Saturday, February 2, 2019

Review - Empire of Storms

Original Title: Empire of Storms
Series: Throne of Glass, #5
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Published: September 6th, 2016

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books
Oh, my God. That was one intense read. 

I’m so very happy that I read The Assassin’s Blade before this, because it’s essential to understand more deeply many of the situations and characters that come out to play in this one. But, where do I start? So much happened in this book, that I can’t cover everything here. And I won’t. You need to read it to understand how captivating it is, in its writing, in the little details, and its characters… Sarah J. Maas’ writing is incredible. It can be powerful and sharp like a blade, and poetic and beautiful when it needs to be so. It has the perfect balance to both have you gasping and sweating, and also slap you in the face, the way it hurts. Although not everything was perfect, and I guess I should have seen it coming. Yes, Sarah J. Maas definitely is a good writer. But this book, although epic, wasn’t perfect for me, which doesn’t mean it can’t be so for other readers. Many things were off-putting, or just plain weird. I have both good and bad things to say about it, and a simple star rating doesn’t cover it.

Let’s go step by step.

First of all, Dorian. What a change. He’s unrecognizable from the boy that started the series in Throne of Glass. He’s gone cold, and calculating, and after everything he went through, he’s completely broken. He’s slowly getting on hold of his power, and I feel like his ice is a reflection of the state of his soul. All that suffering at the demon’s hands made him numb, and although he has now reasons to become the King of Adarlan, with all that it entails, he’s definitely not whole. Something is amiss. As for his relationship with Manon… I just… I don’t know what to tell you, guys. It’s cringy, at the most. They are constantly in this tug-of-war kind of scenes, being sarcastic with each other, calling each other “princeling” and “witchling” as a mockery… If they are supposed to fall in love, I didn’t get that, and mostly because of the lust that constantly coats their scenes together. In my opinion, they didn’t have enough moments for them to want to rip each other’s clothes like that. And when it finally happened, well… It went too far, too soon, and too detailed. He didn’t treat her differently than a whore, and then it says:

And it was the purely male promise that made her bare her teeth.

If that’s a male promise, I don’t know what a female promise entails. What a hell does this is even mean? Promises have genders now? No. Just… no, thanks.

But still, leaving that aside, I really like Manon. She’s a badass, and in this one she earned my respect. Asterin’s execution scene, after what happened in Rifthold, had me in tears, because I didn’t want Asterin gone. I like her, I like that she knows the witches aren’t heartless, and because she was there. She loved and lost, and was marked in her own body for daring to defy the “nature” of her kind. The revelations about Manon being the next Crochan Queen were just amazing, it’s so well written, that I had all kinds of emotions as I read. Definitely, Manon’s grandmother makes one hell of a villain, and I’m glad that Manon decided to defy her. That is what makes someone a hero. Breaking the rules and standing up for your beliefs, and Manon did both. I can’t wait to know how that story will continue. The scene in which she escaped after ordering her Thirteen to fly, and then flew on Abraxos with her exposed wound, through the canyons and the mountains… It was epic. Amazingly done. As I have said before, everything did explode on the king’s face, as I was hoping for. But not on the one I thought it would, but Erawan. The Blackbeaks are no longer with him, and are loyal to death to Manon, their leader and rightful Queen. I love it. 

Ok, Elide… What a character. She doesn’t do much besides traveling around with Lorcan in this one, but still, I loved how she proved her worth. Nobody gave a penny for her skills, but she’s smart, and resourceful. And although she went through a lot, she still had enough willpower to survive and keep going, to find Aelin and deliver both the Wyrdkey, and Kaltain’s message. I like that, even with everything she went through with her uncle, the abuse, the insults, the pain… she still considers herself Lady of Perranth; she defends what’s rightfully hers and nothing can make her yield. Nor her body, nor her lands. Elide has inner strength, and is capable of fighting back. Not in Aelin’s style, but still. The only thing I just have to mention regarding Elide is that, yes, granted, I didn’t see the romance with Lorcan coming, but I don’t really care about it a lot, mostly because it is very cliché-like. Elide is that girl that always gets lost in the crowd, the one dismissed as weak, and unimportant, having spent most of her life serving others and bearing everyone else’s abuse. But when she’s finally free and in command of her own will, she’s suddenly this beautiful woman, and Lorcan starts lusting after her even before realizing it. Don’t tell me this is not an overused plot point. I honestly don’t know what writers have against a plain girl being the hero and falling in love with a handsome guy that will love her back, instead of making her a hidden beauty with big breasts and the body of a deity, that were always there but no one cared enough to notice. She can be plain, and still fall in love. She can be plain, and still be loved back by someone who will see and value her true personality and bravery, and all the virtues she has. Don’t get me wrong, it’s ok to choose this path, and every writer can do as they please. I just don’t know why they never choose the other option. 

