Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Review - Manor of Secrets

Original Title: Manor of Secrets
Series: -
Author: Katherine Longshore
Published: January 28th, 2014

Publisher: Point
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

I think only a few times in my life I read a book as fast as this one, as it only took me two days. My main reason to grab it was because it was short, and a stand-alone (and the pretty blue dress on the cover, I confess). My very first conclusion is that it’s clear this book came out in the peak of the Downton Abbey fever, that occurred a few years ago, and took the literary world to a place in which everyone, all the sudden, wanted to read books set in the Edwardian era and the turn of the century, about the Titanic, and grand houses, aristocracy, their servants, and later, World War I. I admit, I was definitely a part of that fever, until all my favourite characters from the show died, and I was forced to calm down. Thanks a lot, Julian Fellowes.

Anyway, let’s focus. Manor of Secrets, by Katherine Longshore, is a good book, but not great. I guess the word that describes it best is decent, as I’m not impressed by this story. I feel it is very simple, and not at all memorable, as the plot points are overused, and are nothing we haven’t seen before: upstairs-downstairs forbidden relationships, the ladies’ predictable life in their ordered existence, dull suitors, overbearing parents, the world of appearances, the secrets hidden behind the family’s gilded façade… We’ve heard these songs already. And actually, as the story progressed and the secrets were revealed, I thought the story behind Charlotte’s birth was far more interesting than the plot in this entire novel, and that it could have made an awesome book all on its own, with all the elements that match the perfect period drama: illicit romance, scandal, social standing in danger… You know, the usual.

Truth be told, I liked Katherine Longshore’s writing style. There was something in the way she presented and described things that was just beautiful and enchanting. And it was that style that picked up the last couple of chapters and made them intense, emotional, and interesting, the way I wish the whole book had been. She’s definitely a good writer, with great potential. But some things felt odd, like the dialogue, as it often felt a little too modern for the time period. Also, it got a tiny bit repetitive when I was told, over and over again, about the upstairs-downstairs difference. From time to time, there was too much telling, when showing would have been a better choice. And also, as the book only has twenty-seven chapters, the actions felt a little rushed, like everything was happening too fast, and actually, a longer book not only would have added details and complexity to the story, but it would also have made me care a lot more for the characters.

Something that I realized after finishing the book, actually, was how simplified the upper class is written in this book. The house they live in doesn’t even have a fancy name, it’s just The Manor. Charlotte’s father is not even there, and much less talks; he’s just a hollow name present at dinner, and nothing else; we don’t even know what title he has (given that Charlotte has “Lady” attached to her name). The fact that this is a YA novel does not justify the lack of details in that regard. As for Charlotte’s five brothers, their sole purpose is showing us that she, as the youngest, gets forgotten most of the time, because none of them appear in the story, and the only one who does, has no dialogue, and no importance at all. He’s not even the one Frances Caldwell wants to snag! Because if that one –David– had been here, perhaps the plot could have been a little better, with richer subplots and further drama.

As I said before, this felt like a YA version of Downton Abbey. Lady Charlotte Edmonds, the protagonist, felt like both Lady Mary and Lady Sybil Crawley mashed together, combining Mary’s desire to rebel against her family’s –and society’s– expectations, and Sybil’s eagerness to see the world, to understand it and be a part of it, having a life outside the limits of the manor, and marrying for love instead of convention. Charlotte is, in a way or another, a relatable character, in despite of not standing out for her depth or her complexity. The way she talks reflects a good education in manners and social etiquette, but also, reveals that she’s just sixteen years-old. And I liked how Katherine Longshore wrote the contrast between her and Janie, who is the same age, but lives in a completely different world, with a more realistic view of life, as hers is plenty with hardships and constant work, against the dull, empty life Charlotte lives in her golden cage. It’s very well done.

Honestly, I felt bad for Charlotte, being friendless, starved for affection, always having to watch her every step and control her tongue, living off her appearance and her marriageability, and having the sole company of her imagination to escape to sunnier places and perspectives.

Charlotte perched on the edge of her chair and looked out over the Tudor knot garden, all the hedges arranged in strict lines and bisected by clean gravel pathways. All of them leading nowhere.

That is one powerful image, reflecting how she feels, and how her life is. A perfectly ordered existence made to be enjoyed and watched, but nothing else, and from which there is no escape. The fact of having everything she could ever need, like money, a roof over her head, food, clothing, and all that, don’t take away the fact that she lives a dull existence, bored out of her mind. Who could blame her for daydreaming and imagining adventures and romance like that, far away from the stifling Manor? But even that is forbidden. Any notion of romance is out of the question in a world in which the reasons to get married are convenience, and dowries. But, although, yes, this is a difficult life to live, Charlotte is overly dramatic! Some things about her were plain exaggerated, like when she convinces Janie to visit her in her room during the afternoon, against the rules, she says yes, and it goes:

Charlotte almost swept Janie into another waltz, right there in the kitchen. She was making a difference in her own life. She was making things happen. She felt she could make anything happen.

Really? That much? I mean, I get that she’s happy and excited, but oh my God, calm down!

And it also gets a little repetitive, as later it says:

Charlotte suddenly wanted to run away. From Fran. From The Manor. From expectations.

“Suddenly?” Are you serious? She’s been saying that she wants to run away and go on adventures since the book started! How is that sudden, now?

As for Frances Caldwell, Charlotte’s best friend, I didn’t like her. I saw her as the model of everything Charlotte is supposed to be, or at least, what everyone expects her to be. She wants all those things Charlotte should want, but doesn’t, like fine dresses, social etiquette, snagging a rich husband, and being the mistress of her own household, as she bosses around the Manor’s servants, like she owns it. But other than that, she has no essence, no personality, and no passion for anything. Although I admit, I didn’t think she could be the one who ratted Charlotte out with her writing, simply because I thought her too snob to deign herself to go down the kitchen and do something –anything– in there.

As for the love stories in this book, we are back to Downton Abbey. The whole time I felt that Charlotte’s suitor, Andrew Broadhurst, it’s this book’s version of Matthew Crawley, a man who is set to inherit an earldom, but nevertheless, has plans to build his own life, away from the aristocracy and its demands. But apart from that I didn’t think he had much complexity and depth, with very little development in his personality, except what we see through Charlotte’s eyes. Also, he’s like Matthew in his role as the suitor who at first, is ignored, with a heroine that has absolutely no interest in him, but eventually, discovers that he’s more than just another seeker for her hand, and that, with the appropriate time and contact, she could actually love him. And that is the problem for me. The idea of her suddenly starting to fall in love with him, after trash-talking him for most the book, made impossible for me to buy their supposed romance. True, Andrew shows that he cares through his actions and that he’s there for more than just a convenient match between two wealthy families, but it wasn’t enough for me. I needed more scenes together, plenty of meaningful conversations, raw moments of honesty… Anything that could justify a love story. Plus, I thought the entire time he was plotting something with Fran and that everything would have terrible consequences for Charlotte. But at least, the ending isn’t ordinary, because they don’t get married and get their happy ending. Given that the book is YA, and both protagonists are sixteen, I really doubted it would happen. For both of them.

