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


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!


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