And speaking of relationships… Everyone in this book gets someone to lust after. Not love. Lust. Lorcan and Elide, Aedion and Lysandra, Aelin and Rowan, Dorian and Manon… And that is why this isn’t the best book for me. The sexual content went over the top of what I can consider ok. Horniness is all over the place. It’s everywhere. And I repeat, it may be fine for other readers, but for me, it’s exhausting. Not every great love story has to have the couple continually thinking about ripping each other’s clothes right there on the spot. It gets repetitive, and I couldn’t help yelling at my book “For the love of God, calm down!”. After all, I’ve seen and read excellent romances that managed to be deep, complex and beautiful, without getting to the point in which you just beg the characters to take a shower, so they can focus. I already talked about this, but again, take Dorian and Manon. They don’t really know each other that much before going directly at it in the ship’s cabin, and perhaps I misread something, but I don’t see this making them happy, but rather… Like they are trying to see if their connection can grow, perhaps? I don’t know. 

As for Aelin and Rowan, their sex scenes are so uncomfortable to read, honestly. Cringy at the utmost. They love each other and that’s wonderful, yes. But I don’t need to know the particulars of their lust in the most inappropriate times and places, and their intimate encounters. I just don’t. There’s no point in getting that many details about how they do it, and perhaps that’s ok for other readers, but I’m not among them. Sorry. I’m happy they are happy, but I don’t need to know everything.

But besides that, the males in this book are in which I can only define as a snarling contest. They are like animals, constantly baring their teeth, and being territorial, and jealous, protecting their females… Because every single one of them has to have someone, and be drop-dead gorgeous. And if Sarah J. Maas is trying to make me see love in all this, I just don’t feel it that way. Do you want an example? You get it. After Aelin and Rowan do their thing, loud enough for the entire island to know it, they go back with the others; Rowan enters the room, and upon seeing Dorian and Aedion there, his first thought is this one:

Rowan bit down against the rage at the sight of other males near his queen, reminding himself that they were his friends, but—

See what I mean? He already has this instinct, this rage, to protect her, but there’s nothing to protect her from. Basically, because Aelin left very clear that she can protect herself since the beginning, but besides that, the other guys do literally nothing. Their presence alone bothers Rowan, and all I can think about is that I want to slap him and yell “would you calm down? Trust Aelin a little more, if you love her as you say you do, and please, focus!

As for them being fated from the start, well… Thanks, but I think we already knew that. I honestly don’t need to be told that over and over again. I’m smart enough to figure that out on my own. Just stop.

As for Aelin, I understand she loves Rowan now, but there’s something that just baffles my mind. I don’t understand how, with everything she went through, she managed to have four different love interest in the span of… what? Four years? She’s beautiful, and very attractive, that’s true. One can understand why men are drawn to her. But… That doesn’t fully convince me. Sam, Dorian, Chaol, and Rowan. Obviously, there’s no turning back from Rowan now, but still. Four guys? Four love interests in such a short time…? She may have suffered a lot, and her first thought is to keep people at arm’s length to avoid the pain of losing them, like when she first met Rowan and wouldn’t ask him about his tattoos, because she had had enough of her friends dying. But, apparently, falling in love is not a problem for her. Dorian was her shortest infatuation, and it didn’t get far, but the other two did have her heart at one point, before Rowan, and in the only way she knows how to love, that is no less than fire itself. She recovers quickly, apparently.

The ending killed me. Maeve, oh my God, what a villain! Her work is subtle, she hasn’t lived and ruled for centuries for nothing. No one would suspect what she’s doing. Setting those fires in Eyllwe didn’t sound like something she would do, and the purpose was, apparently, to sow the seeds of Aelin’s bad reputation, as fire is her element and everyone knows that. Truth be told, setting villages on fire was a little basic for her, she was definitely preparing the stage for something bigger, and I did not see that coming. But neither did them, for that matter. As everyone fought at sea, and even when her own warriors betrayed her at Rowan’s pleading, she still won by placing her armada as a distraction, to buy herself time to go for the real prize. She’s a powerful weapon all on her own, and gloats about her victory, not only with words, but finding satisfaction in the punishment and humiliation of her victims. She knows exactly where to strike, as she is both powerful and smart. But I’m kind of glad that she understood that the only way to contain Aelin is an iron cage and chains, because she won’t go down without a fight, and without at least attempting to take her down with her. And honestly, I don’t know which of the villains is the worse. If Maeve, Erawan, or Manon’s grandmother. It’s up for debate. 