The storyline with Lawrence, the footman, was ok. Not great, but ok. I knew they wouldn’t end up together, simply because neither of them had any real interest in the other, beyond rebellion, with Lawrence taking advantage of his good looks and her naivety, and Charlotte kissing him for the sole thrill of adventure, the taste of doing something wrong in her perfectly mapped-out life, defined by others. It’s well done, but a part of me wishes that they would have actually fallen in love with each other, the scandal being worthy, for their happiness’ sake. Although, at least, the indiscretion added to Janie’s character development. When Charlotte talks to her about her fantasy of running away with Lawrence to live in the Côte d’Azur, at first I thought it was overly naïve, and very dramatic, but then I realized that, even though yes, she is all those things, it’s only natural for a lady whose only escape is her imagination, to think like this. To believe that life will go as smoothly as it does in her head. And when Janie reacted to all that, acted as an older, wiser sister, bringing her down to Earth and giving her a fresh, realistic look on her romantic ideas, with the notions of starvation, working your skin off, and struggling every day, things Charlotte is completely unaware of.

I liked Janie Seward, and the contrast between her and Charlotte, because they are the same age but come from very different worlds. They have different relationships with their mothers, in the sense that, where one of them wants to run away from her controlling attitude and disaffection, the other can’t stand the idea of a separation, of leaving her behind again. I liked how strong she is, and how realistic, in many ways Charlotte’s complete opposite, and yet, being the only one who could truly get to know her. I liked how she accepted her fully, even before knowing they were sisters, and with their differences, and was ready to be at her side at her worst. That is what true friends do. And I also liked Harry Peasgood, but I wish we had known more about him, other than his position in the house, and the fact that he always loved Janie, like some fond memories together, even fights! Anything, that could help me see the chemistry between them. That aspect was lacking for me. I just thought Janie wouldn’t return his affection, as she suddenly realizes her feelings for him, out of nowhere.

Another thing I didn’t quite like was the general lifestyle for the people downstairs. I get that they had to take care of their jobs, but not to the point of hating each other like that. The only ones who seemed to truly like Janie were her mother, and Harry, because her relationship with the other servant girls consisted on one fight after another. It was like seeing a bunch of jealous cats hissing at each other, showing their claws, and attempting to scratch each other’s eyes out from time to time, being mean to each other, but nothing else. No personality development whatsoever, nor another part on the general plot than being mean to Janie.

Finally, a word on Lady Diane, Charlotte’s mother/aunt. She’s a robot. Her entire essence, for most of the book, is her social standing, her image in front of her guests and social peers, and scolding Charlotte, reminding her of all the rules she should be following. Her depth was there, but I don’t think the author wrote it well enough. I mean, Lady Diane, by the end, claimed she always loved Charlotte, even when she wasn’t her real daughter, but she was afraid of losing her to her sister, had she ever decided to tell the truth. And I think that, if she had shown some more affection, that would have made Charlotte much less of a dreamer, and much less eager to leave when the opportunity arose. As for Lady Beatrice, she came dragging the scandal rumour with her, but it was half the book, and she hadn’t even been in a relevant scene, nor said anything remotely important, and led not to care enough about her being Charlotte’s real mother the way I was supposed to. I didn’t know her. Nothing made me grow fond of her, to be glad about the truth when it came out. But I did like her attitude towards women’s rights and her inclination towards change in the world, doing what Lady Diane never did, that was encouraging her daughter to use her talents for something meaningful, instead of punishing her for it. The fact of having a character like Lady Beatrice, that even with her unfortunate love story, her scandalous secret pregnancy and her life far away from her child, could fend for herself, living in Italy, and becoming a suffragette and a feminist, made marriage and impossible ending for this book, other than both Charlotte and Janie being too young.

So, in short, I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. It was entertaining, dramatic, and in general, a good, quick read; but little more than that. I definitely expected more, although I’m ok with what I got instead. I don’t know if I’ll read more by Katherine Longshore, but I won’t discard her work right away. If I do read another book by her, I just hope it’s better than this one.


Friday, November 1, 2019

Review - The Carousel Painter

Original Title: The Carousel Painter
Series: -
Author: Judith McCoy Miller
Published: September 1st, 2009

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

This may be one of the worst books I’ve ever read in the historical fiction genre. And I’m not happy to say it, but the word that describes it entirely, in every possible level, is obvious. I confess that what initially drew me in was the idea of the carousel horses, the carvings, the art and painting that all of it involved, because I simply love when the protagonist in historical fiction is an artist. There’s a special feel to it, that I enjoy very much. The descriptions of the horses, the colours and the method to create them, and later the other animals they design for the carousel, are simply beautiful. And sadly, that was the best part. A book needs more than that. As I read, I discovered myself wanting to finish it, just to be done with it and move on.

I honestly don’t understand the glowing, positive reviews on this book. Perhaps it is me, that I’m too demanding with the novels I pick up, but I couldn’t like this, and there was no way around it. There were so many ridiculous aspects, and silly characters, that I just… No. Just no. And it’s not like the plot in general didn’t have potential to be great, but it was very poorly executed. I’m sorry to say it, but it is the truth.

The story takes place in Ohio, but I so wish the whole thing had been set in Paris, where Carrie Brouwer grew up! It’s the art capital of the world, after all. I get that the author needed to take Carrie out of her known world, to introduce the plot, but apart from the fact that she lived with her father in Paris as he taught art, we don’t really know her. Her mother died when she was younger, after taking her to church and being the Christian parent in the household, and her father was a devoted artist who paid more attention to his paintbrushes than to his daughter (cliché?). I honestly thought we were going to know them better, for Carrie to understand them and make peace with the shortcomings and difficulties she went through in Paris, but that’s all there is. And since the rest of the characters in the entire book are plain depthless, I guess I couldn’t expect more from two people who are dead and only live in the protagonist’s memory.

Carrington Brouwer, the lead lady, felt the entire time like a cardboard character, weakened by her circumstances, but without the will to make her life count. I understand the low-profile personality, but this is not it. Apart from finding work (“to buy food”, as she claims, when actually the Galloways pay her rent), she doesn’t have any goals in life, and most of the time, she tells us about her past in Paris and her parents, in snippets from information that are not useful to follow the plot. She just sees life happening around her, without really acting on it. When she was suspected of the robbery, she did nothing to prove she wasn’t guilty, or defend herself, and neither when the other workers and their wives threatened her. Circumstances just aligned for her to be out of trouble, for the convenience of the plot. Don’t believe me? Look: when the angry wives of the factory workers wanted to drag her with them to make her pay for not leaving, she ended up saving a kid’s life, out of nowhere, and that brought the women’s tolerance. And when she was proven innocent of the robberies, it was through the actions and decisions of others, instead of her fighting to defend her claim.

