This is a full review of Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas. This means that this review will contain some spoilers for the book! If you would like to read a spoiler free review for Empire of Storms, click here.
I’ve been following the Throne of Glass series since (almost) the beginning; I picked up Throne of Glass as soon as it was out in soft cover, and in no time, I was hooked. I, like many other readers, have been eagerly awaiting the release of Empire of Storms for well on a year now, and the wait was certainly worth it! Maas has produced another beautiful written, intricate piece that will leave readers wanting more and utterly shattered.
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. With her heart sworn to the warrior-prince by her side, and her fealty pledged to the people she is determined to save, Aelin will delve into the depths of her power to protect those she loves. But as monsters emerge from the horrors of the past, and dark forces become poised to claim her world, the only chance for salvation will lie in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.
As a practiced reader, I often find that series begin to die off towards the middle/end of the series, picking up only for the grand finale. One might expect, then, that Empire of Storms would be a book of world-building, character development and minimal action. And while you wouldn’t be wrong about the prior, Maas has somehow managed to infuse this book with plenty of plot development, world-building, character development, all the while maintaining a fast-paced, intense plot riddled with intrigue and action.
“A court that wouldn’t just change the world. It would start the world over.” – Empire of Storms, Sarah J Maas
Sarah J Maas is undoubtedly a master of storytelling, but before we get into her prowess when it comes to world-building and plot development, we must first look at the detail and care she puts into each and every one of her characters. Empire of Storms brings back old favourites (Aelin, Rowan, Aedion, Dorian, Lysandra, Manon and Gavriel, to name a few), while also adding more detail and development to new characters (notably Elide and Lorcan) and reintroducing old friends with renewed vigor (remember the Pirate Lord from Assassin’s Blade?). Notably absent is Choal, who has, arguably, been a center piece to the plot of the series thus far; however, following his injury at the conclusion of Queen of Shadows, he’s been shipped off and all but forgotten for the entirety of Empire of Storms. Now, back to those old favourites I mentioned:
- Aelin continues to undergo her metamorphosis from feared/broken assassin to fearless leader and saviour throughout this book. She’s just as devious as always, and despite her promises to her court, she’s still got lots of tricks up her sleeves (particularly when it comes to friends/allies from earlier in her career). One aspect which makes Aelin especially endearing throughout Empire of Storms are struggles to overcome her past and to trust her court; even Rowan. Maas acknowledges that Celeana hasn’t just ceased to exist because the girl accept Aelin; they are two sides of the same coin, both shrouds that Aelin must wear as she navigates increasingly dangerous territory in the quest to destroy Erawan and escape Maeve’s tyranny.
- Rowan also undergoes some major character development as well. I know one aspect many readers detest is Rowan’s innate maleness. Yet, we must remember that Rowan, like the rest of his cadre, are not human; they are fae, and Maas has established that they do not play by the same rules as us mere mortals. They are more animalistic in their instincts, including their instinct to protect those they love. Therefore, Rowan is very protective, bordering of possessive, of Aelin. And yet, his time with her has slowly shaped him into something more human, and he actively tries to be less of a “territorial fae bastard”, allowing Aelin her independence and attempting not to be too overbearing when she’s in danger (which, let’s be real, it quite often). I like this course of development for Rowan, although, given the conclusion of Empire of Storms, I have a feeling that we’re going to see a whole lot of angry fae bastard in the finale of this series.
- Aedion also undergoes some interesting development in this one; as with previous books in this series, he starts off worshipping Aelin, wholly devoted to the cause. yet as his feelings for Lysandra grow, so do his doubts and his concerns, leading him to lash out against Aelin and seek more of an independent role. I like this direction – Aedion has far too much potential to always be simpering after Aelin – and I am excited to see where Maas goes with this.
- Lysandra doesn’t really grow much in this book (in my opinion). Her character has somewhat stagnated; she’s devoted to Aelin and Terrasen, and she’s flirtatious with Aedion but still damaged from her past. The one thing which does develop is her power, which was to be expected.
- Dorian is also undergoing some interesting changes throughout Empire of Storms, and while I hate to say it (because I personally love the sad, broken King), I think Maas is leading up to him as the end-game, not Aelin (wishful thinking, perhaps?). We know that him and Aelin share a common ancestor, and while Elena has supposedly selected Aelin to create the lock and pay unknowable price, would Dorian’s largely untested, unexplored power not be able to fulfill the requirements just the same?
