Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
Synopsis from GoodReads:
The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don’t.
As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.
Aelin’s journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?
I enjoyed this novel. It wasn’t a bad installment in this series – although it certainly ups the rating from Young Adult to New Adult, I’d argue, given the handful of sex scenes present. Warning, if you haven’t read the previous books there may be spoilers here, although I tried not to spoil this book.
Speaking of sex scenes, romance seems to be creeping steadily more into the series with this book. Oh, it was always present from book one, but now it feels like you get a love interest, and you get a love interest, and YOU get a love interest. So yeah, definitely inching closer to center stage. But, it doesn’t completely hijack the plot, and the romances tend to be well-developed if quick-moving, and don’t seem to me to be cases of insta-love (insta-LUST, on the other hand… but that is more realistic I feel, so more easily forgiven).
The cast of characters continues to grow larger in this book, as it has steadily been doing from the beginning. This is, in some respects, a strange choice because most series tend to either be about a large cast from the beginning or to stick with a small core group of people. Maas, however, started with what I would call high fantasy and has moved now into epic fantasy, and the cast has changed and grown to reflect that change. This is not inherently a problem. Nor do I find her execution of it a problem – she handles the change quite well, and it reflects the growing scope of Celaena/Aelin’s world and the increasing responsibilities she shoulders.
Further, if you don’t like where Aelin’s plot is going, you don’t have to wait more than a few chapters – sometimes even only one or less – before you get a different character’s viewpoint. Manon and Elide’s POVs were particularly enjoyable for me, as were their respective character arcs.
On top of this, most of the viewpoint characters go through character development – good or bad is up to the reader, but I found it mostly to be good – and all of them had believable depths. I was pleased – although not surprised – by the directions Manon and her Thirteen are taking, I thoroughly enjoyed Elide’s growth – especially her embrace of ‘I’m a witch’ – and Aelin, though she occasionally backslid and I don’t think I find her likeable, certainly had her moments. Dorian’s personality, though, surprised me. It might be because of everything that happened with the Valg prince and Sorcha, but I thought some of the darker undertones to him in this book were unexpected.
And I loved the (mostly) supportive nature of Aelin’s court. We see it mostly compared to Maeve’s cadre (for obvious reasons as well as plot-spoiler reasons), and the differences between the relationships is pretty big. Both between the respective queen and her people and between the people in each queen’s ‘inner circle’. So while there was a lot dedicated to relationships, there was also a lot of page time devoted to friendships, rivalries, etc. I would’ve enjoyed more on-page Lysandra and Aelin bonding, but I understand why Maas chose to not show most of their pages, given the plot twists at the end of the book (some of which were REALLY HUGE).
One of my biggest critiques of this book is rather simple: it shouldn’t be required for me to pick up side stories to understand the plot. You can argue that it was or wasn’t, but some of the characters who showed up – especially towards the end – didn’t fit with what I know of the world. I plan to read the side stories Maas has written for the world in the near future, but that doesn’t stop the confusion being engendered in the here and now when I read the book. I won’t throw out names in case people have read the side stories and not Empire of Storms, but the lack of background on where certain characters are coming from made their inclusion and sudden appearances incomprehensible to me. We got a decent amount of background on one of them, a bit on another, and almost nothing on the rest, and I don’t find that acceptable. There needs to be explanations or consistency, even if it’s just a small mention, and I didn’t find that here.
The main issue in regards to that for me is that this isn’t a series that’s previously thrown curve balls like that. If this was a different kind of series, I’d be content to read and find out, or to accept that as part of the price of reading this book. But when I know that there are short stories explaining these characters and their relations to Celaena, I’m not sure how to feel about them now being ‘required’ for me to understand the main series.
Another critique is that there is now a lack of ‘normal’ people involved in saving the world. Aelin’s court is composed completely of fae, demi-fae, and other magical beings. With Chaol and Nesryn not being in this book, there is no one to represent the vast majority of the world’s population. Even in epic fantasy, this is uncommon, to say the least. This isn’t a major complaint, just an observation that you would expect there to be someone who represents the baseline mortal human, if only to give us a POV.
Despite the lack of normal humans, however, Empire of Storms is possibly the book in this series that is most infused with compassion. I don’t want to go into too many details and risk spoiling the novel for anyone who hasn’t read it, but finally we see ALL of the characters begin to look beyond themselves and their own problems. They don’t completely put aside their selfishness, of course – Aelin wouldn’t be Aelin if she wasn’t at least a little selfish – but all of them think of the future, of what exactly they’re fighting for or against, and what they’re trying to save. It’s not the heart of the novel, but it is very important, and it’s nice to see.
I’m giving this one 3.5 out of 5 stars – I don’t feel the need to go out and buy it, nor do I think I’m going to want to reread it over and over, but if you like the direction the series is going, you should probably read this one.