As for the other characters in the entire book, they are flat and pretty much inconsequential. They are just background noise. They have no depth, and no personality, except for some very superficial characterisation. Take Carrie’s friend, Augusta Galloway, for example. She’s the stereotype of the rich, selfish, spoiled girl, who is just vain and focused on frivolities, like dresses and parties, and of course, flirting. Her entire personality is being obsessed with Tyson Farnsworth, and doing everything she can to catch him. And that’s it. There’s nothing else about her, and I don’t know why I expected more. When she took Carrie to the park to speak in private, after the whole robbery thing, I honestly thought she would say something important, but she just falsely accused Carrie of going after Tyson, when she knew she liked him. Every word that comes out of her mouth has to do with herself, and that’s not only stupid, but also immature, from a person who knows there are more serious matters going on around her.

Along the same lines, Mrs. Galloway –Augusta’s mother– is just a rich woman who’s only desire and goal in life is climbing up the social ladder, and maintaining a positive image in front of her equally rich acquaintances. Nothing more. She’s mean to Carrie, but only because having her in her home could ruin her chances to do just that. What a shame would be if his son ended up marrying her, the penniless daughter of a very poor, bohemian artist! And that is her complete essence. As for Augusta’s father, he goes down the same road. He’s kinder than his wife, but we don’t know anything about him. He says he’s ill, but not what ails him, and I didn’t care in the least when he said he had to move in search of a healthier lifestyle, taking his family with him, and giving up the carousel factory.

And those are not the only bad things about the Galloways. Rich people in general, in this book, are like demonized. Because they are wealthy, all their descriptions and traits are negative, being presented as vain, selfish, mean-spirited, only caring for money, etc. And yes, granted, those people exist. But you can’t put everyone in the same bag like this. You can’t possible judge everyone without knowing their circumstances, and if you draw all those conclusions simply because they have more money than others… It’s just stupid, and sends a very bad message. Thanks for the warning, but no thanks.

As for Josef Kaestner, the love interest, his entire life is the factory, and going to church on Sunday. There’s some peeking into his past, but it’s not enough to understand him, and get a better look to the reasons behind his actions. Out of nowhere, he starts liking Carrie, after tearing apart her work in the factory for a long time, and eventually he falls in love with her; but this man is so expressionless, that it was really hard to tell! And I don’t interpret that as the personality traits of a shy, reserved, and possibly distrustful man. I just think he’s poorly written. Other than a few smiles here and there, his truly emotional moment came way too late, at the very last line of the book, when he takes Carrie, kisses her and spins her around, happy because they are engaged to be married. And that is not enough for me to believe their love. By that point, I was already too bored to care, wanting to finish the book once and for all.

As for Mrs. Wilson, she’s practically a cartoon. She’s a good woman, but her entire character consists of being a bad cook, and saying one or two not-so-funny lines here and there. Same as Mr. Lundgren, the other tenant in her boardinghouse. They are there all the time, but they do absolutely nothing for the plot. I could take them away from the book almost without disturbing the storyline. Same with Gunter, the new painter in the factory, who is a completely useless character, if there ever was one.

As for Tyson, the villain, he’s presented as a cad and a scoundrel since the first moment he appears, and nothing he says or does changes that. He has no personality besides that. It was the most obvious thing in the world he was behind the robberies, I never doubted that for a minute, although I really hoped for a plot twist by the end that would prove me wrong. He is just what we see he is. A flirty, shameless man who takes revenge on others when he can’t get his way. A very immature personality, that coincides with a person who is, guess what? Rich.

In general, the narration in this book is kind of unnerving, because some things are just so exaggerated, that border stupidity. One of those moments was when Carrie, in a hurry, is running and collides with Tyson, unintentionally hitting him, and upon that she says:

He was still on his feet, so I assumed I hadn’t killed him.

Oh my God *face palm* Did she actually think she had killed him? I had to read that twice just to make sure. I mean, she just bumped into him, and may have caused him some pain, but to the point of wondering if he’s still alive? Don’t be ridiculous, I’m begging you! And that happens all over the book. Excessive drama in moments that don’t justify it. Or false expectations. Like Augusta’s mother, who does nothing more than talking about the housewarming party she will host in her new mansion, and because it was so important, I thought something relevant would happen there, or that it would go wrong in some way. But nothing did, and I was very surprised, because, after the way it was mentioned and talked about, I really thought the wrap up of the story would take place there, with the solving of the mystery, and all that. But of course, it didn’t.

The mystery doesn’t deserve the name. It was completely predictable, with a culprit that could be spotted from miles away. A true plot twist would have been Augusta’s father being responsible, because he was in need of money to leave to his family after his passing due to his illness. But no. As for the thief’s identity, I really thought it would be Frances, the Galloways’ servant, as it made a lot more sense than placing the blame on a oh, so casually similar woman who could have been Carrie’s sister, but does not appear one single time or has one single line of dialogue in the entire book. We don’t know who she is, where Tyson got her from, or anything, for that matter. She was an unknown person, apparently named Georgia, and working alongside Tyson, she was guilty the whole time… WHAT??

No. No! Just… no.

I guess now is the time to talk about the romance, and sadly, I have nothing good to say about it. Carrie and Josef have no chemistry at all, and they fall in love because the author said so. There’s nothing there that makes me see why they are attracted to each other, what is that they share (apart from the carousel horses) that creates such closeness, and eventually leads to their engagement. And the narration, just as I said before, it’s just plain obvious and exaggerated, origin of more face-palms and eye-rolls than I care to admit. Nothing changes after Carrie and Josef first kiss, and the fact that Josef still mixes German words with English wasn’t an excuse for him to never say a meaningful sentence. He talks like he’s retarded, in an almost robotic way.

At one point, Carrie says “His smile radiated warmth, and in one fleeting moment, I decided he was the kind of man who would make a good husband.

Oh, my God, this is so obvious! And it comes out of, literally, nowhere! It’s not sweet, or tender, it borders insta-love, and makes me want to slap Carrie in the face with full force. It’s too much telling when it should be showing. And when Josef takes her to the dance floor, she feels strongly and thinks: “I must regain control of my emotions.” *face palm* This woman has no reason to drown her feelings, because there are no real consequences that could come from her relationship with this guy. In addition, I don’t think this had to be put like that. By recurring to showing, this shouldn’t need to be told. I should be able to see it in the physical response of her body, or her reactions to things, or in a million other ways, all of them better than this writing choice.