- Finally, Manon. Now, let me preface this brief discussion by saying that, initially, I did not like Manon, or the witches, or the whole Blackbeak plot line. It was too removed from the main plot, and I just couldn’t bring myself to really care about it. Now, however, Manon has launched herself into the thick of things through her betrayal, throwing her lot in with our favourite heroes, and tangling with Dorian (yes, I ship it). Her and Aelin are basically the dream-team, and I am excited to see more of her, and the Thirteen, in the finale of this series.
In the interest of time (and length), I won’t get too into depth with some of the other characters, but I do feel that they merit some discussion.Rowan’s cadre (Gavriel, Lorcan and Fenrys) are especially present in this story, which was interesting addition, allowing the reader to see that, really, Rowan isn’t the only territorial fae bastard out there – Gavrial is bordering on dangerous waters when it comes to defending hi son, Aedion; Lorcan is downright defensive and aggressive when it comes to Elide’s safety (which she responds to about the same way Aelin does), and Fenrys is equally devoted to his brothers-in-arms, despite his obvious disdain for Maeve. I felt that they added an interesting element to the melting pot that has become Aelin’s court – sorcerers, demi-fae, fae, shape-shifters, the old powers of Terrasen and witches, to name a few.
“Nameless is my price” – Empire of Storms, Sarah J Maas
Speaking of Terrasen, Maas gives us some more insight into the past of the doomed country, through the eyes of Elena, Aelin’s ancestor, the last of Brannen’s line to weild quite so much fire int heir blood. Readers get to glimpse how Erawan was slowed (never stopped) a millenia before, and to witness the damning deal Elena made with the gods in order to save her Terrasen. These brief glimpses into the past go a long way to filling the gaps in the knowledge of Aelin (and by association, the reader) in regards to the Wyrd keys, the Lock, and the Valg King. Piece by piece, the puzzle which spans generations and continents is coming together, building towards what is sure to be a heart-shattering conclusion.
And like a puzzle, perhaps my favourite bit of world building that occurred within Empire of Storms was the linking of novels through characters. Previously, Assassin’s Blade, and even the first two novels in this series, felt somewhat disjointed from the later books, and the overarching plot. Assassin’s Blade, especially, introduced a plethora of players who simply never came into play. Until now. Aelin intends to win this war, and she’s calling every single favour owed to Celaena Sardothian and Aelin Ashryver Galathinius. This includes old favourites like Ansel and the Silent Assassin’s (The Assassin and the Desert), the afore mentioned Pirate Lord and even the Crown Prince of Wendlyn. Rowan adds his own armada to the mix, calling in his right as a Prince (in case we forgot about that), urging his family to turn against Maeve in that final battle. Within one novel, Maas seamlessly ties her broad world together, bringing so many tiny aspects together at the tipping point Aelin has been leading us towards for so long.
Truly, Empire of Storms is a beautiful bit of storytelling. Every single moment is pivotal, every action has an impact on the larger plot, and every character plays a role in the eventual, disastrous outcome that can only be described as heart-breaking. We all know that Maas loves to go out with a bang, but Empire of Storms was something else entirely.Just as the tide of the battle is turning in their favour (through the help of the Whitethorns), Aelin engages in a disastrous battle with Maeve, resulting in her eventual capture, whipping and kidnapping. The entire time, my heart was breaking, but it shattered the moment Rowan demanded to know where Aelin was. Rowan and Aelin, are, in my opinion, Maas end game when it comes to Aelin’s love life. However, knowing Maas, I have a feeling the brief happiness they shared is going to be short-lived, and my heart hurts because of it. Aelin is Rowan’s equal in every way, and while in previous relationships she was subservient to the other, or them to her, in this relationship neither bows to the other. Plus, they’re mates.
Overall, I loved this book, even though it broke my heart in a thousand ways. Maas showed that a woman can be strong and fragile at once through Aelin’s struggle to trust, to love, and to fight. Not only that, but this was a beautiful piece of storytelling that is unrivaled in this genre; never have I seen a YA fiction novel so masterfully wrap together plots from previous novels within the current, all the while maintaining the plot development of the new. There’s romance within this novel for everyone; love through Aelin and Rowan, healing through Manon and Dorian, budding romance through Lorcan and Elide, and even a platonic relationship growing into more through Aedion and Lysandra. There’s no lack of action, with this book peppered with battles, both physical and intellectual, escalating to all out war before the final pages. So if you’re a fan of this series, you’re not going to want to miss out on this one!
COMING SOON: Mini-Reviews for each book in the Throne of Glass series!