Aelin is a heroine in every sense of the word. She works in silence, preparing the ground before her, selflessly, and always thinking what’s best for others. But she never reveals her plans, and that is where the shock always lies. She plans and plots, but out of our sight, so secretly that not even us, the readers, get a glimpse of what she’s going to do next. She’s more than fire and blades. She’s also a smart mind and a neat strategist, and if she makes a decision, it’s the world the one that needs to be careful, because she’s going to make it happen. And it’s not that she is ignorant of the things happening around her when she makes her choice. She knows what she has to lose, and it breaks her heart, but she does it anyway, because she understands that it is all bigger than her. Through her actions, and her unyielding in despite of her humiliation, she wants to tell people that Terrasen is more than its Queen, and it’s worth the fight. That they can still win, even if she’s not there with them. No matter what happens to her, they have to keep fighting with everything they have, because if they don’t, no one will. Even down and caged, she managed to make one last stand for Terrasen by sending reinforcements and collecting life debts, so her army would still be strong enough to hold on. Her people and her land are more important than anything that happens to her, and although she’s powerful, she let her followers clear that they still can win without her. That they fight for Terrasen, and not for her. And that, my friends, is what makes a hero.

Aelin Galathynius had raised an army not just to challenge Morath… but to rattle the stars.

And that is the only way she knows how to do things.

Another thing I really like about Aelin, is how she doesn’t beat around the bush. She’s practical and goes straight to the point, like when she asks Brannon how Maeve can be killed:

Brannon’s mouth tightened. 'Specify what you need to know.'
'Can she be killed?'
'She is old, Heir of Terrasen. She was old when I was a child. Her plans are far-reaching—'
'I know, I know. But will she die if I shove a blade into her heart? Cut off her head?'

See? That’s what I mean! She goes straight to the point, and I love her for that. She makes her ancestors leave aside the cryptic messages to, for once, tell her the truth in plain language. And it’s the first heroine I’ve read that does it. She questions everything, and makes people be clear so she can fulfil her goal without unnecessary confusions, because they mostly end up being catastrophic. And later on, when she has to stop Gavriel and Fenrys from fulfilling Maeve’s orders, and protect Elide and Lorcan, she simply says: 

You touch them, you die. You so much as breathe wrong in their direction, and you’re dead.

And you know she will do it. She’s such a badass, and a queen in every sense of the word.

Oh, my God, the battle in Skull’s Bay! I literally had to close my book to catch my breath. I’m not even joking. I was heavily breathing during the whole thing, as it was so intense, and well… AMAZING. Epic like nothing I’ve ever read before, and perhaps I’m exaggerating, but that is how it felt like. The pirate ships, the chain, the blood, the sea dragon, the wyverns, the screaming… Everything is described so well that gave me chills. Lysandra outdid herself with her shapeshifting, and her battle skills! No one messes with her! And Aelin’s power…

She was a stone plunked into the sea of her power—their power.

This sentence really impacted me, short and simple as it is. It’s a perfect visual image of how much power lies in her, and how deeper it gets when she joins it with Rowan’s, who is incredibly powerful already. This is all in Sarah J. Maas’ writing, that is incredible, and well put in the places that need to have this effect on readers. Everything was so great and so well done in that scene, that I can’t believe a book had such effect on me. That was purely epic. I can’t explain it, you need to read it.

As for Elena’s revelation in the pool of memories… I’ve seen that kind of plot twist before, it had like a Harry Potter flavour in it, but it didn’t make it any less painful, because it was a mistake that could have been avoided. But there’s something I value on this, and that it’s not always in other stories. Both Aelin and Elena must face the consequences of what happened. The price is both of theirs to pay. Because although Aelin’s fate was sealed even before she was born, Elena also has to face the consequences for what she did. 

I go, too. For the time I bought you, when this game is finished, my soul will be melted back into the darkness. I will not see Gavin, or my children, or my friends… I will be gone. Forever.

Elena condemned Aelin, but she’s not getting away with it just like that. The burden goes both ways. 

Finally, I’m glad we could at least see a little of Nehemia in this one. Apparently, everyone forgot she ever existed. And I stand by what I said the last time: such a waste of character! Her death had a point, but don’t tell me she wouldn’t have led to amazing things, had she stayed alive. And also, I loved to see Ansel back. I liked her in the novella she appeared in, and although she’s questionable in many ways, she’s still a badass, and will fight to the very end to repay the life debt she owes. I hope to read more about her in the next books.

I think I covered everything I wanted to say. All I know is that I’m close to the ending and it promises to be amazing, even with all the things I didn’t like in this book. Can’t wait to get to see how everything turns out! 


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