Also, at a certain scene before a dance Carrie can’t attend, Josef asks her if she’s jealous because he’s going without her, teasing her with the idea of him falling for another woman, and she thinks:

I had been worried some attractive young lady would steal his heart. I just didn’t want Josef to know it!

This may be my biggest eye roll in the history of eye-rolls. And I mean… What? So damn obvious it makes me sick! But, see what I mean? She talks like a teenage girl with a crush, and their conversations have no depth, no getting to know one another… Nothing that justifies their fondness, and much less their engagement.

And later, she says the only thing I agree with, upon her unexpected feelings for Josef:

I couldn’t love someone I barely knew”.

Exactly. You can’t. And that is another reason why the love story feels so forced and makes no sense. Josef shows himself jealous a couple of times, but it never lasts, and no matter what they did, I couldn’t care for him, or Carrie, or their relationship, especially after that firework-worthy first kiss that did not change anything with them.

Well, enough of that.

Oh, yes, and adding to the list of things that stink of convenience –neither there is any explanation around it–, I don’t understand how, all the sudden, Carrie’s father’s paintings became valuable and were worth millions, and none of the potential buyers thought about contacting her about them. I mean, she was the artist’s only living relative, after all, right? But since this book throws logic out of the window most of the time, I shouldn’t have expected anything in that regard.

And finally, a word on the Christian values exposed in this book. Don’t get me wrong, though. I wasn’t bothered by their presence, and the fact that both Carrie and Josef want to trust God and let Him do His work in their lives and situations, is perfectly ok. What I didn’t like was that they are both constantly scolding themselves because of those parts of their personalities that, according to them, are wrong: Carrie’s pride, and Josef’s anger. And the author takes it way too far. Being proud of your work, and the talents you possess, isn’t wrong, and neither is being angry in the face of complicated situations. None of that makes you a worse or better Christian. The problem comes when those things rule your life and determine the decisions you make, and the consequences they bring along, both upon yourself and others. But the interpretation written in this book is very simplistic, and even unfair. I mean, none of us are perfect, and we all have faults we wish we didn’t. But taking pride on what you do –in this case, Carrie’s artwork– is a part of loving yourself. I understand humility, and being low-profile, which is Carrie’s case, but the way pride is presented here, I mean… *sigh of defeat*. It’s a fault that needs to be corrected. It’s like Josef practically expects her not to talk at all about her art in positive terms, because that’s boasting. Or even trample over herself and her work to prove she doesn’t have that much pride. And that notion is simply ridiculous.

I think that’s it. I wish I could talk more about this book, but the characters and the plot are so lacking and hollow that, honestly, there is not much else to say. I don’t like ranting like this, but this is one of those books that ask for it. Will I give the author another chance? I don’t know. Maybe. But not in the near future.

See you next time!

Friday, September 27, 2019

Review - Kingdom of Ash

Original Title: Kingdom of Ash
Series: Throne of Glass, #7
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Published: October 23rd, 2018

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA

*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

I’m sobbing. I’m completely destroyed. My heart is torn apart. I’m a mess of tears, happiness, and admiration (for what I can discern).

I solemnly get up, and applaud. I loudly applaud as I try to ignore the pain. I’m not exaggerating. It took me forever to finish this series, but it was one hundred percent worthy. Every page of it. Every little word.

To whatever end”, Rowan and Aelin say to each other. And I say it with them, because that’s how I came to this book. To whatever possible end, I would follow their story, their journey, their world. Sarah J. Maas proved over and over again the amazing author she is, deserving all the fame and hype her books have, and with this review, I’ll try to do justice to this amazing story (spoiler alert: I won’t).

Needless to say, this will contain spoilers, so if you stay and get the story ruined for you, don’t blame me. I warned you.

After the maddening cliffhanger in Empire of Storm left me hurting, I thought things couldn’t get any worse. But guess what? They could, and they did. Aelin spends months chained up and locked in the iron box, suffering torture over her body and mind, but not yielding, and always trying to fight back. But a good thing is that the whole book is not about rescuing her from Maeve’s clutches; that only takes less than the first half. And she’s not the only one in trouble, which is one of the best things in this book, because, while Aelin may be a prisoner, the war in the rest of the world doesn’t stop. And it’s incredible. Incredible how Sarah J. Maas wrote the price it has to both realms and kingdoms, and to each individual person, with their own depth, their daily struggles, their happiness and sadness, their feelings, their loyalties and, well… every possible thing. I mean, even when war rages all across the land and the Valg wreak havoc at every turn, each character has their own fronts to battle in, in their own personal lives, with the people around them, their friends, their lovers, soldiers, kings, queens, lords… Everyone. It’s just… amazingly done.

I love Aelin. I absolutely love and respect her. She’s so alive in the pages, and she’s such a strong woman! But even when she’s Fae, her heart remains human and her feelings are the ones of a normal person in her situation. I mean, being Fae doesn’t make her unbreakable.

So she would not yield to this. What had been done. What remained.
    For the companions around her, to lift their despair, their fear, she wouldn’t yield.
    She’d fight for it, claw her way back to it, who she’d been before. Remember to swagger and grin and wink. She’d fight against that lingering stain on her soul, fight to ignore it. Would use this journey into the dark to piece herself back together—just enough to make it convincing.

She’s always been stronger than many, because of the difficult life she had, but not to the point of never breaking. She’s not indestructible, and although she is sarcastic, and has that swaggering attitude in general, she has her weaknesses. The breaking Maeve had in mind was not only about extracting information on the Wyrdkeys’ whereabout, but also about snuffing out her hope, and breaking her spirit, her will to keep fighting for her land and the people she loves, and she almost did it.

I wanted to die by the end, before she ever threatened me with the collar. And even now, I feel like someone has ripped me from myself. Like I’m at the bottom of the sea, and who I am, who I was, is far up at the surface, and I will never get back there again.

This struck me hard. Aelin, exhausted and cracking up from everything they did to her, told me that strength is not a question of being unbreakable. It means that, no matter what, she will keep fighting to the very end. And I love her for it. Making her a strong warrior doesn’t mean depriving her from feelings, or seeing her standing stoic in the face of pain and torture. I love that we get to see her softer side, her raw honesty, and the power to admit “I’m tired, I can’t do this anymore. I’m broken”, and yet, recognizing that she simply needs to keep going. Even people like Aelin need a hug from time to time, but she is definitely different from any other character I’ve read about, both strong and resilient, and selfless and loving (in her own way, of course). I love the way she talks, the phrases she uses, and how she teases others. No other character in the whole series speaks like her. If you see dialogue, but no names, you would be able to tell where Aelin is, just for the way she talks.

