Coven Chat: Empire of Storms

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Happy Halloween, witches! Today we’re having our discussion of Sarah J. Maas’ Empire of Storms. Remember that in a Coven Chat we spoil and spoil and spoil. Don’t read on if you aren’t caught up on the series.

Allison: First off, let me say that I found Empire of Storms just as addictive and completely engrossing as all of the books in this series. I’m actually really excited to read it again. I felt like a lot of the action in previous books is starting to come together in EoS in a deeper way.

Alyssa: This series is really addictive and I reread it every year when a new book comes out. I can’t help myself! I love that each additional book is much more expansive in its worldbuilding and cast of characters, and that QoS and EoS reintroduced us to some of the characters from The Assassin’s Blade.

Nicola: Yes, agreed. I noticed a shift in QoS when characters from the novellas like Lysandra and Arobynn started appearing, and even more so in this book with Ansel’s return and the appearance of the Silent Assassins. It really feels like all those story threads from the first few books in the series are being drawn together towards the ending, and I love it.

Speaking of endings, can we talk about the end of this book for a second? I was really not expecting any of it, and I stayed up late because I just HAD to finish it – then I couldn’t sleep because I was fretting about Aelin. Seriously, that ending was one of the most shocking I’ve read in a long time.

Allison: I really didn’t expect the ending at all, but it was clear that Aelin did! I don’t know what I was expecting. I mean, I think we knew that some kind of showdown was coming between Maeve and Aelin, but I thought that perhaps Maeve would offer a bargain of some kind for assistance in the war.

I think that Maas started putting some serious distance between us and Aelin in this book to support the ending and the next book, which I assume will rely heavily on the characters she built up in this storyline, like Lysandra, Aedion and the witches. I loved the deeper characterization of Manon and the Thirteen in this book. I’m actually hoping that we get some novellas about the witches, or possibly a spinoff series.

Alyssa: Yes, I’d love a spinoff series or novellas about the witches! Manon and the Thirteen are some of my favorite characters, and they really help sustain this series. While I’m fond of the characters in Aelin’s inner circle that dominate the first few books, I really like that HoF, QoS and EoS introduce us to new characters who exist outside of Aelin’s sphere of influence.

Nicola: I wasn’t sure about Manon in HoF, but as the series has progressed she’s really grown on me, and I really like the relationship between her and the Thirteen. The fact that they’re more loyal to each other than the Ironteeth as a group speaks volumes about their relationship, and I find it fascinating that Asterin and the others show such loyalty to Manon, when the Ironteeth witches are, supposedly, cold-hearted and cruel. They’re much more human than they would like to think.

Allison: I think it will be interesting to see how the reveal that the Ironteeth clan-leaders have been manipulating their offspring to be so ruthless in coming books. It’s clear that the Thirteen are just as “emotional” as Manon, so we can’t necessarily dismiss her feelings as purely being due to her heritage.

Alyssa: I love Manon’s identity as half Ironteeth, half Crochan, and that she experiences so much character growth in HoF, QoS and EoS. I love that she’s complex and conflicted; that she upholds as well as questions her beliefs and personality traits, since she stays cold-hearted and ruthless but she also begins to value hope and love above all else…her humanity more than her upbringing as a monster. Manon will likely have a very significant role in the final book, now that she’s discovered she’s the Crochan Queen, and I can’t wait to see that storyline play out. She may be my favorite character now.  

Allison: Speaking of favorite characters: Lysandra!!! I love her so, so much. There’s this scene where she’s in her snow leopard form and she’s resting her head in Aelin’s lap and I was just so damn happy. I love that she is so fierce and so loyal and that she and Aelin have all these secret machinations.

Nicola: Yes! I love Lysandra. She’s fast becoming my favourite character. She’s just so determined and protective and just damn perfect. And I love how Aelin starts to really trust her in this book. Aelin’s always had issues with things like sharing power, trusting women and general jealousy, and now she’s at the point where she trusts Lysandra to pretend to be her for the rest of her life. It’s a HUGE bit of character development for Aelin, and it shows how different Lysandra is from the vain, shallow courtesan Aelin once believed her to be.

