Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas


Author:
 Sarah J. Maas
Series: Throne of Glass (#5)
Read: January 7th-14th
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Genre: high fantasy
Rating: ☆☆

In short: I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed the ToG books seriously. Well, it’s all coming out now, folks. Empire of Storms is a disappointment.

Spoilers for the previous books in the series, and A Court of Thorns and Roses. Mild spoilers for Empire of Storms itself.

Goodreads: The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those don’t.

As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

Aelin’s journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?

I don’t know why I keep reading these books. Quite honestly, I don’t think I’ve enjoyed them the same way since Crown of Midnight. It’s not me anymore; Maas’s writing has actually become worse. Her characters have actually become more annoying. And the saddest thing is, her plots have become more interesting. It’s so frustrating, because I would love this series if not for its many, many problems. I can’t take this anymore!

≫ THE PLOT:

She was a force of nature. She was a calamity and a commander of immortal warriors of legend. And if those allies did not join with her… she wanted them to think of today, of what she would do, and wonder if they might find her on their shores, in their harbors, one day too.

We join Aelin Galathynius, Aelin of the Wildfire, Aelin, Beautiful of Face and Fierce of Nature, and her motley band of fighters once again. As usual, the demon Erawan is planning something deadly, and strikes at Aelin’s closest allies. Aelin must roam Erilea and gather support for her cause — although, as she learns along the way, earning loyalty is not quite as easy as she thought it would be.

I’ll give this to Maas — she does know how to plot a novel. The plot twists were solid and interesting, and the storyline definitely wasn’t what held Empire of Storms back. The ending, I do have some gripes with, because it is a little too convenient, but the plot has a way of sucking you in so that even these little holes don’t really occur to you until after you’ve put the book down and thought about it for a while. And really, in that case, the plot has already done its job of pulling you through the whole story. The plot was, however, weighed down by the writing, and the ridiculous number of POVs. Look, in some stories, it’s necessary to have that many perspectives. Some stories use it well, to weave in different viewpoints and take the book to a whole new level (I see you, Six of Crows). But Empire of Storms is a massive book. The hardcover clocks in at a whopping 693 pages (?!). There are definitely parts where the changing POVs could’ve been cut down on.

What was actually bad about the plot was the number of characters introduced here that have relevance because of the prequel short stories. These characters aren’t just randoms that come and go with a wave, or have a cheeky cameo that’s important to the plot but would still make sense to someone who didn’t recognise it (Crooked Kingdom, anyone?). They, and their histories with Aelin, are relevant to the plot. It felt a tad too forced to me — at least tell me properly what that history is.

≫ THE WRITING:
Sarah J. Maas’s writing has been… debated at length. I’ve decided that it’s really not for me. It’s too dramatic, and there’s far too many instances of she was Aelin Galathynius! They would bow before her! Relax. We get it. Allow me to share:

[…] one does not deal with Celaena Sardothien. One survives her.

Higher, that column of flame swirled, a maelstrom of death and life and rebirth.

But Aelin stood alone on the prow, her golden hair unbound and flowing behind her, so still that the might have been the twin to the figurehead mere feet beneath. The rising sun cast her in shimmering gold […]

The tendril of power she’d gathered rippled away in an invisible line. The world shuddered in its wake. A city bell chimed once, twice, in its force. Even the waters in the bay shivered as it swept past and out into the archipelago.
When Aelin opened her eyes, the mortality had returned.

What does that even mean?

Not to mention the trademark purring, growling, snarling, smirking, grinning. Everyone grins wickedly at some point. No matter the character. I mean, come on. I decided to do a little counting myself.

  • purring – 24 instances
  • snarling – 87 instances (personal favourite: Lysandra’s answering snarl wasn’t human. You don’t say!)
  • growling – 35 instances
  • smirking – 26 instances
  • wicked – 29 instances (and rarely used in the actual evil sense of the word)
  • breasts – 27 instances (I know!! I know!!)
  • musing – 24 instances

Can someone please tell me what it means for someone to suck on a tooth, because Aelin does it all the time and it’s driving me insane.