Enjoy your evening, we’ll see you on the battlements tomorrow, and please do rot in hell.” – I absolutely LOVE Aelin for stuff like this, she cracks me up (and it’s nothing Chaol’s father didn’t deserve).

And when she appeared in her coronation, and swore to serve her people like that, bringing peace back to Terrasen, I just wanted to stand up, and cheer with them.

Hail, Aelin! Queen of Terrasen!” Long may she reign.

I love Aelin and Rowan’s relationship. I’m not a big fan of their sex scenes, but at least we can say that they do it for love, not simple lust. I loved when both of them shared a crown of fire, and took up every single challenge together. Always together. Because they are one, and they both love and respect each other, through thick and thin. They laugh and cry together, and at one point it says “she would always be home, if Rowan was with her”. I love it. It’s wonderful to see how much Rowan loves her, that he didn’t let anything stop him from getting her back after they took her from him, and took his time to make Cairn slowly pay for what he did to Aelin. But I insist. Rowan loves Aelin and respects her, and that is something we should see more often in fiction. He doesn’t force her to do anything, and waits for her to be ready, set the pace and take the lead. His strength is for her, he shares his power, and last but not least, they are happy together. It’s a healthy relationship.

The other relationships in this story do not fall back. They all have their baggage, and they don’t love each other simply because the author said so. There was a slow burn chemistry between them before they admitted their feelings, and it’s wonderful how they become each other’s lifeline and reason to fight and stay alive. And one of the best examples are Elide and Lorcan, the couple I never thought I would root for. But they won me over, with Elide getting past her anger after what happened in Empire of Storms, Lorcan having changed so deeply and completely, ending up unrecognizable from the person he was when he first appeared. And I have to say, I like him better like this. In love with Elide and trying to be his best version for her, doing everything he does because he wants to be near her, being attentive to her needs, protecting her, but never forcing her to do anything. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is love. It transformed him. He wanted her best even when there was no certainty that she would accept him, and I think that is one of best parts of their relationships. Lorcan was not possessive, he didn’t adopt this attitude of “she has to be mine” or “she will be mine, or won’t belong to anyone else.” And that’s a good thing. I just wish Elide had allowed him a couple of moments alone with Vernon, to make the bastard pay. We all knew he wanted to.

And Elide is just one of the many heroines that make this story what it is. Every woman here is her own self. They don’t need anyone to stand firm and be strong, and make their lives count. They are all warriors in their own, unique way, and there can be bonds of friendship between them, without rivalry (something a lot of authors have to learn from). Take, for example, Yrene, Aelin and Nesryn. They were able to form a strong bond, without any cat fights, nor jealousy, nor love triangles. Only genuine friendship and respect towards one another (even when, funnily enough, the three of them slept with Chaol at one point of their lives). When Aelin embraced Nesryn in Anielle, at first it came as a shock. They weren’t in those terms when they parted ways, but they both went through so much since then, that is believable, and nice to read about. And a bonus point is that they never fought over Chaol, because neither Aelin nor Nesryn are the kind of woman who fight over a man’s attention. They don’t need it. They are both above that, and have their pride and dignity, that are enough to make them stand on their own.

And at the end, I cried, and smiled. As the people cheered on them, I wanted to cheer too, and be there, applauding them.

And when they all balked, Aelin walked forward. Took Yrene Westfall by the hand to guide her to the front. Then Manon Blackbeak. Elide Lochan. Lysandra. Evangeline. Nesryn Faliq. Borte and Hasar and Ansel of Briarcliff. […] All the women who had fought by her side, or from afar. Who had bled and sacrificed and never given up hope that this day might come.

Women in this book are strong and powerful, and even though their lives are far from easy, they find a way to keep going, clinging to whatever is that keeps them alive and gives them a reason to fight, each of them being unique. And I love how none of them is their past, the consequences of the decisions made by others, because their lives and fates are theirs to shape. Aelin was a broken princess, an assassin, a slave, and now, she’s the Queen. Lysandra was a whore, a courtesan, and now is a warrior, with a huge heart, strong, brave, ready to die for those she loves and –I adore this–, shivering at the simple promise of a kiss from Aedion. Nesryn, was a soldier, and now is a rukhin, and the Empress of Antica. Still a warrior, but in a different way. Elide and Yrene were both dismissed, lost in the crowd, overlooked, used, and ignored, but when the world hung from a thread, they saved it the only way they could. With their talents and wit.

And I also loved that Sarah J. Maas didn’t forget about Evangeline, making her valuable to the world, and more than just that little girl saved from becoming a courtesan like Lysandra. She came to this book as a hope bearer.

As soon as Aelin freed Lysandra, and offered to let us join her court, Terrasen has always meant home. A place where… where the sort of people who hurt us don’t get to live. Where anyone, regardless of who they are and where they came from and what their rank is can dwell in peace. Where we can have a garden in the spring, and swim in the rivers in the summer […]”

This, so simple and straightforward, from the heart of a little girl who wants nothing but a home and a family, is the reason why the fight, why they don’t give up in the siege, and keep battling the hordes from Morath. The reason to have a better world. And it’s more worth than anything.

I just wish they had mentioned Nehemia, too. She didn’t survive, but she was the spark that ignited Aelin’s fire, after all. But I loved that both Marion Lochan and Yrene’s mother were mentioned and honoured, because they gave up their lives to save two helpless little girls, and that sacrifice, out of love, was what in the end defined the destiny of the world. It gives me shivers, and I applaud even more.

A thread in a tapestry. That’s what it had felt like the night she’d left the gold for Yrene in Innish. Like pulling a thread in a tapestry, and seeing just how far and wide it went.

This is what I call an intricate, delicate plot. It’s not something easily disrupted. Everything is carefully planned and written to mean something. You can’t take it out of the book, and hope for it to stay the same. Everything is necessary, and it’s impeccably interwoven together.

As for Yrene and Chaol’s relationship, I absolutely love it. Their bond makes sense, it’s deep, and beautiful. She gives him a genuine reason to fight, and to be a good man. With her, he smiles and laughs, and is happy. She truly healed him, and keeps making him better, and that is the kind of relationship I like to read about. And I like how they show the way the war is a high-stakes game for everyone, not just for royals, and kings and queens. They have more than thrones, crowns, and legacies in mind when it comes to the conflict, and the effort they have to make to attain victory.

…even the damned war, was secondary to the woman at his side.

They need to win the war for simply staying alive, building a house, and having their family in a safe world. And although the ending left me wanting to know if they would have either a boy or a girl, I had no doubt they had happiness in their future, and a full, rebuilt family.