Alyssa: I love Lysandra and her romance with Aedion too! It’s almost like she’s become the heroine of this series (along with Manon, perhaps). And I don’t get irritated with her in the same way that I sometimes get irritated with Aelin. I’m curious to see what happens when she plays Aelin!

Allison: Aedion, please forgive Lysandra right away! Lysandra, please forgive Aedion back for being a leetle too obsessed with his cousin… I’m also curious to see how Lysandra “plays” Aelin.

I’m thrilled to see Lysandra’s character get more time and energy, but I admit was frustrated by what’s happening with Rowan’s character in this book. I was a huge fan of Rowan in HoF, but he hasn’t developed much beyond stoic-Fae-male and that’s a little bothersome for me. He’s SO objectified! I mean, I want to defend Rowan here and say all the things that I’d say if a female character was getting this kind of treatment.

Alyssa: Yes. Even though I think Rowan might be the best “mate” for Aelin, he is a less interesting character in QoS and EoS than he was in HoF. He loses some of his depth when he falls in love with Aelin, and he is objectified!  I feel like Rowan’s intense (obsessive? possessive?) love for Aelin is his whole identity now. Honestly, I’ve sort of lost interest in Aelin’s love story in this series and I’m more invested in the secondary characters’ relationships: Lysandra/Aedion, Manon/Dorian, etc. I actually find their relationships more romantic than Aelin and Rowan’s–even if they are “mates.”

Allison: I’m conflicted about the “mating” conceit that SJM has developed for both her series. It sometimes creates an excuse for toxic masculinity that doesn’t always get checked. Some of it feels cheap alongside the amazing depth that she’s created for her female characters.

Nicola: I’ve been re-reading the series since reading EoS, and while reading the novellas something struck me: What does Aelin being Rowan’s mate mean for Celaena/Sam?

Allison: Ohhhh, I hadn’t even thought of that.

Nicola: I feel like the notion that she’s fated to be with Rowan cheapens her first love, as though the future she and Sam imagined could never have materialised. And what about Rowan’s supposed mate? I really hope that this is explored in the last book. Weirdly, I also feel like Rhys gets way more character development, even though we don’t see his POV in the ACOTAR books.

Allison: I completely agree with you about Rhys. I just re-read ACOTAR and ACOMAF and he sort of “corrects” some of that toxic masculinity, but there’s that same attitude of “Fae males are just like that” that I’m not reacting to well.

Alyssa: I agree. What’s supposed to be a romantic conceit is getting annoying and problematic for the reasons you both mention. Also, “mating” seems more unnecessary and confusing in this series than in ACOTAR.

Allison: Completely. In ACOTAR it takes center stage because ACOTAR is up front a more emotional book, Feyre’s relationships are very important.

Alyssa: I suppose an argument in favor of the “mating” conceit is that it’s important considering they are Fae and immortal. But I find the toxic masculinity problematic, too. It does seem like these books argue that all of that behavior is not just normal, but something we should desire. I wonder if that’s a problem with the Fae/vampire trope in general?

Allison: Yeah, I feel that way too. I think in ACOTAR there is a lot of condemnation for the extreme that it goes to. Even in the first book, you can see the seeds for Tamlin being so possessive and Rhys’ commitment to Feyre’s freedom (and fighting his nature) is the antidote. I think the mating concept feels out of place and kind of confusing in this series though.

Alyssa: It’s a bit tacked on that we find out near the end of EoS that Aelin has been keeping secret her realization that Rowan is her mate. But she kept a lot of secrets from Rowan and everyone else in EoS. Honestly, I found that secret and some of the other reveals slightly irksome and perhaps too convenient.

Nicola: Aelin keeping secrets was something that didn’t sit right with me, not because it’s not in-character (it is), but because she used to be the reader’s main POV character, and now she’s keeping secrets from us. I’m not against the whole ‘trick-the-reader’ thing (I love it in Six of Crows), but I don’t think it works when the character used to be the main POV character and now there are a lot of things kept secret from the audience.

Alyssa: Yes, that’s a really great point. I think that’s why Aelin’s keeping secrets didn’t quite work for me as well.

