The short: 3/5 ✦. The penultimate book of the Throne of Glass series, and it feels like it.
It took me a mo’ to figure out my rating for this book. The Goodreads’ system calls 3 “a like” and a 4 “a really like,” thus making 2 “an okay.” For me, it’s similar, though I tend to give 3’s to books that were well written but made me feel apathetic toward them. More than okay, but I didn’t super like it. Empire of Storms is well written, but I don’t care about the characters that much.
And that’s a problem.
See, Throne of Glass started as a series following around just a few characters (and that first book did get a 2 from me). Now, in this second to last novel, there’s about . . . eight POVs we follow around? Possibly more. It’s become a large-cast series, perhaps à la Game of Thrones or other similar fantasy series. Which is fine. (Any time away from Aelin and Rowan is a good thing, imo.) But then it became not fine when all the characters started becoming insufferable.
I still don’t like the Fae male territorial thing, I don’t care that it’s because Fae are not human or whatever (and Fae females are rarely discussed). And what happened to Manon? Why the heck is Dorian so special to make her drop her 300-plus-year-old defenses? And Elide, I had hopes for, using her wits to overcome opposing forces, rather than feminine beauty, skill with a blade, or raw magic. And that’s true, technically, but hey, look, she’s also gorgeous and small and vicious, making her basically no different than Aelin, Manon, or Lysandra. Yes, they all have unique skills, but their personalities are still on the same narrow spectrum, and with their given individual histories, it kinda just doesn’t make sense. The men aren’t wildly divergent either: all handsome, wild, and obedient to a fault. Dorian actually gained back some of the smug swagger he had way back in the first books, which would have been welcome change if the reason hadn’t been because sex.
Let’s be frank, here: there’s a lot of sex in this book. Somewhat graphic sex too. If that kind of thing squicks you out, then you might be better off just skimming certain chapters. I personally am not accustomed to this sort of thing, so I have no idea if they’re even good sex scenes, but I guess what’s good is that it’s consensual and respectful from both parties. (N.B. Aelin lies to Rowan a lot and hides things from him, which whatever, but one thing that she doesn’t disclose is extremely manipulative, even for “a good cause.”) The core of good, healthy relationships is communication, and NONE of these couples have it. Everyone is hiding something, and I get that it’s war, and of course people can have sex just for fun, but Maas is obviously setting these pairs up as true, long-lasting love (especially Aelin and Rowan). Any inkling I had to root for the characters was for them to just freakin’ trust each other — not climb into bed with each other. Equally unfortunate was the lack of diversity: a smattering of POC and only brief mentions of LGBTQ+ relationships. Not including the POV cast of nearly a dozen (besides Aedion, who does seem to identify as Bi). But still.
So why the 3 stars? Well, I’m still interested in the story. I have a weakness for Chosen One plots (if done well), and I like characters pulled together by Fate or other outside forces, because I like seeing characters fight against their so-called destiny. I’m also weak for characters with huge, overwhelming powers (if done well), because again, I like characters who have to learn control. And as overpowered as Aelin is, she’s not alone with that burden. And as special as Aelin is, being the lost Queen and all, she’s not alone in that either. I like the idea of having all these nameless, powerful royals be pulled together in this book, as it was clear that it wasn’t mere happenstance but the alignment of fate, of ancient forces trying to fix the world. I do want to know what’s going to happen next, and I want to know how exactly it’s going to happen without, y’know, everyone dying.
As of this writing, there is no title for the sixth and final book. I’m sure when it’s announced, many fans will lose their minds, and then more so when it’s published. And then there will be me, quietly picking up the book at the library months later, reading it to see what all the fuss was about.
Header image: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas, published September 6th 2016 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens.