Book Review: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
Empire of Storms is the fifth installment in the Throne of Glass series, and like its predecessors, it has its strengths and its weaknesses. However, in the end it was a quick, fun read overall. It is much more quickly plotted than Heir of Fire or even Queen of Shadows, and that movement is really one of its biggest redeeming traits. Empire of Storms really is a race to the end, rarely devoid of action or forward movement, and it kept me riveted even through the parts I still personally find distasteful.
The Romantic Dynamics Are Still Mega-squicky
Warning: Spoilers ahead. Skip to summary to avoid.
I’ve written a few times about how the Fae dominance/animalistic sexuality thing just really is not my thing. That kind of jealous territorial hyper-masculine bullshit is just super distasteful to me in terms of romantic dynamics, and it seems to be a problem throughout this entire series once the Fae thing is introduced. The language of ownership, the possessiveness… there are few things that kill a ship faster for me. And that stuff is everywhere through here, making a lot of the romantic subplots in this book particularly unenjoyable. And honestly, the specific pairings that get most of the focus in here are quite frankly pairings that I could have happily done without.
Enough with Rowaelin
Between Queen of Shadows and Empire of Storms, I really honestly have grown to dislike Aelin and Rowan together. Heir of Fire set up what could have been a really great thing. A wonderful slow-burn friends to lovers based on mutual respect kind of plot (I’m a total sucker for those, tbh). And then it just gets squandered in favor of this toxic-hyper-masculinity-laden-animalistic-jealousy-fest. And I am just not here for that.
Additionally, the “fated lovers/soulmates” thing with Rowan and Aelin kind of felt like sloppy afterthought. To me, it seemed to be 100% unnecessary, and honestly a little self-indulgent. Which, I mean, ultimately is not really the crux of the problem? Reading and writing fiction is kind of self-indulgent at its core, and I’m cool with that. But what makes this particular move problematic for me is that it really just kind of seems to just invalidate all the things they’ve both been through to end up falling together that way. It takes all the character development and growth that brought them together in Heir of Fire, and basically says, “Meh. Doesn’t matter. Would have happened anyway.” And that just really doesn’t sit well with me.
Particularly of issue for me was the way Rowan’s late wife just sort of got thrown in the trash as a result. Oh, she was just a trick that Maeve played… but for what reason? To try to trick him into not falling for Aelin once she’s born 200 years later? The long game that requires Maeve to play seems particularly absurd, even for a bunch of immortals. Because of that, that the way it was done kind of smacked of retconning. It’s as if there was a sudden realization that the intensity of Aelin and Rowan’s relationship in Queen of Shadows didn’t feel right for the characters, and now this is an attempt to find a reason/justification for it. I doubt that was actually the case based on how tightly Maas seems to plan plot, but it still feels that way.
Side-note: I also really wasn’t feeling the Dorian/Manon thing either. I’m not entirely sure why that was necessary. Unless it’s like a purposely self-destructive, unhealthy, hedonistic sort of reaction to the hell they’ve both been through and their low self-esteem/lingering guilt, that is. But if that’s the case, I feel like it could have been done better so as to highlight that. Make clear that, yes, this is unhealthy and they’re using this as a distraction, and no, this is not fixing anything for either of them.
Side Characters Shine
With all the issues I have with the romantic dynamics, ultimately you’d think I’d have hated this book all together – but I didn’t. Like with pretty much everything else I’ve read of Maas’ lately, even as I decide I dislike certain aspects of her story, she introduces new characters and new storylines that keep me interested, engaged and, well… reading. And other than the fast plot movement, by far the focus on new and old side characters is it’s greatest redeemer. Specifically – once again: The Witches. Manon and her 13, the political infighting and conflict, just everything about the Witches subplots – man, I’d read a whole book about them. Additionally, I also really enjoyed the Elide/Lorcan sections of the book. Again, as the main characters start to go stale for me, the introduction of new characters and new dynamics manage to keep things fresh, and keep me reading.
Overall the general effect of Empire of Storms was one of tremendous potential, but that ultimately came out feeling very unpolished. The thing about all these books is, though, for all the flaws, for all the little relationship squicks, the reality is that I always end these books still emotionally involved, invested, and attached. It’s not always to the same characters, or for the same reasons, but every single book in this series, leaves me excited to read the next. For all that I run hot and cold on specific characters and specific plot lines from book to book, finishing one always leaves me totally pumped for continuing on with the world and the plot.
Wrap-Up: Empire of Storms
Summary: Like its predecessor, Queen of Shadows, Empire of Storms is a heavily flawed book. But a heavily flawed book that I had a blast reading anyway, cringey fae romances and all.
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars (sidenote: I struggled with rating this one. Plot is more like a 4/5, but the unpolished feeling and character issues make me want to drop it really to like, 2/5, so I settled in the middle.)
Would I recommend it? If you’ve made it this far in the series without wanting to check out, then absolutely. But it’s certainly not a perfect read.
Have you read Empire of Storms? What did you think? Please share in the comments!
See my reviews of the earlier books in the series here:
Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass #4)
Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3)
Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2)
Throne of Glass