As for Lysandra and Aedion, I really suffered through their ups and downs, their fear, and how they became each other’s reason to survive. It was beautiful how, in the middle of the battle, the blood, and the death surrounding them, they could understand that they needed each other. He once promised she would be his wife, and although their path wasn’t easy, they earned their happiness, both as individuals, and as a couple. But again, their characters are deeper than their love story, and that is why I love Sarah J. Maas’s writing. Every character is there for a reason, they are unique, and their emotions are raw and amazingly written, portrayed in a realistic way. They are essentially human, and probably, the best part on Aedion’s side of the story, was that, when he was stripped from his title and the sword of Orynth because of a reason that, truth be told, shouldn’t have been considered in their situation, the men still answered to him. They remained loyal beyond formalities, and that is what proves that a leader is worth following.

And Manon! Oh, my God, what a character. I didn’t know I loved the witches so much before this book. She definitely grew, and left behind the person she was when she was under her grandmother’s thumb. The scene in which she fought and killed the Yellowlegs matron, snatching the crown from her and placing it in her head, gave me goosebumps. It was pure epicness, and my respect for Manon grew even more. She evolved as a character, and I think that the defining moment came when she and the Thirteen decided to bury the dead in Eyllwe with their bare hands. Manon trained the witches that caused that massacre, and she feels the weight of that guilt. But when she digs the grave, she also buries the person she was along with them. She’s no longer a weapon trained for destruction. She’s a Queen, and she will bridge the gap, uniting the covens and bringing her people home, to a new life, once more.

I can’t explain my feelings, the goosebumps, my eyes welling up in tears, and every messed up emotion that came with this book, with every scene and wonderful thing happening, but one of the best parts that did that was when the witches from every corner of the world came out from hiding at the summon from their Queen, ready to follow her into battle, to win or die. *sobs* I smiled broadly when the battle turned, when Petrah Blueblood appeared with her followers and knocked Iskra out of the way, stating her loyalty to the Queen. But nothing compares to how the tears went down my cheeks as I read the Thirteen’s Yielding. Nothing prepared me for that. I felt Manon’s despair as it were mine, I wanted to get into the book and stop them, and I couldn’t believe it when they did it, erupting into light, instead of threads of darkness. Because they are not monsters. They are made into them. They are not heartless, but capable of loyalty, and love. It was utterly heartbreaking, and when Manon walked to the place where Asterin’s Yielding took place, seeing there was nothing, absolutely nothing left… I sobbed. I loudly sobbed and wiped my tears away.

As for Dorian, he looks nothing like the flirty boy that started the series. It’s amazing how he evolved, how things changed for him, in every possible way. He’s now cold and serious, he barely smiles, and is haunted by the things that were done to him because of the Valg. But him acquiring the ability to shape-shift was something I never saw coming, and it was brilliantly done. What struck me the most was this:

It was the magic’s sole command: let go. Let go of who and what he’d become since that collar and emerge into something new, something different.

Shape-shifting and magic aside, I think this is essential for life. If you want to change, in any way, you need to let go. But in Dorian’s case, it isn’t exactly easy. His experience with the Valg let him with this kind of stench in him, that he can’t shake no matter what he does. Sorscha’s death is a heavy burden, the mark in his neck a permanent reminder of the things he did not do, and the people he couldn’t save. And his relationship with his father, that never was what it could have been, doesn’t give him a minute of peace, but I was glad that he could at least give some sort of closure to that part of himself. But the way Dorian darkened over the series… Oh, my God. His magic is mostly ice, but his personality went cold too.

He had not been a true prince—not in spirit, not in deeds. He’d tried to be, but too late. He had acted too late. He doubted he was doing much better as king. Certainly not when he’d dismissed Adarlan out of his own guilt and anger, questioned whether it should be saved.

When he killed the Stygian spider, that had offered to help them find the Crochans, was when I saw how deeply he transformed. At one point it says he wants to kill Erawan to show him that he didn’t break him, but actually, I think he did. He broke him and that is why he is the way he is now. He knows he doesn’t have forever to convince the Crochans of an allegiance, and past Dorian may have found another way, perhaps more diplomatic, but right now, he has to act. And so, he does what he has to do, there’s no time to think things over. Cyrene was a spy and a threat, and he eliminated her. End of the story.

As for Manon and Dorian’s relationship, I have to say it, it was never a favourite of mine, and here it wasn’t different. But no one can deny that there’s raw honesty between them. They don’t beat around the bush. They go straight to the point, and can read each other very easily. He wanted to marry her, and make her his Queen. They are equals in every way, but Manon is not that kind of person. She had her duty to their people, and wouldn’t neglect it for anything in the world. And that includes Dorian. Plus, let’s be honest, there was no promise of love between them. Just a burning bright desire and attraction. They never said the word “love”, so it’s ok they didn’t end up together. They are both too committed to duty to be that selfish, and put their thrones and their people in the background, just because of something –let’s be honest– that not even they know what it is. It’s not like they couldn’t live without each other, anyway, so I’m ok with the way they ended.

Oh, and when you think Sarah J. Maas can’t surprise you anymore, Kaltain Rompier shows up again. In ghost form, but still. I insist that, hadn’t she died, she would have made one hell of a character.

And yet here she stood, the woman who had taken out a third of Morath, who had devoured a Valg prince from sheer will alone.

Don’t tell me she didn’t have potential to do great things, had Sarah J. Maas kept her alive (same as Nehemia). But she did a great job in the sense that Kaltain, at first, was meant to be this ambitious, spoilt girl who wanted nothing more than catching the prince, and getting a crown in the process; but Sarah J. Maas took her away from that. And smoothly. She made her abusers pay for what they did to her, taking half of Morath down with her, before Dorian did the rest. At least there was closure on her character, after how violent her end was.

As for the king’s name, I had previously noticed that it was never mentioned, but I never give it a second thought. He was just “the king”, the evil presence that was there acting as Adarlan’s puppeteer, and that I hated for four books straight. What I definitely never thought is that I would think of him as a hero, capable of one last act of kindness and selflessness, paying part of Aelin’s price to seal the gate, and helping her in her way to the throne, in a scene that was absolutely amazing. He did love his son, and he did his best to fight the demon inside him, but as a mere human, he couldn’t win. But he was capable of one last act of rebellion, even after his death, and was redeemed.

As for Elena, I felt really bad for her, because there was no other way around it, she ended up paying the price for her mistakes, dissolving into nothingness, without the chance to see Brannon or her children again. And I liked how, even when she lost her wildfire, Aelin still made the gods pay, and proved that she was more than her magic. The world indeed would be better without the gods, because they never deigned to fulfil their end of the bargain, and with that, they had no right to be in the future they would create with their victory. So there was justice in their banishing (although perhaps Silba and Mala could have stayed, they did a lot after all).

