Review: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

28260587The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those don’t.

As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

Aelin’s journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?

Rating: ★★★

(MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!)

So, before talking about what I thought of Empire of Storms I have to say something: I have a really complicated relationship with SJM’s books. I found Throne of Glass awful, but after some friends told me that the series got better I decided to read the rest. Crown of Midnight was, for me, mediocre, but I kept reading and to my surprise really enjoyed both Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows, even though I knew some stuff in this series was just… bad. Really bad.

Like the blatant racism. Or how cisheteronormative it is.

In Heir of Fire we had a very, very minor queer couple and I thought they were sign that Maas would add more queer characters to her series, but when Queen of Shadows came out… Nothing. Instead of the queer characters I thought we would have, we got what seemed to be more straight couples (Manon x Dorian and Lysandra x Aedion, for example). In fact, the only good thing re: representation in Queen of Shadows was Nesryn, the only important (well, kind of) woman of color still alive in TOG.

I had no hopes for Empire of Storms because of that and, to be honest, I really dislike how most of the straight couples in the series are build/developed, too. Or, to be fair, I hate the whole “Fae are males, humans are men” thing because it just reeks of toxic masculinity. Now, I’m not saying all Fae males are abusive or whatever or that Fae males can’t be sweet and caring, but I just… hate how awfully and stereotypically masculine they all are. I’m a transmasculine person, so I identify more with masculinity than with femininity, so no, this is not me saying masculinity is bad, but this kind of masculinity? The dominating, feral type? Not interested. Not even a little bit. Actually, it is one of the main reasons I barely read M/F romance nowadays (and when I do, at least one of the characters is queer).

So it’s easy to conclude I couldn’t care less about Rowan. Or Lorcan. Or Fenrys. Or Gavriel. Out of the men/males of TOG, Dorian and Aedion are the only ones I care about, and even Aedion has some macho tendencies. So yeah, I’m not reading this series for the ships. To be honest, I feel like I’m still reading this series despite the ships, since I dislike most of them.

Even Lorcan and Elide, the new ship of Empire of Storms, frustrates me, because oh my god another straight couple but mostly because Elide/Manon would’ve been a much better ship with a much better story/development/chemistry. I mean, where are the queer girls of the TOG? Why make Manon out of all characters straight? Unless I’m missing someone, all queer characters in TOG are men, even the ones that super, hyper minor/insignificant (and they are all cis. I don’t even dare to hope for trans or non-binary characters in these books).

In Empire of Storms it is made clear that Aedion is bisexual and at first I was really, really happy about it (I’ve been headcanoning him as bisexual since he first showed up), but bisexual readers have pointed out that his “”coming out”” was in fact offensive (here is a thread about it). I consider myself to be in the multisexual spectrum, though I identify as queer instead of bisexual, polysexual or pansexual, and since I’m also aroace my experience as m-spec person is really different from that of a non-aroace bisexual. I don’t feel like I have any kind of “authority” to talk about this issue, but I obviously trust the m-spec readers harmed  by how SJM portrayed Aedion’s bisexuality.

Though I have to say: criticizing how Aedion’s bisexuality was portrayed just because he isn’t dating a man is biphobia. Bisexual people don’t have to date someone of their gender for them to count as queer characters. TOG lacks same-gender couples? Hell yes, it does. But shitting on bi people is not the way to solve this.

Anyway, there is also the issue of Chaol. I’m not a fan of him, but I don’t hate him or anything. He annoys me a little but I can see he is a good character – he just isn’t my type of character. And he isn’t in Empire of Storms. I can understand why – the book would have to be really long to include his chapters – Maas is still sidelining one of her two disabled characters (because, yes, you guys, Elide still exists).

All of this to say that yes, TOG is a very problematic and offensive series. I still like it, to a degree, but it’s impossible to deny how it is basically White Feminism in fantasyland, and as far as I can see, the author doesn’t seem to willing to change this.

Now onto the story itself… I liked it. It is a very long book and it does drag in the middle, but the beginning and the ending are really good. I liked Manon’s chapters the best (that scene in the beginning is just so good) and Elide’s and Lorcan’s the least. Needless to say, I didn’t like the couples and their scenes – and, yes, SJM’s sex scenes are still awful. Overall it was still a very enjoyable book (I did read it one day, after all).

But some stuff bothered me, and all of them are spoilers, and spoilers for Empire of Storms, A Court of Mist and Fury and Ice like Fire (by Sara Raasch). So you’ve been warned: SPOILERS AHEAD.

One thing: Empire of Storms is A Court of Mist and Fury 2.0.

The endings are just too similar. A male Fae (Lorcan/Tamlin) betrays the Good Guys to supposedly save the woman (Elide/Feyre) he loves; the main couple (Aelin & Rowan/Feyre & Rhysand) marry in secret and it revealed to the readers later in the climax/right after the climax; the protagonist (Aelin/Feyre) is taken away by (one of) the villain(s); it is later revealed that the kidnapping was the protagonist’s plan; and so on.

Hell, even the plot is kinda similar. Feyre & Cia have to find a book in ACOMAF; Aelin & Cia have to find three keys in TOG. It’s just… too much of the same thing.

And you know how Aelin realizes she has to die to save everyone and everything? It’s just too much like Sara Raasch’s Ice Like Fire, where Meira finds out she has to die to defeat Angra. I’m not saying SJM plagiarized Raasch or anything, but it just shows how generic the whole plot is. I’ve seen it a thousand times before. It’s not new and it’s not exciting.

At last, there is SJM’s obsession with making every single characters super, mega beautiful. It’s distracting and honestly a little ridiculous. She exaggerates too much in her descriptions of the characters (which also happens in her sex scenes) and the result is too artificial and not a little bit convincing.

Still, I like TOG. I’m not even sure why but I want to know what happens next. Maybe it’s the amount of female characters? Or the (sometimes) interesting worldbuilding? We may never know, but one thing is clear: ACOTAR #3 and TOG #6 will be my last SJM books. 3.0 stars.

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6 thoughts on “Review: Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

  1. I think there was a one-off clause in one sentence somewhere in QoS that indicated two of the minor members of the Thirteen were a couple, but yeah, overall very disappointing. I was hoping for Manon/Asterin, myself.

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    1. yup, and if i’m not mistaken manon’s grandmother is also queer (the book mentions a woman “warming her bed” at some point, but that’s all). and yes, asterin/manon would be great!

      Liked by 1 person

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  4. Kat

    Hi, I came across your review when I browsed the internet for reviews of SJM’s books, and I totally agree with everything you pointed out! I know I liked the worldbuilding and the story in her books especially ToG series, but I couldn’t care less about the romance since it is all very heteronormative. The fae males are always described as very masculine and I’m tired of being fed all the other masculinity bullshit regarding them, how they became territorial, arrogant males when it comes to their mate despite how we were constantly told that Aelin and Feyre are their equals. And I cringe whenever I read how the fae males “growl” or “purr” or “snarl” as if they’re animals, like really???
    Also I’m glad that you also pointed out how annoying it is that all her good characters must be ultra attractive, as if you couldn’t be plain or even ugly and still be kind.

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    1. Kat

      btw, I’m sorry if it sounds like I hated masculinity, but I really only meant that I have a problem with the fae’s masculinity which is always described as dominant and territorial, all those alpha male bullshit that is almost toxic. I didn’t have a problem with a character being masculine as long as it’s not those feral masculinity

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