Book Review: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
So, Queen of Shadows, the fourth book in the Throne of Glass series, was quite a bit better than it’s predecessor, Heir of Fire. This was honestly kind of a relief for me, all considered, but in the end Queen of Shadows was still a little bit of a let-down. It just doesn’t live up to the bar set by the first two books in the series. Heir of Fire had some pretty big pacing problems, but character development still rang very true. For Queen of Shadows, it was like the problem flipped, and ultimately we’re denied the kind of well-rounded narrative that we got in Crown of Midnight.
Before we proceed, let me warn you – unlike my other reviews, I don’t think I’m going to be able to avoid obvious spoilers in this one, so if you haven’t read it, proceed at your own risk. Spoilers ahead.
An Unhealthy Helping of OOC Mains
So many of the characters we got to know and love over the last few books end up feeling kind of stale and stagnated in this book. Their interactions in the “down” moments of the book often feel unnatural and at odds with the characters who at this point, we’ve grown to know and love. Aelin seems to have lost dimension somehow, turning into this bland, codependent martyr figure. Chaol, too, feels like a shadow of the character he used to be. It’s almost like he stopped existing as anything but a handy tool for Aelin to either rage at, or to help highlight that she’s moved on to Rowan – a romantic move that also feels very out of character for all involved.
Slow Burn turned Raging, Horny Inferno
As for that, I’m just going to say it: the super refreshing platonic relationship that Aelin and Rowan developed through Heir of Fire gets romantic, and does so in a way that just feels… off. Too fast, too furious, too… teenaged almost? Particularly considering that one acting party is a several-hundred year old immortal.
Now this is not to say that I have a problem with Aelin and Rowan ending up together. Does it feel a little shoehorned? Sure. It’s almost like Maas got bored halfway through writing and decided that Chaol wasn’t working for her anymore, so here! Have a hunky immortal warrior instead! But ultimately because Heir of Fire is SO character development heavy, we do get to know Rowan a bit more, and he and Aelin actually do seem like they’d make a good match. But, that said, the nature of the strong friendship they develop through Heir of Fire, and how slowly that creeps up on them would leave the reader feeling like if romance did develop, that it would do so through the slowest of slow burns. That their true depth of feeling for each other wouldn’t come to light until they’ve gone through hell and back, and banished the forces of evil together.
Instead, the way it happens in Queen of Shadows feels abrupt and jarring. To be honest, it breaks character for both of them, but especially for Rowan. In Queen of Shadows, he feels like an entirely different person from the one that was developed so meticulously in the previous book. They arrive in Erilea, and all of a sudden it’s like Rowan’s been reduced to nothing beyond a territorial animal when it comes to his relationship with Aelin, and it’s a shift that seems to have happened without much real explanation. Their romance just suddenly is. No development, no slow burn, no gradual shifting of feelings… One minute they’re blood-sworn, but platonic, and the next almost every single scene with the two of them finds some way to slip in that they desperately want to bang.
And that just feels really out of place. Really, the characterization of pretty much everyone just feels really unnatural, and forced. Aelin and Chaol’s falling out and continued antimosity; the weird retconning to insert Chaol’s relationship with Nesryn; the strange animalistic dominance thing and the constant mention of “Fae Males” and how territorial they get (although I will admit that the whole territorial jealous man thing is SO not my bag to begin with); the immediate jump from Aelin and Rowan’s relationship being platonic BFFs to both of them behaving like horny teens (although I guess Aelin is still a teen… but barely). It all just feels off. Unnatural. Almost amateurish. It’s a massive departure from the character writing skill we saw in previous books.
Plot Makes It Worth It
But for all the qualms and problems I have with these aspects, the actual action of this story was a thrill from beginning to end. All the slow set up from Heir of Fire, all the reading time spent wondering, “where is this going?” – it all comes back around in Queen of Shadows and becomes totally totally worth it. The world’s mythology expands, the dynamics of the coming threat begin to be revealed… it all keeps you absolutely riveted, even through the moments when our characters feel out of sorts. And in terms of character development, it’s not like there weren’t any shining moments… They just weren’t with the characters we’ve already gotten to know intimately.
Gimme More Witches
I mentioned in my Heir of Fire review that I really didn’t care about the witches, and found Manon to be a bore. Not the case this time. Oh, not this time. The subplot of the witches in Queen of Shadows was such a massive bright spot in the narrative that I actually found myself resisting the urge to skim through Aelin’s sections in order to get to Manon. The gradual birth of Manon’s awareness and compassion, all without losing any of her badassery in the process… that was the kind of brilliant character development that had somehow gone missing with our main characters. As a result, the Ironteeth Witches were really my favorite part of the book.
So in the end, like Throne of Glass and Heir of Fire, it’s not a perfect read, but I did enjoy it. I just hope Empire of Storms sorts out the imbalance and gets our characters back to feeling like our characters. And also I hope the Aelin/Rowan dynamic gets sorted, because to be honest it was sometimes a bit of a cringefest.
In Summary: A little unbalanced, but ultimately still a fun read with a tightly woven plot that makes up for some strangeness with the characters.
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars
Would I Recommend It? Absolutely, but only to those that have read the previous Throne of Glass books, and who intend on continuing the series despite the massive changes. This is just not a stand-alone in any way shape or form.
Have you read Queen of Shadows? What did you think?
See my reviews of the earlier books in the series here:
Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3)
Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)
Throne of Glass