By now you know we love Sarah J. Maas and the Throne of Glass series. We devoured Queen of Shadows the week it came out with a live-chat going on between the three of us that ranged from “I am going to be up all night reading this” to “ALYSSA FINISH THE BOOK SO WE CAN TALK.” Believe it or not, we’ve managed to stifle most of our urge to dish about the book until now.
Be forewarned, this is not a recommendation, it is not spoiler free, it is free-for-all fangirling over one of our favorite series. If you want to know what all the fuss is about and would like a spoiler free rec, Allison wrote one about the first few books here. If you love QoS as much as we did, chime in down in the comments. There’s always room for one more at our table.
Here we go…
Allison: Straight off, I have tweeted this and I’ll stand behind it: Manon Blackbeak for President. Y’all know I love Aelin/Celaena, but I am in love with Manon. I think she’s one of the best female fantasy characters I’ve ever read.
Nicola: You can have Manon for President, we’ll take Aelin for Queen 😉 I loved her character development this book, especially her relationship with Lysandra. In the novellas Lysandra can come across as a stereotypical Queen Bee-type character, so it was great to see some more depth and to see Aelin realise how unfair she was in her assessment of Lysandra when they were younger.
Until Queen of Shadows, we hadn’t seen Lysandra since the prequel novellas. This actually brings me to one of my favourite parts of the book. Up until this book, each installment in the series has deepened and broadened the plot, but this one is where things started to really pull together. There’s plenty of story left for books five and six, of course, but in QoS we see storylines from the past four books all coming together; the series is past its halfway point now, and it shows, with storylines beginning to conclude instead of open. It’s a long-awaited payoff, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Alyssa: I also loved that storylines and characters from all four books (especially Assassin’s Blade) come together in Queen of Shadows. I’m also really happy that Maas brought back Lysandra as a more complex and sympathetic character than she was in Assassin’s Blade and allowed her relationship with Aelin to evolve. Aelin’s ability to change her mind about Lysandra and accept her as a trustworthy and sincere friend was such an important step in her maturity and transition from Celaena to Aelin. (This is kind of an unrelated point, but I was amazed at how naturally Maas changed her name to Aelin in Queen of Shadows.)
And it’s very significant that Aelin have a female friend after Nehemia’s death (in Crown of Midnight) and even Ansel’s betrayal (in Assasin’s Blade). Befriending Lysandra might mean that she’ll be open to teaming up with women in the future (like Manon), whereas Celaena was very distrustful of women. As Aelin, she will have to get over a lot of her personal baggage and judgements associated with Celaena, and she’s starting to do just that. She’s beginning to understand the importance of forgiveness in some situations (rather than automatically taking revenge, which Celaena did) and she’s learning the difference between people she should pardon (such as Lysandra) and those who she shouldn’t (such as Arobynn).
Allison: Lysandra was probably the best surprise going in this book (and I was so fist-pumping happy when she turned out to be a shape-shifter!). I feel like one of the story’s biggest weaknesses thus far has been that Aelin’s only female friend was killed. I’ll admit that I almost stopped reading when Nehemia died. For me, it was almost too spot on in terms of the “magical negro” trope — compounded by the fact that she sacrifices herself so that Aelin can grow. I thought it was an ugly misstep in what is otherwise one of my favorite series.
But I think Maas is growing as a writer in a market that’s demanding better from its authors. I like that she is peeling back some of Aelin’s internalized misogyny and letting her understand that other women make great allies. Aside from the generalities, Lysandra is such a dazzling character, I was super impressed. She’s cunning, ruthless and has a big heart. I think Maas is doing a cool move, using her as a mirror for Aelin.
Weirdly, I found Aelin to be only so-so this time around. Heir of Fire really blew me away though, in terms of her character development, so maybe my perception is that she’s cruising at her new and better level. I was beyond thrilled to see Maas start to develop more female relationships between the characters.
I think the development of the secondary cast is exciting. I fell in love with both Lysandra and Asterin this time around. I would argue that Manon is actually a secondary protagonist at this point, rather than a supporting character. Not surprisingly, I love the chapter where Manon and Aelin meet. Their battle is epic, but I think we all want to see an eventual collaboration (hopefully!!! FINGERS CROSSED). I think a Manon/Aelin platform for the ruling of the new world would be wonderful.
Nicola: YES! I’ve kind of figured from the start that Manon and Aelin would team up at some point, but only in a general, ‘this is what would make sense’ kind of way. Now, after seeing them actually interact I’m really hoping to see them work together in future.
And I had problems with Nehemia’s death, too, partly for the ‘Magical Negro’ trope reasons you mention and partly because she was pretty much the only woman of Celaena’s age that she respected. Part of this seems to be because of what happened with Ansel (though of course she hated Lysandra well before she met Ansel), and judging by Maas’ Pinterest – and references to a red-haired queen in the witches’ homeland – it looks like we haven’t seen the last of Ansel, so I’m hoping we’ll see more of her and Aelin soon.