Allison: And it wasn’t just a couple of things, but an entire plotline that we don’t get to see and that isn’t really even hinted at. I like it when we get to know that something is going on, but just not what exactly. I felt like there was a big shift in tone in this book in a lot of ways.

I’m just going to say it: the sex didn’t work for me in this book. I’m all about there being sex in YA books, I guess I’m just not sure how I feel about it being erotica. There’s something about an adult writer, writing this kind of stuff for teenagers that makes me really uncomfortable. Perhaps I’m a bit prudish.

Alyssa: Yes, while Maas’s depictions of sex have always been more mature than most authors of YA, it becomes even more adult in this book. It’s strange because before I reread HoF and QoS, I thought that Aelin and Rowan had already had sex; but they don’t have sex until the middle of EoS! So in some ways, the fact that Aelin and Rowan wait is typical YA. But, the erotica in EoS and Maas’s books in general (even when the characters are not in fact having sex) makes the YA categorization problematic. I’m also a bit uncomfortable with Maas’s books being for teens (14 and up).

Allison: I wasn’t disturbed by this at all in ACOTAR. It’s clear from the beginning that the content is much more mature in that way, but I feel really uneasy about the way it’s developing in this book.

Nicola: It’s made me uncomfortable, too, especially when I consider just how uncomfortable I would have been to read that stuff as a teenager. I was a pretty prudish teen, so my experience is by no means typical for teenagers, but reading sex scenes like that would have really upset me a book so far into a much-loved series simply because at the age I started reading books like ToG I wasn’t emotionally ready for books like EoS.

And IMO it’s not just sex, but violence as well. It’s always been a very violent series, of course, considering the main character is an assassin and the story opens in a death camp, but in earlier books it was less graphic and more implied. For instance, there’s a scene in TOG when one of the competitors has been disemboweled. It’s a horror-filled scene (especially when Celaena points out that the man’s tendons had been severed so he had to lie there watching the creature sharpen its claws before he died), but it’s nowhere near the description of one man screaming as the creatures in EoS disembowel him.

Allison: I have to say that for me, this book is absolutely not YA, which is troublesome, given that it’s the fifth book in this series. I feel like this was not a great time for such a dramatic shift in content. I’m an adult reader, so my perspective is different, but I don’t love thinking about how teen readers might perceive this shift.

Nicola: Yes, I agree. I think a lot of teen readers would just take it in their stride, but for others this book will be the turning point where the series is no longer something they feel comfortable reading, which I guess isn’t really fair to them when it’s so late in the series.

Alyssa: I’m not sure if this is true or merely speculation, but I’ve seen claims online that the series has transitioned from YA to New Adult with Empire of Storms.  But, whether EoS is still officially YA or not, I wonder if teens are less shocked by this shift than we might think since they have likely already read ACOTAR and might want and expect Rowan and Aelin to have a more erotic relationship. And those fans that ship Chaol might have cared more about the shift with HoF to Rowan as Aelin’s love interest. It’s almost like ACOTAR attempts to bridge the shift between the first and second half of the series.

Allison: This has me thinking about the way that the Harry Potter books got more and more intense as the characters grew out of middle grade age and into YA. Perhaps something similar is happening here? Aelin is aging out of a YA audience (she’s 19 now), so the books are too?

J.K. Rowling caught a lot of flak for that while the Harry Potter series was still being written, for the darkness and violence. I remember that while the last few books were coming out that people were angry that as the characters aged so did the maturity, and Rowling’s response was that she believed her readers were aging as well and could handle it. I think that on one hand, that’s true in a real time perspective, but on the other hand, when the books are complete, who is the audience for a series that undergoes that kind of dramatic transformation?

Nicola: I was thinking about Harry Potter, too. I was 9 when I started reading the series, and 17 when the final book came out, so I very much grew up with the series and likely would have stopped reading altogether if the later books were at the same maturity level as the earlier ones.

What I also find interesting is that Maas originally wrote ToG as an adult fantasy novel, and it was her agent (or publisher?) who suggested she market it as YA. So it’s possible she had always intended to incorporate more mature elements later on in the series.

