Review: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

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4 out of 5 Stormy Stars

This is the 5th book in the Throne of Glass series, so beware spoilers for previous books.

We got a lot to go over…. Rifthold has finally been cleansed of the evil king whose name I don’t remember, and Dorian has taken the throne. Aelin and her cadre are heading for Terrasen for her to take her throne…. about that. It seems like it’s not going to be as easy as she had hoped. There’s a war looming, and the old fucks in charge don’t recognize her claim. This is a problem… one Aelin isn’t going to let slide. And we have pressing danger – Duke Perrington, sadly, isn’t dead. A lot of his monstrous creatures are, but a lot of them also AREN’T. They know he’s out there scheming, and Maeve’s forces also seem to be on the move. We got a lotta drama percolating, is what I’m saying.

One of the most interesting developments is what is going on with Manon and her thirteen. We find out so much more about her, see her development from monster to maybe less than monster – or her questioning the true nature of being a witch. I mean, this isn’t new. When we first met her, she only wanted to be the cold-hearted bitch she believed that Blackbeaks were supposed to be. But even so, the taunt of the Crochan witch she killed still burned in her ears; that she was made, not born, heartless. And clearly, Manon, for all her man-eating, has a sense of morality and justice. We see what she does for Elide and how she feels about her thirteen, especially Asterin. How she feels about what happened to her, with the birth of the stillborn baby and how the matriarch, Manon’s grandmother, treated her. Things finally come to an explosive head and Manon has to decide what side of the war she is going to be on. I loved it. I love her.

Another leg of the story is Elide. She was saved by Manon and then left in the woods. She was given the wyrdkey and told to give it to Caleana Sardothian. But Elide doesn’t know that she and Aelin are the same person. Lorcan, however, does. He’s gone rogue, leaving Maeve to come to Rifthold to find the wyrdkeys so she doesn’t get them all and get corrupted. Elide and Lorcan meet in the forest, hiding from the witches that are scouring it. Then the dance begins. Lorcan knows a lot more about what is going on than Elide, and he doesn’t know the truth of who she is. The plan is to stick together. He wants to know everything she can tell him about Morath, which she agrees to do, and for that, he will escort and protect her to a certain part of the country. This was the best part, in a way. I really love Elide, and it was cool to see her through another point of view than Manon’s. They get into a lot of scrapes and there’s lots of action.

There is a lot of traveling, lots and lots of action, lots of magic. So much intrigue, so many problems, so many plans gone awry that had to be reconstructed on the fly. I loved that. The ending is gut wrenching. I loved the story, the pacing, but I found some problems with the story telling. I feel like Rowan and Aedion have very little personality. They are just dedicated to Aelin… and that’s about it. Rowan is the emptier of the two… he’s just a snorting, breathing, fighting, male machine. I really loathe the whole otherworldly sex trope. As I have grown older, I find more and more sex in books to be plain boring. I don’t know if it’s just bad writing, reading too many romances in the past, or what. I honestly have come to prefer the fade to black moments over the screeching of immortal fae sex… why do characters in books get to have sex that is better than that of mere mortals? I don’t know.

The main problem I had with this was… all the magical rabbits. How can I explain… when you see a magician pull a rabbit out of the hat, first he’s gonna show you the hat, the table he’s going to put the hat on. He’s going to assure you the hat has nothing in it, that is it solid, that the table doesn’t have anything under it. And then, against the laws of nature, physics, and in some cases, the ethical treatment of animals, he is going to pull a rabbit out of that hat. I’m fine with that. I will accept the rabbit, once it appears. But Maas had rabbits appearing out of nowhere, with no hat, no table, no magician, even. In other words, people and saviors showed up out of nowhere with no foreshadowing. Too much convenience. That is incredibly irritating and very lazy writing. And I didn’t buy the “OH THAT’S HOW THAT HAPPENED” bullshit that she had some of the characters trying to tell us. I don’t mind when something TOTALLY surprises me. But then when you lay down the how and whatfor, I should be like WHOA THAT IS SO COOL! Not, WAIT, WHAT?? I want to be in on the surprise after it’s happened. I want it to make sense. She’s trying to keep too much back from the reader for shock effect, and it was just lazy.

I did not feel like the characters were acting unlike themselves, (one of the biggest complaints I saw in other reviews, and have seen since Queen of Shadows) considering the incredible amount of changes that had gone on while they were all separated. I love this series, but recently,  I’ve heard a slew of criticism, and there are a couple of booktubers/bloggers who seem to be making giving this series a beat down a part time job. There are legit concerns that I will address below, but reading and seeing all this, I wonder at myself. Am I shitty reader? Do I just not get it? And you know what? I fucking hate that people are trying to make other people feel that way. I get the diversity complaint – I truly do, but I feel like people are going that extra level to demonize this series and its readers and pointing out tiny little things that are just… like… are you ever happy with anything, if you have this level of requirement for something to be enjoyable?

I get that this is an in-between series – there is so much more awareness now that our fantasy comes in so many SHADES OF WHITE. So many white people. White and straight is the default. Generic European settings abound. And that is a problem, and I know that this isn’t new, and people of color have been talking about this forever. I think they are finally being heard, what with the rise of social media. I think we are all becoming more aware, as time goes on. We’re not there yet, there is so far to go. But it goes far beyond YA. Far beyond fantasy. It peppers every. Single. Genre. I have seen people refer to this series in particular as whitewashed. I don’t see how it’s whitewashed when it started off all white anyway… I am not defending that – that kind of thing needs to change  – but this is not the last or only series out there with shitty diversity, so I don’t quite get the vitriol. And I think we need to save the term whitewashed for when people of color are recast as white. If I’m wrong, please educate me.

This time, there are references to the witches skin being “all shades”, one or two are mentioned as having darker skin. There is passing references to a gay couple, and Aedion has a conversation with Lysandra and mentions he’s had male and female lovers. However – everybody else is white and straight as fuck. I agree – too little too late. So please understand – I’m not defending the lack of diversity. There is no defense to that. It needs to be acknowledged, realized by the white folk with the privilege of not having realized it before (I’m pointing here, and when I point I realize I got 3 fingers pointing right back at myself), and I think we should read with wider awareness…. But please don’t tell me I shouldn’t be “promoting” Sarah J. Maas, that she is somehow an evil queen or something. That reading these books makes me evil, or I must be missing some intelligent quotient to find enjoyment in these books. Read what you wanna read and enjoy – and yes, if you think diversity is important, read diversely. I am trying to do better, I discuss the diversity of what I read, which is why I’m addressing this. I do believe it is important. But I don’t think I’m a monster for continuing to read this series, which I have loved since the first one. And I’m not gonna let you make me feel like I am…. if the hypothetical you is one of those people who do that.

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