Alyssa: I hope so too. An Aelin, Ansel, Lysandra, and Manon alliance would be amazing. And hopefully the next book will explore the Wastelands in more depth.
Allison: Yes, I am ready for more witches. I think that’s probably the storyline Maas has been holding back for the last two books and I’
m looking forward to understanding more about how Ansel fits into things, but mostly about how the dynamic between the Crochans and Ironteeth clans came about. There’s been heavy foreshadowing for two books now that the construction of the hatred between the two has been fabricated for some devious purpose and I was hoping we’d get to know more about that in Queen of Shadows, but I’m patient (sort of!).
As the books become more of an ensemble narrative, rather than focusing solely on Aelin, I think they’ve taken on a more epic quality than I expected from the first two books. Whenever people read Throne of Glass and hate it, I’m always like, “No, no, no, keep at it…” It’s strange, I usually find the trend of YA authors writing short stories/novellas that supplement the larger story to be a little frustrating, but I actually think if you don’t read the Assassin’s Blade collection that you’d be lost entirely at this point. It’s definitely one of the strongest books in the series.
Alyssa: I agree. I’m so glad I read Assassin’s Blade, and I really recommend reading it before Crown of Midnight or even Throne of Glass. The first time I read Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, and Heir of Fire I hadn’t read the prequel stories, and while I enjoyed the series I didn’t LOVE it. Then I read Assassin’s Blade and I understood and appreciated the series so much more the second time around. Especially Heir of Fire, with its sprawling cast of characters. I also think Queen of Shadows would be confusing and less engaging if you haven’t read Assassin’s Blade.
Allison: I agree. I think that understanding the dynamic between Aelin and Lysandra, as well as even knowing about Ansel, who doesn’t factor into the series’ main novels yet, does a lot to help readers frame how Aelin deals with women. Those fraught relationshi
ps really help to understand her behavior with Dorian and Chaol, as well as her response to both Kaltain and Nehemia.
I think one of the saddest things about Crown of Midnight (into Queen of Shadows) is that Aelin never gets a chance to really understand Kaltain. There is clearly so much going on there, in retrospect. I think that both Kaltain and Lysandra pose a particular problem to Aelin’s growth as a young woman (and a character), which real women of all ages experience all too often: male driven competition between women.
Aelin’s relationships with both Lysandra and Kaltain are originally soured because of the ways in which the men in power force competition upon them. They’re literally all fighting for their lives and are specifically pitted against one another by men waging political wars. It’s a powerful representation of how the real world all too often works. It’s the danger of the single story, right? Since this worldview only allows for a very few women in power, the female characters have to fight tooth and nail against one another for the little afforded the “one spot” at the top reserved for a powerful woman in the very patriarchal structure of the Adarlanian worldview.
I think it’s what makes the witches such a fascinating contrast. Yes, there is an enormous (and brutal) power struggle between them, but men have been completely eliminated from the equation. I think that especially with Asterin’s tragic storyline, we see that neither way is working well. It will be interesting to see what happens between Dorian and Manon, there was such heavy foreshadowing there that there’s a romantic interest between them.
Alyssa: I want to know more about the witches, too, and I find their history and culture fascinating for the same reasons you mention: mainly, men don’t factor into the equation. I love the contrast between the witches’ matriarchy and Adarlan’s patriarchy. I can’t wait to see how Aelin evolves in the next couple of books as she has further contact with Manon and other women (witches, I hope). I am also interested to see whether Dorian and Manon will get together and how that might change the series’ trajectory.
Maybe this is a good time to talk about the men in Aelin’s life. I know some fans have been upset that Aelin and Chaol didn’t get back together and that they became even more divided in Queen of Shadows. While I really liked Chaol with Celaena, I think Rowan is a better match for Aelin (at least, for now). I like that Chaol is not hopelessly in love with Aelin; that he seems to be moving on. I am also so glad that Aelin and Rowan didn’t experience insta-love and that they developed a strong friendship first. But, honestly, as far as true love goes, it may always be Sam.
Nicola: I’m still a Chaolaena shipper at heart, because I think they have the capacity to challenge and support each other in all the right ways, but I also don’t want a relationship between them to be shoe-horned in. They were each what the other needed at a particular time in their lives, but that doesn’t mean they have to be together forever. In fact, one of the things I really like about this series is that it doesn’t fall into the common YA trap of teenagers finding TWOO WUV and being with one person from book 1 until the end. I mean, how many of us are still with the people we were with at that age?
That said, I’m not really a big Aelin/Rowan fan. It’s not that I have anything specifically against them, but I really liked the way their relationship was set up in Heir of Fire as a deep platonic bond, so I’m kind of disappointed to see it go in a romantic direction.