There’s also a bit of a problem with sentence fragments. They’re unnecessary, they break up the tension, and IMO it’s bad writing and bad editing. I have no idea how so many sentence fragments found their way into a published book. Maybe this is the style Maas is trying to cultivate, but it’s tiresome as heck. Lots of people think that action scenes are where her writing really shines, but I just found more frustrating sentence fragments, which seems to me like an uncreative, cheap way to write a fast-paced scene.

≫ THE SETTING:
I appreciate that we’re seeing different parts of Erilea. It’s interesting, et cetera, et cetera. But now that we’re deep enough into the worldbuilding, I’m starting to wonder why the entire continent appears to worship the same pantheon of gods. Their traditions are kind of irritatingly similar too — I’m excluding Eyllwe in this, because it appears to be the only kingdom in Erilea with a different language, so it could ostensibly have lots of cultural differences we don’t really know about.

This might just be because there are such long gaps between each book, but I’m so confused as to how the pantheon works. Who are the gods, again? If you’re going to have me believe that they actually have a hand in guiding our badass, beautiful heroes, then at least be a little clearer about who they are and what they have jurisdiction over. I can’t remember how Aelin has Fae blood either — I know Maeve’s her aunt, so who’s that through? Mala is a goddess, right, not one of Maeve’s sisters? Or is she?

For a set of fantasy kingdoms with gods who actually influence things, Erilea seems surprisingly atheist. All of the characters curse with gods’ names, but only Elide seems to actually view the gods with any kind of respect.

I also appreciate that the main kingdoms we’re looking at aren’t Boring Fantasy Patriarchy Lite, because they don’t seem to be patriarchies — Aelin’s right to the throne isn’t questioned because of her gender — but then we do have common people remarking that Aelin’s gender makes her incompetent as a warrior. What’s the deal here?

≫ THE CHARACTERS:

“Aelin Galathynius,” Maeve mused. “So much talk about Aelin Galathynius. The Queen Who Was Promised.”

I’m with you there, Maeve. Also, The Queen Who Was Promised? Add that to the list of titles.

Our fabulous cast of characters includes Aelin, beautiful badass Fae Queen of Terrasen; Rowan, beautiful badass broody Fae Prince; Aedion, beautiful badass half-Fae General of Terrasen; Lysandra, beautiful badass shapeshifter; Dorian, beautiful broody King of Adarlan; Manon, beautiful badass heir to the Blackbeak clan; Elide, secretly beautiful badass rightful Lady of Perranth; Lorcan, beautiful badass broody Fae warrior; Fenrys and Gavriel, badass and broody Fae warriors respectively — both beautiful, of course…

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Now that Chaol and Nesryn are absent (yes, you read that right) it seems that every character is cut from the same cloth. All the women are stunning, powerful, and brave despite the trauma they’ve suffered. All the men are mindblowingly handsome and warrior-like — some of them are the cocky kind of handsome, and others are the brooding kind of handsome. Swap any of them for each other, and they’d probably make the same decisions and do the exact same things. When the characters literally blur together? That’s lazy, bad writing.

In an amazingly meta moment, Aelin thinks this about Manon:

[…] his attention going right to the witch. No doubt stunned by the beauty, the grace, the blah-blah-blah perfectness of her.

I actually laughed aloud at that. Aelin, have you seen how you’re described? (Note that it’s also a sentence fragment. Two spots on the bingo card!)

≫ OF VILLAINS:
As per usual the shadow of Erawan hangs over our heroic heroes. But other characters take on the roles of villains on a smaller scale; as we all saw coming, Matron Blackbeak and Maeve are the other two evils of Erilea, at least as far as our characters are concerned. Interestingly, both of these characters are two of the only female characters in positions of absolute, terrifying power. Interestingly, they both abuse this power, are terribly cruel, and, in Maeve’s case at least, are sexually and emotionally abusive. (Really, Sarah, you’ve done the evil rapist faerie queen thing before.)

