The hype for this book was certainly impressive. With a lot of passionate people talking about this series online, both negatively and positively, I went into Empire of Storms with perhaps more awareness than I had with the previous books in the series. I didn’t want to suddenly start hating a series I really loved just because of everyone else’s opinions, but the critical analysis part of my brain was definitely switched on.
And when, 25 pages in, all three of the women who had appeared so far had had their breasts mentioned, and all from various male characters’ perspectives, my expectations plummeted. Was this such an enormous tome because of some epic and fantastical sequences? Or was it just huge so that half of it could be given over to weird sexualisation and romantic angst?
But before I really dive in (deep breaths, Rach, deep breaths), I do want to talk about what I liked about Empire of Storms, because I honestly did enjoy reading it. We get to see a lot more of the world Maas has built in this book, and watching all the place names on the map in the inside cover become real was excellent. There were a couple of spots where my recollection of previous books faltered and I had forgotten a character’s name or genealogy (there was an uncle/great-uncle confusion near the beginning which I still need a diagram for), but it was either cleared up in the next few paragraphs, or it wasn’t all that important and I could just drop it and move on to the next thrilling twist.
Because the complex plot-wielding that really came to the fore in Queen of Shadows has returned. I’d have to literally draw it all out to be entirely sure that it actually makes sense, and there was, at one point, one coincidence too many for me, but it was stunning to read as the tightly woven plans came tumbling out into action, Aelin very carefully pulling a lot of strings all at once. It’s like she’s wearing the enchanted rein-robes from The Dark Lord of Derkholm or something. Does she even have a notebook or something? How does she keep all her plans together? I think a more critical/cynical reader might take greater issue, but I actually really enjoyed all the machinations.
Manon, Abraxos, Elide, Lysandra, Asterin and Sorrel… I love these guys so much, for all that I’m refusing their ships. (Like, seriously. Is there some kind of Territorial Fae Bastard’s Girlfriends’ Support Group in the works here?) The witches are my super faves
forever for now *side-eyes Maas suspiciously*. And Elide is probably making the list of my favourite characters ever right now, and since most of those are written by Zoe Marriott, that is impressive. More Thirteen in the next one, please! Lysandra’s arc was a pleasure to read and gorgeously woven into the narrative without really dominating anywhere. And I was definitely a fan of the complicated feelings that Aedion has for Gavriel – I recognise them as feelings I’m working through, so it was refreshing to see that in there, even as it worked as a counterpoint to all the erotica.
The following list contains things that particularly wound me up, and it is a little (basically completely) spoilery, so I’ve put it in white text where it’s too detailed. If you’ve read it or you don’t mind spoilers, then go ahead and highlight the invisible words!
- Everyone is horny all the time. Especially the dudes. Rowan’s entire POV is about how he wants to bone Aelin. And he thinks it’s a turn on to remind Aelin of all those times they wanted to kill each other, and to threaten to ‘punish’ her for saying things he disapproves of in public. Bad Rowan, no.
- Dorian thinks that a depressed witch who’s just had her whole world pulled from under her is fair game (is he taking pointers from Rowan there? Bad Dorian).
- Aedion seems to be trying to get close to Lysandra more because they’re the spare guy and girl rather than for any real attraction reasons. And his declaration that he’s going to marry her, no matter how long he has to wait for her to agree, was awkward and icky and completely took the spotlight off Lysandra’s awesome feats and back onto the dudes being all aggressively heterosexual. And I mean aggressively.
- Lorcan… I’m undecided on Lorcan, but I have a feeling he’s going to go the same way in the next book. Right now, I like him. A bit. I wouldn’t invite him to sit at my table, but I wouldn’t shove him out if he did sit down.
- Fenrys and Gavriel have managed to remain single thus far, but I’m sure Maas will conjure up some more gorgeous, feisty women for them soon.
- Is that everyone? I think that’s everyone.
- Follow-up: Stop pushing physical relationships on abuse victims. It’s shitty, and it’s unhealthy, and it’s hella awkward to have to read it.
- I’m starting to realise that it’s basically the forced pairings and the overt sexytimes that are my only major problems here. I’m leery of the idea that all the guys – and it’s not just the Fae, Dorian gets dragged into this too – need to pair up with all the girls, especially with everything else that’s going on. It’s too neat, it’s too forced, and it’s too heterosexual. Sure, there is some minor character gayness in this book, but it’s a throwaway line here and there, it’s not real representation.
- But, and maybe this is just me speaking as an asexual, I would really like to see some more friends who can just be friends. Even *gasp* friends who are different genders! I think it’d be awesome to see this group of incredible people actually support each other as a team, rather than a kind of Fantasy Love Island exercise.
And that’s why, even though I’ll probably read the rest of the series, I don’t think I’ll ever re-read Empire of Storms. There were so many sections I winced through, or skipped over, and though there are passages in there I really loved reading, it’s difficult to find even a couple of paragraphs without some aggressive sexytimes coming into play in some form or another. It felt weird and uncomfortable, and I’m worried that Maas is using it as a crutch because she thinks that’s why her books are selling, and without all the “romance” plots no-one would be interested. Just because Game of Thrones is successful, doesn’t mean you have to write Game of Thrones in order to be successful yourself. What could have been a beautiful found family is far more focused on getting everyone laid, and it loses too much as a result that I can’t have faith in any of the artificially rendered relationships.
Maybe this is an unpopular opinion. Maybe the fact that I’m running on four hours sleep today is blinding me to the fact that I shouldn’t post this. But I don’t think this series is what I wanted it to be. Not anymore.
Anyway, enough about me! What did you guys think about Empire of Storms? Do you disagree with me? Let me know! I’d love to read some different opinions on this book – I think, given Maas’ popularity and the disagreements that were in play even before Empire of Storms was released, that there are going to be quite a few!
Empire of Storms
Sarah J. Maas
Released 6th September 2016