Allison: That’s interesting. I think it will be interesting to see where the series heads next. I know we’re all looking forward to the next book… AND THAT CHAOL NOVELLA! Thanks so much for joining us. Our next Coven Chat will be about Crooked Kingdom in November.

 

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What’s Ahead: Coven Chat

Most of what I’ll be reading over the next few months is for our Coven Chat discussion posts, so I figured now’s a good time to announce what we’ll be talking about as a group in August through October.

The Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater:  I’ve been reading (and re-reading) this series for five years now, so Gansey, Ronan, Adam, Noah, Blue, and the women of 300 Fox Way are some of my most beloved characters. I’ve just started The Raven King (#4), after revisiting The Raven Boys (#1), The Dream Thieves (#2) and Blue Lily, Lily Blue (#3), and I can’t wait to find out how this series ends.

The Remnant Chronicles, by Mary E Pearson: Read The Kiss of Deception (#1) and The Heart of Betrayal (#2) if you haven’t already because The Beauty of Darkness (#3) is out now.

 

 

A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes #2), by Sabaa Tahir: An Ember in the Ashes (#1) was one of our favorite 2015 releases and we’re so excited for its sequel.

We’re only a month away from perhaps our most-anticipated release: Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5), by Sarah J Maas. You must know by now that Sarah’s books (Throne of Glass (#1), Crown of Midnight (#2), Assassin’s Blade (#.5), Heir of Fire (#3), Queen of Shadows (#4), and Empire of Storms (#5), as well as A Court of Thorns and Roses (#1) and A Court of Mist and Fury (#2)), are our favorites to discuss! We’ve chatted about them here and here and here.

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #1), by Leigh Bardugo: Last year we had a blast discussing Six of Crows and we’re really looking forward to finding out what happens next.

Snow Like Ashes series, by Sara Raasch: Another fabulous fantasy series is coming to an end with the release of Frost Like Night (#3) next month.

The Young Elites series, by Marie Lu: Adelina is my favorite villainous protagonist (see my post) and I can’t wait to find out how her story ends in The Midnight Star (#3).

 

Have you read these series? Which books are you looking forward to the most? 

 


Coven Chat: A Court of Mist and Fury

 

17927395We are so excited to discuss Sarah J. Maas’ new book, A Court of Mist and Fury, the second installment in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. Allison recommended the series to you on Wednesday, so if you haven’t read any of the books yet, go check that out.

Remember, in a Coven Chat, we definitely reveal spoilers, so if you haven’t read either book yet, you might want to hold off on our discussion! 

Nicola: Although I enjoyed ACOTAR, it was probably my least favourite of Maas’ books, perhaps because of my long-standing attachment to Celaena, or perhaps because I was rather lukewarm about Tamlin as a love interest, and the romance between him and Feyre forms the core plot of the novel. ACOMAF, on the other hand, is quite possibly my favourite. I love the world of Prythian, the human queens and glimpses into their world, the new characters, everything.

Allison: I agree, 100%. The second I was finished I wanted to read it again. Maas has a talent for creating stories like this. The ToG series is one of the few that I’m willing to re-read multiple times as well. I plan to read ACOTAR and ACOMAF again in the very near future.

Alyssa: Yes, I’ve re-read Maas’s series multiple times as well–usually every time a new book comes out. I re-read ACOTAR right before ACOMAF’s release and I was really rooting for Feyre and Tamlin, even though I was intrigued by Rhys too. I assumed Tamlin was Feyre’s true love, with Rhys challenging, but not breaking, their bond. I was worried about a love triangle in ACOMAF, even though I also had faith in Maas’s ability to avoid such cliches, or at least do the unexpected with them.  

Allison: Yes, I worried a little about the love triangle as well, even though I don’t always mind it. It does have a tendency to feel a bit predictable these days.

