3/5 stars.
I can understand the argument that SJM may be avoiding the inclusion of diverse characters in the main cast because she herself is a cishet white woman. Maybe she is afraid of misrepresenting a particular group, and sure, that’s fair. But I must say, sensitivity readers are a thing (and I’m certain she can afford them) and with her status as one of the biggest YA writers out there right now, she is in a position to do a lot of good by letting diverse members of her fanbase see themselves in her characters. I won’t speak on it more since I am a white woman (I am LGBTQ+) and there are other people who have more stake in this conversation and I won’t drown out their voices with my thoughts on this particular matter.
To wrap this up though, and I do apologize for going on for so long, I intend to read Kingdom of Ash, but I did just cancel my preorder of A Court of Silver Flames. I’m at the very least going to wait for first impressions, and there’s no way I’m giving her hardback money this time around.
I guess we’ll touch base again once I’ve finished KoA and we’ll see how this whole thing plays out.