For a series that started off with a morally ambiguous assassin only looking out for herself, it’s increasingly polarising characters into good and bad slots. Before you get on my back, both the matron and Maeve are clearly doing what they think is right. But they’re also blatantly malicious: they know they’re screwing over countless people and take pleasure in doing so. I was kind of disappointed because neither of them did anything that surprised me. They acted exactly as I expected them to, exactly when I expected them to, and their dastardly plans were just as dastardly as I thought they would be. Because they have personal vendettas against the main characters, they’re not the nuanced, complex villains I’d hoped for them to be — they’re chaotic and destructive, which isn’t nearly as fun as calculating and unpredictable.

≫ THE ROMANCE(S):
I couldn’t avoid some spoilers here, sorry!

Remember when the Throne of Glass books were young adult?

She slid her hand between them, and when she closed her fingers around him, marveling at the velvet-wrapped steel…

He was still atop her, in her.

[…] she arched up into him, craving the weight of his body on hers.

Yeah. Me too.

I’m not even quoting just Rowan and Aelin scenes. These are from different pairings that see physical action in this book. Anyway, Rowan and Aelin were tiresome and constantly engaging in, ahem, activities. Most notably, right after a battle when Lysandra is practically unconscious. Real classy, guys.

The worst thing Empire of Storms spawned, however, was Dorian and Manon. Maas got to write Dorian as his womanising self from Throne of Glass, and we had to suffer through the most independent character in the series as she’s saddled with a totally unnecessary romance subplot. I know Dorian needs to fix himself post-Sorscha, and Manon has lots of issues she needs to work out, but the laziest thing to do was to toss them together. Their flirting is painful to sit through, and this coming from someone who really liked both of their characters.

Now, the only couple that really did have chemistry was Lorcan and Elide. I’ll admit that. It’s just that the development of that romance too was in the annoying way all of SJM’s couples grow: beautiful traumatised girl drives brooding muscular warrior insane with her wiles, muscular warrior protects and cares for beautiful girl, and then, boom! If Maas had elected to give these two the slow burn instead of Aedion and Lysandra, they might have turned out to be something actually special.

≫ TO SUMMARISE:
If you love this series, then you’ll probably finish it no matter what I say. But if you’re iffy about it like I was? Honestly, it’s okay to step back and give it up. I hereby declare to the interwebs that I will not be reading Throne of Glass #6. Hold me to it, guys.

 

 

 

Spoilers for the ending ahead!


≫ THE ENDING:
I’ll start off by saying it was written interestingly enough. But with a little thinking, it gets… hole-y.

First, with Lorcan’s betrayal. What in the world? Where did that come from? How, and when? I’m extremely confused. I thought that was just the pulse of power he sent to warn Aelin and the others about the ilken. Why is that suddenly calling Maeve over… to rescue Elide from Aelin? What, now?

Why was Manon necessary to going into the mirror and seeing Elena? That was just… random and irrelevant.

Aelin’s master plan was a pleasant twist, except that I didn’t fully get why she, you know, didn’t tell anyone anything about it and now Lysandra’s going to suffer. It’s awfully convenient that Aelin kept it a secret, and I thought we were done with Aelin hiding her plans for no conceivable reason. It gets a little tiring to sit through Aedion’s perspective as the realisation of what his cousin did hits him every single time, and every single time he’s like, “Yo, Aelin, can you give me a heads up next time around?” Come on. You start to feel sorry for the guy.

Not to mention that the ending is eerily similar to that of A Court of Mist and Fury. Secret wedding? Our star-crossed lovers separated? Boo.

And, then there’s this:

Only now—Maeve had only dared attack Aelin now.

Because Aelin at her full strength…

Aelin could beat her.

Note the sentence fragments.

But also, are you kidding me? There’s a line where my suspension of disbelief ends, and it’s right where our annoying princess has enough power to defeat an age-old, terrifying, sadistic Fae Queen. You can’t create immensely powerful figures like that and just… conveniently make them less powerful than the main characters. I’m out.

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