Alyssa: Now I’m really curious to see how different my next reading of ACOTAR will be since I’ve read ACOMAF. Will I like Tamlin less or view him as being more possessive in ACOTAR, or will I still see him as Feyre sees him and fall for him again? At first I was a little worried about Tamlin’s shift in character and how ACOMAF heads in such a new direction. But it didn’t take long for me to really like that ACOMAF shows Tamlin in a different light and demonstrates, through Feyre and Rhys’s mating bond, that true love is equal partnership–about each person having freedom and choice–not about one person having control over the other, no matter the situation. Maas is really good at changing her main characters’ love interests in her books in a very satisfactory way. I’m surprised by how much I fall in and out of love with these love interests and I’m okay with that. It doesn’t feel flighty or inauthentic.

Nicola: Aye, me too, and I think it’s so satisfactory because it all comes down to solid character development. Feyre changes immensely between the latter part of ACOTAR and the early chapters of ACOMAF, and Tamlin changes, too, and that doesn’t mean their relationship wasn’t real before, but it does mean it’s over now. We discussed this with QoS, but I love how Maas doesn’t fall into the “MC meets her true love in book 1 and they’re together the rest of the series” mould; while it can work well, it can stifle character development as well, and neither Celaena nor Feyre would grow as much as they do if they were tethered to their early loves.

Allison: I love that we get to see Feyre struggle with this. That even though Tamlin locking her in the house is a breaking point for her, she still mourns their relationship. I appreciated the fact that though she feels murky about things when Mor first rescues her, it’s clear she’s done and won’t go back, even if she doesn’t know what to do next. I also really appreciate the way that Maas stages this. Feyre leaves Tamlin’s court twice before Mor steps in the final time. Even though it’s a part of her bargain with Rhys, we can see her relief in not being in Tamlin’s house, even when she feels eager to return, that feeling is complicated by a growing feeling of dread at being in Tamlin’s presence.

Nicola: Agreed. I think a part of her reluctance is that she knows she did something unforgivable in killing those fae for Amarantha, and the only way it’s possibly acceptable is if she did it for her true love, but if she doesn’t love Tamlin, it means she’s just a murderer.

Speaking of romantic relationships, I love how Rhys’ parents’ relationship shows that even with the magical mating bond, love isn’t assured. It’s still a choice. Tamlin and Feyre didn’t fail to make things work because Feyre was someone else’s mate, but because Tamlin became controlling and abusive. Likewise, Feyre and Rhys don’t end up together because they’re mates, but because they respect and challenge each other.

Allison: Yes! This was a cool way of showing that Feyre does love Rhys and that the bond doesn’t affect that. She’s free to love him or not. This also brings up how amazing it is that Rhys is so committed to giving Feyre a choice.

Nicola: Aye, and it makes it so clear how Tamlin wasn’t letting Feyre make choices even in minor things, with the way he cloistered her inside his manor to keep her safe. Tamlin kind of reminds me of Edward Cullen in this book, with the way he controls Feyre ‘for her own good’. The key difference, of course, is that this book emphasises that that is NOT okay, and that Feyre has the RIGHT to freedom and autonomy.

Allison: I am so glad to be rid of Tamlin as the love interest.. I had this feeling by the end of ACOTAR that something was up with him that wasn’t so great. It was clear that Maas was putting Rhys in a position to be a complication and that his character was more complex than Feyre originally perceives. Though I was still rooting for Tamlin and Feyre, I was really interested in seeing how things with Rhys played out. I’m pleased with the shift.

Nicola: You know, it’s funny you should say that. When I finished ACOTAR I didn’t really notice anything wrong with Tamlin, and I was rather dreading Rhys’ involvement in ACOMAF, because it felt like Maas was setting up one of those horrible ‘girl falls for abusive and manipulative jackass’ love triangles. I really should have had more faith in Maas, given the nuanced and thoughtful way she’s handled Celaena’s relationships. In this case, she subverted the cliché, so that Feyre realises Tamlin has become abusive and only falls for Rhys once she’s finished grieving that relationship.

Allison: There was something about Rhys’ frustration with Tamlin that made me wonder. Yes, he objectifies Feyre, but he also helps her in a way that is out of character for his persona. It made me wonder why Maas was putting Rhys in Feyre’s way and how his inauthentic behavior reflects on Tamlin. Basically, I figured if Rhys was willing to get vulnerable with Feyre in ACOTAR, that there might be something off about Tamlin.