As for Maeve, my feelings towards her swayed like the tide. Honestly. They came and went all the time. Because at first, I hated her with all my heart for what she did to Aelin, but after I got to understand why she wanted to leave her dark world behind, along with her husband and his brothers, I thought “who could blame her?”. But nothing could justify what she did to this world, to the healers and Doranelle, and her so called “sisters” (who really weren’t), playing with minds over the centuries, to convince the world of her existence and right to the throne… Yes, she deserved what she got. For Connall, Gavriel, and everyone that couldn’t survive the mess she made. To quote Aelin once again, please, do rot in hell, Maeve.

The only thing missing from the ending was a further look into the character’s future. I wouldn’t have mind some short scenes featuring Nesryn and Sartaq ruling Antica, Chaol and Yrene with their baby and the new Torre Cesme, Dorian’s coronation, or even Manon in her throne. But other than that, nothing to criticize. It was an amazing book in every sense of the word, and Sarah J. Maas has definitely earned my full respect.

After such epicness, I was left with this feeling of “I don’t want to read another fantasy series in my life”, because they will have to top this one, and I don’t think it will happen. I’m so glad I decided to read it, and I can’t believe it has finished. I’m going to miss these characters, and this world. I will miss Aelin’s swagger and sarcasm, Rowan’s strength, Lysandra’s bravery and loyalty, Elide’s wit, Yrene’s kindness… Everyone.

Needless to say, I will keep reading Sarah J. Maas’s work, as every world she writes about will be worth visiting. I hope they are as good, or better than this one!


Friday, July 26, 2019

Review - Tower of Dawn

Original Title: Tower of Dawn
Series: Throne of Glass, #6
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Published: September 5th, 2017

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*
This may be the fastest I’ve ever read a book in the Throne of Glass series. The reason it took me so long to get to it was that the whole book was about Chaol, and he has never been a favourite of mine. However, the promise to see Yrene Towers back, and to travel and visit other places created by Sarah J. Maas, ended up convincing me. And I could not give it less than the five stars it deserves. It was fantastic, in every sense of the word. 

The whole book was a breath of fresh air, after five instalments written to knock the air out of you, and give you shivers. It was very engaging, and definitely less intense than the previous books, with a smaller cast of characters, although equally captivating, and wonderful enough that I didn’t even miss Aelin, or Rowan, or Manon, or anyone who, at the same time, is in the other side of the world, engaged in the events that take place in Empire of Storms. Sarah J. Maas’ narration, as always, is more than great. She has an incredible style, it’s both strong and poetic, and her sentences are impactful, even when they are very simple, something that happened in all the previous books in the series. As for the representation, I’ve seen a lot of other readers making a huge deal about how, in the other books, there’s so little diversity in the cast of characters. I honestly don’t care about that, as long as the story is good and engaging, and the representation isn’t offensive. But here, Sarah J. Maas did her job, and I don’t think anyone can complain. There are strong female characters, people of colour, LGBT couples, and, of course, a hero with a disability. And the best part is that the author didn’t do this for the sake of it, or as fan service, because all these characters have their own personality, beyond those features that would make them, precisely, diverse. They are not there just because. The author makes sure that every single one has a purpose. 

The worldbuilding in Tower of Dawn is incredible, not only because of the details and the vivid descriptions, but because we get to visit a part of the map that, so far, has only been mentioned a couple of times. I was so invested in the story and the details of the world, that I couldn’t stop reading. Antica, with its court and sovereigns, made me think of Ancient Egypt and the pharaonic courts, and, truth be told, I liked a setting in which there’s no slavery or forced servitude, as servants, in the palace, get paid for their work, and the healers in the Torre Cesme both use their gifts for free, and take orders from no one. Not even the khagan has authority over them, and I loved that. As for the place they live in, the Torre itself, I found it fascinating, especially the library, and the Womb, with the pools, and the bells left by each healer who ever went there. But my favourite, of all places in this book, is the Eridun aerie, with the rukhin, and their lifestyle, so free and amazing, flying across mountains and going where the wind takes them… *sigh* I want to be there too, have my own ruk, and soar over the lands, going on adventures with Borte, Sartaq and Nesryn.

I thought that the whole recovery process Chaol had to go through would be boring to read, but, surprisingly, I ended up enjoying it. It’s so well done, and clearly, it entailed a lot of research for Sarah J. Maas. But she was able to take the real medical process from our own world to a fantasy setting, and she did it smoothly. Not only that, but Chaol’s feelings during the whole thing are so well depicted! The hopelessness, the depression that takes over him and how he feels, thinking that, as he needs help for nearly everything, is absorbing Nesryn’s life, and at the same time, he knows nothing of the people he loves and had to left behind, like Dorian, who is practically his brother. He still has pride, and although his bad mood is annoying at times, it’s perfectly understandable. It’s realistic.

I absolutely loved Yrene! I already liked her in the novella she appeared in, back in The Assassin’s Blade, and I was excited to see her again. She’s everything I love in a female character. She is strong, and determined, and although she’s not a warrior the same way Aelin or Nesryn are, she has her own personality and passion, and deserves this whole book for herself. Just as it happened with Elide in the previous books, Yrene’s strength isn’t exactly physical, but she proves that she doesn’t need to wield a blade to be a badass and that she’s as much a heroine as the rest of the characters. I love that she doesn’t let anything stop her from reaching her goals, and crossed mountains and seas to honour her unique talent and put it to good use, after the terrible fate her mother met at the hands of the king when she was a child. But besides that, healing is her passion and her life. She loves what she does, and she’s committed with life, because, although she could have made the choice of not healing a man from Adarlan, she understood that he needed her, and didn’t place the blame on him, deciding not to deny her help to those in need, and always remembering the chance to live given by the stranger that saved her and taught her self-defence back in Innish, that was none other than Aelin herself, back in her days as Celaena Sardothien. The only thing that I just have to mention, is that, if Yrene and Chaol could actually see each other’s memories and thoughts during the healing process, how is it that she didn’t recognize Aelin, as she was sitting with Rowan during that scene inside Chaol’s head?

I honestly didn’t think I’d like the romance between Chaol and Yrene, but I did! And very much. It made so much sense, and it’s so well written! And the best part is that they help and support each other, and they are better people when they are together. The healing goes both ways, because Chaol stops being so resentful and starts moving forward, physically and emotionally, finding hope and meaning once again, while she is able to make peace with her past and embrace her future. They both see each other at their worst. They learn not to judge one another on a first impression, past pain, and the things they know by hearsay. They peer into each other’s memories and feelings, and see both their strengths and weaknesses. They clash and disagree at first, of course. Anyone would in their situation. But they get to know each other, and their love is, for that, believable. To give you an idea of how much I loved this, in the previous books, if Chaol had died, I wouldn’t have cared. But when he almost died in this one, I was really scared for him, and heartbroken for Yrene. She loves him so much that she agreed to pay an unknown price to save him, tying is life to hers, and that took me back to Greek mythology, as it reminded me to myth of Philemon and Baucis, an old couple that loved each other so deeply that, upon helping the gods and them granting them whichever they asked for, they asked for them both to die at the same time, so they wouldn’t have to be separated. And that goes beyond mere romance. That is love, and there’s no other way around it. 

