[This review contains spoilers for most of the Throne of Glass novels]
It’s a rare occurrence for me to find a book that I can’t fault. When sitting down to write this review, I tried, I really tried to find a flaw in Empire of Storms, but it quickly became something that I wasn’t going to be able to do easily. The novel was almost totally devoid of flaws, or at least any that were glaringly obvious enough to be memorable.
The first thing that I wanted to mention, and part of what set Empire of Storms apart from other YA fantasy novels, was Maas’ use of language. I had to make a running list of quotes that I loved whilst reading, these being possibly my favourites:
‘There she was, crowned in flame, a bastion against the gathered night’ – Page 140
‘One does not deal with Celaena Sardothien. One survives her’ – Page 241
‘‘The world,’ Aelin said, ‘will be saved and remade by the dreamers’’ – Page 248
‘Even when this world is a forgotten whisper of dust between the stars, I will love you’ – Page 350
‘I love you’…‘I’d walk into the burning heart of hell itself to find you’ – Page 422
Sarah J Maas just has the most incredible ability to turn the most ordinary themes in her dialogue into something epic, and heart-wrenching. Almost every line feels as though it is being said in the middle of a life-and-death situation (which, to be honest, it usually is).
Another thing that I particularly loved, and perhaps what made the book as a whole stand out against the fantasy genre, was the level of amazing female representation. Female personalities dominate, and the role reversal of how men and women are typically represented in fantasy was so refreshing (‘I know you two are of the opinion that we males are here to provide you with a pretty view and meals’, ‘you know, you ladies can let us males do things every now and then’). Every single major female character: Aelin, Manon, Lysandra, Elide, is so strong in her own way and I was constantly rooting for every one of them. To make it even better, however, they weren’t placed against each other. I adored Aelin and Lysandra’s friendship, I loved how Aelin and Manon effortlessly complemented the light and dark in each other, and the mutual respect between Elide and Aelin was so inspiring. In spite of the surge of strong female characters in fiction, strong female characters that work together is something that is sorely lacking, and Empire of Storms absolutely delivered.
Next has to be the world-building and plot development within the novel. Erilea becomes MASSIVE. Almost every part of the map at the front of the book is utilised, pulling together all corners of the world into something that constantly feels like it’s waiting to converge. This is in much the same way that Manon, Elide and Aelin’s individual storylines eventually come together, which I also absolutely loved. It just felt as though the book was meticulously planned-out, with every action having some form of repercussion or significance towards the end.
The romances also seemed to have something special about them. Admittedly, I found Dorian and Manon’s ‘relationship’ to be a bit forced; there never seemed to be much of a connection between them and it was almost as if they were thrown together as the only two remaining people within the group who were not romantically involved in some way. I did love Aedion and Lysandra though; particularly the level of respect Aedion had for Lysandra and what she had been through (‘too soon – she wouldn’t want a man’s touch for a long time. Maybe forever. And he’d be damned if he pushed her into it before she wanted to’). Aelin and Rowan, of course, were beautiful, and their scene on the beach was so beautifully written that I was in awe whilst reading it. It was slightly more explicit than I was expecting, but this was a pleasant surprise because it was so much more believable than the typical YA romances where a chapter ends with ‘we kissed, and then…’ Topics such as this are so relevant and important in literature, that it made sense to include the details. It also complemented the more adult tone of the novel as a whole.
In short, Empire of Storms was beyond anything I dreamed it would be; it was hands-down the best novel of the series so far, so I of course awarded it five out of five stars. It’s so rare that you find a YA fantasy series so well-written, so developed, and so empowering for women, but Sarah J. Maas managed to create a story that was fast-paced, rich and surprisingly for a world so far removed from our own, relatable. These characters may have been witches, shapeshifters, fae… but ultimately, I felt like they were all facing real human problems. Just with a few more swords.