Nicola: That’s a good point. I’m really excited to re-read ACOTAR soon now that I’ve read ACOMAF and see how it changes my perception of the characters.

Alyssa: I love how good Maas is at shifting our perspectives of her main characters’ relationships. But she also doesn’t create stereotypical love interests who are blatant manipulative jackasses. Instead, we experience the good and the bad of these relationships from Feyre’s or Celaena’s perspectives and our feelings towards their love interests change accordingly. I also like that Feyre’s shift in romantic partners–her falling in love with Rhys and falling out of love with Tamlin–doesn’t dominate ACOMAF.  

Nicola: Aye, there’s so much going on in ACOMAF that I love and the relationships feel like such a natural extension of the characters’ interactions with each other and their development through the other plot points. There’s an interesting parallel between the romances in ACOTAR and ACOMAF. In ACOTAR the romance is primary, the faerie war secondary, while in ACOMAF the threat of the Hybern king is primary, and the romance with Rhys secondary. What this also means is that right from the start, especially knowing that ACOTAR was based on Beauty and the Beast, I was rooting for Feyre to fall for Tamlin not because of him, but because of the change in perspective that represented: her acceptance of the fae.

With Rhys in ACOMAF, I hated him at first, then began to respect and even like him, and by about two-thirds of the way through the novel I was convinced he and Feyre were perfect together, but I didn’t really root for the two of them like I did Feyre and Tamlin, simply because there’s so much else going on and, whether they’re friends or lovers, they share a relationship based on trust and respect that lends them the strength to face the king of Hybern, the human queens, and whatever else the brewing war throws at them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty certain I squealed with delight when they admitted their feelings for each other, but I wouldn’t have been unsatisfied with them deciding they were best as friends, either.

Allison: I agree, I also would have been fine with them staying friends, even though I think they’re really great together as a romantic pair. The first time Rhys takes Feyre, to save her from her wedding day, I was thrilled. I love the way they fail to have a “romance.” He’s not wooing her and she’s not being courted by him, things just develop. The fact that he becomes her friend, even though he knows they are mates, is kind of amazing to me. It’s the best gift he can give to someone whose choices have been repeatedly stripped from them and it comes from a place of real empathy, because he knows what it is to lose your agency. I think understanding the way he avoids enacting the bargain for months in order not to interfere in her life is important. He only takes her at her wedding because she is literally begging someone, anyone to save her. When he sees that she’s being abused he reinstates the agreement between them.

One of the things I really appreciate about Feyre and Rhys, versus Feyre and Tamlin, is that they are both so complicated (and honestly, a bit difficult in terms of personality). Tamlin wants Feyre to be simple and the more difficult she becomes, the more he stifles her. Rhys, however, seems to revel in all of Feyre’s “difficult” personality traits. He likes to see her stand up for herself and creates spaces for her to do that.

Alyssa: Yes, agency! So important. I think with ACOTAR, we can lose sight of the fact that Feyre doesn’t have agency in her relationship with Tamlin because we’re swept up in the Beauty and the Beast-like romance. I agree with Nicola’s point that it’s easy to root for Feyre and Tamlin, not because of Tamlin, but because of the change in perspective that the fairy tale symbolizes. But when the curse is broken, Feyre realizes that she must have agency and Tamlin is not willing to grant her that. I like that even though my feelings towards Tamlin have changed at this point and I am so happy that Feyre left him and I wouldn’t want her to go back, I feel for him more than I hate him.

He becomes the monster again and his own worst enemy. His behavior is inexcusable, but it’s realistic. I don’t like it, but I can understand how and why this is happening. He becomes more and more of a manipulative jackass, but I don’t think he sees (or wants to see) himself that way. And I think he’s motivated by love, even if it’s an abusive and destructive love. He seems to really believe in that mythic romance, too, of saving Feyre from a curse and seemingly abusive relationship with Rhys. I’m very interested to see what happens next with Tamlin’s character arc. I guess it’s less about me hating Tamlin for the way he is and more about really championing the way Feyre gains agency in ACOMAF, and not just through her friendship turned romance with Rhys.