Allison: I’m split on this. I think that an eventual Aelin/Rowan match-up is probably what makes the most sense, but I completely agree with what you said about the deep platonic bond. The shift in their relationship felt a little off to me. I think I understood that there was a possibility that they would eventually develop romantic feelings for one another, but I was a little confused by how it happened. I completely agree with Alyssa though, I think that out of all of Aelin’s love interests, Sam was the one she “fit” best with. I honestly have no idea who she will or should end up with!! Alone would be fine with me.
Shifting perspectives, one of the big disappointments for me in the series thus far, and with Maas’ writing overall is that diverse characters aren’t always handled well, in my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled that Maas is working diversity into her books, but I think there’s still work to be done here to avoid falling into stereotypical tropes when it comes to diversity in YA (or fantasy in general). The issue with Nehemia that I already brought up is huge for me, but I was also disappointed with her treatment of Kaltain in this novel. It’s an unsettling trend in her work that those who are not able-bodied/minded, raced-white characters often die –especially so they can serve the storylines/development of the normative characters.
I thought Kaltain’s mental illness (as a result of the corruption of her power and the Duke’s influence) and the way she’d been abused both physically and mentally were really poignant portrayals of the way that the mentally ill are often treated in the real world. It think there was such a strong insinuation that she was being physically assaulted frequently and she was obviously being used against her will. It frustrated me that she needed to die so that Manon and Elide could escape — that seemed unnecessary to me. I have a really, really big concern that Elide may end up dying for Aelin’s cause and I think that would be beyond disappointing.
Nicola: I actually read Kaltain’s death quite differently. To me it came across as an abused woman so desperate that she was willing to die to get back at her abusers, with a side of the redemption = death trope (which I hate, by the way, but for other reasons. When someone redeems themselves I want to see the aftermath. I’d have liked to see Kaltain try to ally herself with Aelin to take down the Valg). However, that latter one presumes she was fully capable of consent when she agreed to help kill Celaena in TOG, and I’m not sure the narrative is ever entirely clear on that. There’s a big difference between a woman sacrificing herself to save others in the knowledge that once she tried to sacrifice someone else to fuel her own ambition and a woman dying for others after she was abused into harming someone for another’s ends.
All that being said, for me a lot of it’s going to hinge on Chaol’s paralysis in the next book. He’s going to the Southern Continent now to see if he can be healed, which I suppose is a pretty natural desire for someone who’s just been paralysed. However, I really, really hope he’s not successful. At best, I think we’ll see a disabled character fighting the good fight alongside plenty of POC in the Southern Continent; at worst, we’ll get some more magical POCs ‘fixing’ a disabled man.
Allison: That’s something that concerns me a lot too and I completely agree that best case scenario is that Chaol will learn to live (and fight, because that’s who Chaol is!) with his disability. I think that there’s a really important discussion being had in SFF about not “fixing” disability with magic, as well as the “magical/mystical POC” trope that I think we’d all like to see go away.
Along these lines, I get that in an ensemble cast (especially an epic fantasy adventure) that folks are going to die, but I don’t like seeing a trend where “diverse” cast are consistently sacrificed for Aelin, Manon or others. Again, I hope it’s something that can be avoided in upcoming novels. Also, she’s brought up Eyllwe a bunch of times, I really hope we’re going to get to go there at some point and that no more black people have to be massacred or brutally sacrificed to show that the Valg are evil. I think we understand perfectly well how evil they are now.
Nicola: I’ve been waiting to see Nehemia’s family since Crown of Midnight. That’s where I thought her death was going; if not her family, I expected at least for her death to have a substantial impact in Eyllwe that we’d see. Even so, I was more upset about Sorscha’s death. Nehemia’s actions were in character and, while she loved Celaena, she did it all for Eyllwe. If that had been the only instance of a WOC dying to further a white character’s storyline, it would have bothered me, but I’d have let it slide. However, Sorscha’s death starts to form a pattern, to the point where I was honestly surprised that Nesryn made it to the end of QOS alive.
Allison: I was also really concerned about Nesryn’s safety for exactly these reasons. I love these books and I think Maas is a great writer. I also think that as a white woman with a lot of visibility that it’s awesome that she’s working to include a more diverse cast in her books. I hope that as she keeps going and developing as a writer that we’ll see her side-step some of the common issues that white writers often seem to have with writing diversity.
Overall, I know that Nicola, Alyssa and I agree that this is one of our favorite series, and that Queen of Shadows was one of the most exciting books we’ve read this year. We’re super pumped for those last two books (THE WAIT WILL BE AGONIZING), but with the second book in the A Court of Thorns and Roses set to publish in May of next year, we might might pull through.
Alyssa, Allison and Nicola are pleased as ever to recommend fantasy books to you. We’ll be busy sorting ourselves into witch clans for the month of October; chat us up on Twitter to tell us where you think you belong.