As someone with an interest in YA novels about female teen assassins, I’ve enjoyed Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series. The latest volume, Empire of Storms, delivers all of the pleasures that have made the previous installments addictive — fast-moving action, well-thought-through epic fantasy, and, at its center, the snarky, sneaky assassin-heroine Celaena Sardothien, aka Aelin Galathynius.
In Empire of Storms, Aelin truly comes into her own power in breath-taking fashion. As she positions herself to battle not one but two immortal enemies — Arawan, king of the demon Valg, and Maeve, queen of the Fae — we watch her grow into the queen that she has always promised to be. At the same time, we watch as her ragtag group of friends (and a few enemies) develop into an army.
Maas provides seven hundred pages of building excitement, all while tying in threads from earlier in the series and adding new layers of intrigue. The strength of Maas’s writing — the explosive action, vivid characters, and shocking twists — shine here.
At the same time, those very techniques reveal an author bumping up against the limits demanded by her own style.
One of the real joys of this series has always been the explosive plot turns dreamt up by the main point-of-view character. Celaena/Aelin always seems to have a Plan B (if not Plans C, D, and E), and Maas manages to keep us so involved in the apparent action that we are surprised when her heroine manages to pull victory (or at least survival) out of often literally flaming defeat. Usually, she’s making smart-ass remarks at the same time — just to add more bravura.
Another of the pleasures of reading the series is the growing and deepening cast of secondary and even tertiary characters. In Empire of Storms, we get to spend more time with familiar characters like Rowan, Aelin’s Fae… companion, and Dorian Havilliard. We also get a deeper view into the minds of characters like Irontooth witch Manon Blackbeak (who is in many ways Aelin’s dark mirror), Celeana’s one-time rival Lysandra, and Elide Lochan, the Odysseus in Nausicaa’s clothing. We get an increasingly complex view not only of Aelin and her save-the-world quest, but of the world she is trying to save.
The wild scattering of the novel’s point of view among so many perspectives enriches Empire of Storms, even as it allows Maas to play hide-and-seek with a series of her heroine’s stratagems. At the same time, that device causes a number of central plot points to occur away from the central narrative of the book. It’s a bit like those Greek tragedies where the messenger comes in and tells us how the monster almost destroyed the town, but the hero defeated it. Nice to hear, but wow, we’d have loved actually to see it.
By the way, while the series has hewed fairly closely to young-adult norms, this installment crosses into new-adult territory. There’s some sexuality that, while tastefully and artfully written, might leave some parents or teachers feeling less than comfortable. (I would have no problem with my teen daughters reading Empire of Storms or any of the Throne of Glass books — I’d be more worried about nightmares inspired by some of the more horrific sequences then the very minimal sex. But that’s me.)
Having said that, Empire of Storms is a gripping, enthralling read; I can’t wait for the next volume in the series.
Empire of Storms Review: ★★★★½