Allison: I agree with this so much. Yes, Tamlin turns into an abuser and I think he had the predisposition to be over-protective and stifling to begin with. Nicola is right, he’s similar to Edward Cullen in that way in the first book. There’s something really cool about the way Maas sets up that kind of behavior as seductive, but that can easily turn from problematic to abusive under the right circumstances. I have a hard time forgiving Tamlin for this though, because Rhys went through so much worse Under the Mountain, AND was dealing with the mating bond, and still he fights against his response to protect Feyre at all costs.

However, I appreciate the thoroughness with which Maas reinforces in ACOMAF that being Under the Mountain changed all the characters. I like that Tamlin isn’t wholesale proved to have been an abusive partner from the beginning, but that life circumstances changed him into someone who couldn’t hear Feyre’s point of view anymore. This feels realistic to me. Tamlin, Rhys and Feyre all have pretty severe PTSD from having been Under the Mountain and it was bound to make their relationships change.

I am so pleased that Maas “went there” and points out repeatedly that Amarantha was raping Rhys and that it might have an effect on how he views sex and trust. I think it’s almost taboo to talk about men being raped by women, especially as adults, and I feel that Maas’ treatment of the issue was sensitive and moving. I also love the way Rhys’ character develops in this book. I think there were lots of hints that Rhys was playing a part Under the Mountain in ACOTAR and that he was more complicated than Feyre believes him to be. What I was fascinated by in this book is that he is somewhere in the middle. He’s still a bad boy and arrogant as hell, but that arrogance is explained and his deeper insecurities reveal him to be a whole person in this way that was really satisfying for me.

Alyssa: Yes, definitely. Maas is really good at creating complex and morally ambiguous lead and supporting characters who are likable and usually relatable, despite being arrogant and aggressive. I think Maas’s series demonstrate that these qualities not only mask insecurities, but they are not bad per se. When we are in the heads of arrogant, somewhat villainous or frightening characters (even heroes), these characters are so real and we can accept how they think and act in ways that we would not in our everyday lives.  

Allison: One of the things I’m liking about these books in contrast to the Throne of Glass books (although that series remains one of my all time favorites) is that they are so completely character driven. Maas writes amazing characters, overall, but Throne of Glass’ focus on the larger political drama takes center stage, while ACOTAR has a similar theme of a world in turmoil, but the books stay very close to the main characters, allowing us to know them in a different way. The first person POV allows for this in a different way, but we get to know Rhys, Mor, Cassian, Azriel and Amren pretty well in this book as well. Maas is really skilled at creating scenes that both move the plot and help us know the characters in deep, meaningful ways.

Nicola: Agreed. I’m particularly impressed with the way she manages to give nuance to Feyre’s relationship with her sisters, even though they rarely appear after their rather unflattering introduction at the start of ACOTAR. And yet I can see why Feyre forgives them for their complacency and why she loves them. And, honestly, I rather admire Nesta, in spite of her ill-treatment of Feyre.

Allison: I am really looking forward to seeing who Nesta becomes as a result of her transformation. She’s already so formidable and that moment when she exited the Cauldron felt heavy with foreshadowing Nesta’s potential for being a scary badass as Fae.

Nicola: Yes! Me too. I think she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with, not unlike Mor. I knew from the moment she was introduced that Mor would be a formidable woman, because Maas knows enough about mythology to know the connotations of naming her character Morrigan, and yet it’s also clear right from the start that she’s warm and kind. She’s willing to befriend Feyre, a woman who loathes the person who matters the most to Mor, because she can see that Feyre needs a friend. And yet I would not want to get on her bad side.

Allison: No kidding! It’s interesting to watch how she and Amren go through almost opposing developments from Feyre’s perspective. She sees Mor as approachable and warm from the start and then grows to understand that she’s a potentially terrifying powerhouse, while Amren scares the crap out of her from the start, but gentles somewhat as time goes on… Though to call Amren gentle at all is probably a mistake.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how all of their relationships grow and change in the next book. I’m definitely hoping for some more of the dual perspective. I liked hearing Rhys’ thoughts at the end. What are you two looking forward to?