“Using the chair is not a punishment. It is not a prison,” he said. “It never was. And I am as much of a man in that chair, or with that cane, as I am standing on my feet.” He brushed away the tear that slipped down her cheek.
“I wanted to heal you,” she breathed.
“You did,” he said, smiling. “Yrene, in every way that truly matters … You did.”


*crying silent tears* Good that Chaol could understand that.

Back when I read Empire of Storms, I was annoyed by the so very graphic sex scenes, and although this book has them too (I knew they were coming the moment they said they were going to the oasis), they were better in the way that they were romantic, more focused on feelings than in physical sensations, and that made them more bearable. All the love stories in this book are beautiful, and lust has nothing to with it (well, partially). I mean, Chaol falls in love with Yrene, right? It happens after we are told how beautiful she is, with the inevitable mention of her body, her curves, her dresses, her hair, and every physical aspect she has in her favour. But when it comes to Nesryn and Sartaq’s story, it’s different. 

Before Tower of Dawn, I wasn’t a big fan of Nesryn. But I’m glad she got her own story, and we could get to know her through her own eyes, and not through Chaol’s perception. She’s deep and layered, and a warrior with all that it means. She’s brave, and strong, but also has this tender heart, with a profound love for her family, and for Antica and its people, that we barely get to see before this book. I personally never liked the idea of her and Chaol, simply because they didn’t fit together as more than just friends. There is not enough chemistry between them for that, and the proof is that, during the whole book, they spend most of their time apart, with other people, and they don’t miss each other. Yes, they slept together several times, but it never led to love, and I’m glad it didn’t. Nesryn can stand on her own, and doesn’t deserve to be anyone’s consolation prize. Chaol briefly saw a chance with her after he lost Aelin, but Nesryn is not there for that. She won’t be anyone’s second choice. And I love her for that. 

I loved her relationship with Sartaq, and I was happy when she was able to find not only someone to love, but her own identity. I loved their flights together, and the openness, and how much they came to love each other through going where no one could judge them (and also, that she got her own ruk at the end). I loved everything about the rukhin, the Eridun aerie, and the family he has outside the palace, where he is more comfortable and at ease. I absolutely loved the scene in which Nesryn sings, it’s incredibly beautiful. And that is exactly what I mean. The potential Nesryn has that make her so much more than just a warrior. She’s strong and sharp as a blade, fast as the arrows she fires. But she also has this side that makes her sing the old songs from the land of her parents with such deep, raw emotion, and that makes Sartaq fall deeper in love with her. In this scene, there’s no lust. Not a mention of her body, of her breasts, or anything about her physical appearance, because it’s not what matters in their relationship. Sartaq admired Nesryn long before he met her face to face, and their bond is deep because they share so much more than the physical pull to each other that is the mark of other love stories in the series. 

I almost die when the stygian spiders took Sartaq, the whole thing was heart-stopping. I couldn’t stop reading. I needed to keep turning the pages. It was amazing, and Falkan’s intervention as a wolf, and later as a spider itself, was great. If you paid attention in The Assassin’s Blade, you will know that Falkan is there, in the souk of Xandria, although he doesn’t mention his name, and tells Celaena about the price he paid for the Spidersilk. I like that Lysandra was mentioned as his only living relative, because, if Falkan had appeared out of nowhere in the next book and claimed to be Lysandra’s uncle, it would have felt forced, and out of place. But like this, it’s perfectly done. It fits, that is what matters.

Oh, and by the way, I really liked Borte, her attitude and her badassery, and how she is always there for her family. If it wasn’t for her, they would have died, but she’s not afraid, and I loved when set the webs on fire, like a statement that nobody messes with the rukhin without paying for it. She has a lot of potential to make a great character, and I hope there’s more about her in the next book.

And the plot twists. Oh, my God, the plot twists. I have to talk about them.

They were terrible slaps in the face, and I swear, I didn’t see any of them coming. Not one. I was so distracted by the other plot points that I did not stop to think twice about the hints, and clues. And the best part is that all of them make sense! You wouldn’t think I’d have to mention that, but, oh, dear God! I’ve read my share of books in which the supposed plot twist just fell flat, or didn’t make any sense, but with this book, I ended up staring at the page like dumbfounded, completely stunned. And I honestly love when that happens. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you write plot twists. 

Oh, my God, the Valg Queen! I did not see that coming and it was like being hit in the head with a hammer. It left me utterly and completely speechless. But that explains so much about Maeve, and how she did all the things she did. Sarah J. Maas did a great job adding all the details that would have been clues, had we paid attention to them, like Doranelle being so secretive and hidden, and the owl Maeve keeps at her side at all times. And the Valg being parasites! I honestly didn’t think they would appear in this book, but everything has new meaning now, especially the role of healers as warriors on their own account, without wielding swords, but being equally vital for the war effort. Maeve is definitely one of the best villains I’ve ever read, and she’s more powerful and terrible than it seemed. She’s literally a demon, and knowing it made me see Erawan and the king of Adarlan as mere infants, their actions as child’s play. The Valg are terrible not only because of what they do to the body and mind of the people they use as hosts, but also because they force them to make the most terrible decisions, in order to prevent something worse. Look at the king! He had to have the healers killed because they would be used as chess pieces in the demons’ game. I mean, how do you make such a decision? How can destroying lives and tearing apart families be the lesser of two evils? And yet, here we are. At war with an otherworldly force. This has gone beyond one kingdom against another, and now it is a war between realms. Between light and dark.

And Duva being possessed the whole time! Being Tumelun’s killer! I mean… I would have never guessed it. Sarah J. Maas did a masterful job distracting me from her, because I completely discarded her. A young princess, married off for convenience, pregnant, and with a sweet look on her face… I did not give her a second thought, just like everybody else did. I mean, even Renia –Hasar’s lover– would have been a more likely suspect! But no, it was Duva the whole time! An unparalleled surprise it was, and greatly done. My applause to Sarah J. Maas. 

Phew! This was such a great book! And I honestly smiled at the last scene, with the newlyweds, the chance for Yrene to learn who was the stranger that gave her the note she treasures, and with the whole army ready to go and fight, the ships loaded with soldiers, and the rukhin flying above… It promises epicness, and I can’t wait to see how this continues. I hope it’s more, or as amazing, as this book!