I have to admit I’m still not completely sold on Sarah J. Maas‘s THRONE OF GLASS series, though the fact I’m still reading must mean the pros outweigh the cons. There’s been a pattern to my reading experience: every second book has been an improvement on its predecessor, which means I wasn’t too impressed by Throne of Glass, was pleasantly surprised with Crown of Midnight, felt rather lukewarm about Heir of Fire, and returned to my former enthusiasm with Queen of Shadows (2015). It’s the thickest book in the series so far, and Maas has a deft hand when it comes to weaving together her wide array of characters and their multitude of subplots.
Since this is the fourth book, it’s safe to say that newcomers will be totally lost if they attempt to start the story here. You need to head back to Throne of Glass and work your way through the first three volumes if you want to have any idea of what’s going on. Once you’re caught up you can join assassin Celaena Sardothien as she returns to the city of Rifthold with a plan in place to free her country from the tyranny of Adarlan’s conquering king.
But as we found out a couple of books ago, Celaena is actually Aelin Galathynius, the rightful heir to the throne of Terrasen, who underwent gruelling training in Heir of Fire to regain her magical abilities. Of course, thanks to the king’s magic-dampening towers, those abilities aren’t be much good to her as she tries to topple his regime, a task made all the more difficult thanks to the fact he’s aided by several demonic creatures that can possess and control innocent people.
But Aelin also has unfinished business with Arobynn Hamel, the King of Assassins. He’s the guy who trained her in the art of killing before betraying her, killing her boyfriend, and selling her into slavery. As it happens, Arobynn is in possession of an artefact that could turn the tides in the forthcoming war, but only if Aelin can outsmart him — the man who taught her everything.
A final subplot worth mentioning is that of Manon and her clan of witches; fierce and terrifying warriors that have been enlisted as wyvern-riders by the king of Adarlan. Manon is used to following orders and commanding complete respect, but some of the activities going on beneath the mountain stronghold are calling everything she’s ever believed into question. And I’m pleased to say that after keeping them apart for the duration of Heir of Fire, Manon and Aelin finally come face-to-face in Queen of Shadows — and it was worth the wait.
Plenty of things happen in this book, most of it exciting and suspenseful and surprising, though some readers may be a little taken aback at the shift in characterization, especially in our protagonist. There has always been a separation between Celaena and Aelin, and it could have been explored better in this book. Rather than have Aelin struggle with her past and present identities, Maas choses to treat Celaena as a persona that Aelin can inhabit or shed at will — a questionable creative decision since Celaena is the girl she’s existed as for most of her life (and the one the reader has spent the most time with).
At times the story indulges in the worst excesses of the YA genre. Though I can’t say I was ever fully invested in Celaena’s romantic entanglements of previous books, it seems a shame that Chaol has apparently been swapped out as her main love interest. He was warm and stoic and a good match for our heroine, but has now been replaced by an Edward Cullen/Rhaegar Targaryen mash-up: Rowan Whitethorn of the long white hair, supernatural strength and immortal life-span. Despite being hundreds of years old, he decides it’s a good idea to devote his every waking moment to a teenager, so expect the words “torment”, “agony” and “suffering” to pop up whenever he interacts with her.
(For the record, Maas’s writing style never tips into purple prose, but it can get overwrought and dramatic when it would have been more effective had it remained understated.)
But there’s a lot of stuff I appreciated in Queen of Shadows. Despite Aelin being surrounded by men who fall hopelessly in love with her, Maas understands the importance of female friendships, filling the story with alliances and relationships between women where in a lesser book there would be only rivalries. Aelin is infinitely more like Katniss Everdeen than Bella Swan when it comes to proactivity, intelligence and (to use a dated term) wearing the pants in her relationships, but there’s still fun to be had when it comes to her glamourous outfits and love of luxuries.
So I guess I’m gonna stick with this series for the long haul, as I have to admit I’m pretty curious about how Aelin is going to handle her return to Terrasen, and what’s next in store for Manon and her coven.