Nicola: Yeah, I’d love to see more scenes from other characters’ perspectives, though I’m not sure how feasible multiple characters would be with a first-person POV. And this book totally upended my perception of so many characters, so I can’t wait to see how they and their relationships develop further.

Alyssa: Yes, I’d love more multiple perspectives, even though I agree it’s likely more difficult with a first person POV and might mean trying to do too much in a trilogy. But her multiple narratives is one of my favorite aspects of her series. And, of course, all of the sexy scenes too. 🙂

Allison: Thanks to you both, as alwasys, for this lovely talk. Dear readers, please tell us what you think in the comments!


A Court of Thorns and Roses

16096824If you’re a lover of fantasy, faeries and romance, you’ve probably heard of Sarah J. Maas’ adult series A Court of Thorns and Roses. If not, and you are a fan of the previously mentioned things, you will not be disappointed in this series. Nicola, Alyssa and I discussed the first book shortly after its release and plan to discuss A Court of Mist and Fury later this week.

Fans of Maas’ other series (Throne of Glass) will enjoy many of the similarities between the series: fantastic heroines, loads of magic and fantastic worldbuilding, as well as a racing, almost addictive pace. However, while Throne of Glass is a series that has political drama and adventure at its core, with a side of romance, A Court of Thorns and Roses is definitely more adult and more overtly focused on romance. In terms of sexiness and violence, ACOTAR is categorically NOT a young adult series.

Even though the violence is darker and the sexiness is more explicit, these aren’t books that are primarily focused on getting to the juicy bits. The plot lines of both published books are robust and engrossing. Feyre, the series’ main character, is a human in a world that fears the Fae kingdom at its borders. When Feyre accidentally kills a Fae warrior, she is summoned to serve penance at the estate of a Fae lord, Tamlin. Once there, Feyre is drawn into a centuries old conflict between different Fae forces, which periodically has pulled humans into the fray.

Feyre falls hard for Tamlin, and even though the story is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Tamlin is anything but beastly. I’ll admit, the first half of the first book reads a bit more like a more traditional supernatural romance, but the second half complicates things completely. Everything you think you know is overturned and all of the series characters’ arcs become deliciously complex. I’m happy to say that trend continues into ACOMAF.

As a main character, Feyre is multi-faceted in a way that makes her easy to identify with. The books are told through a first-person POV and I find it pretty easy to be in her head. Feyre loves big, even when she has difficult feelings and I think that big heartedness, combined with some serious badassery is what makes me like her so much. Maas doesn’t sacrifice Feyre’s emotions for her ability to kick ass.

Part of what I love about this series is that is merges genres that I love seamlessly and satisfyingly, but if you’re looking for just one or the other, this might not please you. ACOTAR has strong roots in romance, with sexy interludes that will get your pulse racing and romances rooted in deep, abiding emotions. But it’s also a well built fantasy, with a mesmerizing worldview and engrossing political conflict.

One of my favorite things about what Sarah J Maas has started to do with ACOTAR is combine genres in a way that’s really pleasing for female readers. She allows Feyre to be wholly feminine, sexual and powerful, as well as deal with heavy topics like abuse, PTSD, and heartbreak without compromising her story. Feyre’s tribulations aren’t plot devices to make you like her or care about her more, they’re an integral part of the story, and who Feyre is at the beginning and who she’s becoming.

Feyre can be sexual and romantic. She is self aware enough to wonder about who her feelings make her and how her decisions affect others. Honestly, Maas’ Throne of Glass series made me admire her as a storyteller, but ACOTAR makes me admire her as a woman. Perhaps I identify with Feyre in a lot of ways, so I feel more strongly about this than I would otherwise, but I love the way this series is going and I hope you will too. Fans of Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty will enjoy this one.

Alyssa, Nicola and I are wrapping up our discussion of A Court of Mist and Fury as I write this and we’ll be sharing with you on Friday. Cheers!

Allison Carr Waechter will always root for the bad boy with a heart of gold and the broken-hearted heroine.


Queen of Shadows Discussion

18006496By 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.