This is a *spoiler-free* review for Empire of Storms. This review contains spoilers for previous books in the series.
The fifth book in Sarah J. Maas’ epic fantasy series was always going to be highly-anticipated and under pressure to deliver. As we reach the pointy end of Aelin’s journey to defeat the evil tyrant, the Dark Lord Erawan, and free her continent from enslavement, there are naturally dozens of plots and characters who have joined her on this epic quest – and unfortunately, Empire of Storms just can’t focus on them all at once.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for the media-release copy of Empire of Storms.
For Queen and Country/Continent/…
Make no mistake, Empire of Storms is a big book. It certainly has enough space to cover, but the plot wanders constantly – not entirely uncommon for an epic fantasy, but it’s frustrating to see the characters’ goals move around so frequently.
Aelin’s driving force for most of the previous novels was to free her home nation, Terrasen, from the clutches of the King of Adarlan. With the end of Queen of Shadows, it became apparent that a far greater threat existed, threatening the entire continent of Erilea.
Yet Aelin’s motives continue to flick back-and-forth. In some chapters, she’s desperately planning to return to Terrassen and free her people; and in others, she’s willing to sacrifice everything and everyone to defeat the Dark Lord, Erawan.
Thrown into the mix is a vague history going back a thousand years, involving Aelin’s ancestors, and several Gods who became stranded in our world. There also appears to be an increasing number of rectons about Aelin’s past – in the first few novels, she is unable to remember anything of her childhood, but now she has conveniently clear recollection of all the important people from Terrasen and Adarlan.
This Is War
Empire of Storms does deliver in one big way – it’s a heavily action-based novel. There are some major set pieces and battles that expand over ten-to-fifteen chapters, stacked heavily against the odds. The resolutions are sometimes a little overtly cheesy – somehow, right when all hope seems lost, someone will stumble upon “new depths of power” they “didn’t know they possessed”, and all the bad guys will be defeated with magic.
Empire of Storms is definitely a filler-novel, in much the same way as Heir of Fire – it moves people and pieces around on the Erilean chessboard, preparing for that ultimate showdown in the final novel. There are a few plot twists, but nothing as revelation-inspiring as Crown of Midnight or Queen of Shadows.
It’s a character flaw…
My greatest complaint with Empire of Storms, and indeed with Throne of Glass itself, is the character growth. Aelin’s little party of followers has swelled, and even though Chaol was shoved off-stage to reduce the character count, there are still far too many actors and too few lines to service them.
The most jarring of all is Dorian. The Crown Prince has gone through hell and back, but despite being a literal King after the end of Queen of Shadows, he’s little more than a token side-character to Aelin. Once a strong POV character with depth, Dorian’s now just wandering around, taking up space.
Aelin herself is starting to grate on me, too. She has transformed from a heavily conflicted, guilt-ridden assassin/heir with a sharp tongue, to an unlikable over-zealous loudmouth, swaggering around swearing at people.
The other male characters, much like Dorian, drift around on the sidelines waiting for some arbitrary excuse to be used in yet another battle. The women are all badass/smartass/aggressive-types, and the men are all protective/thick-headed/rippling-muscle types. The stereotyping wouldn’t be so obvious if there were fewer characters, but with so many POV characters, similarities are strikingly obvious.
Once More Unto the Breach
Empire of Storms leaves us with more trailing plotlines, new characters, and escalating threats. However the series ends, it’ll undoubtedly be explosive and bloody – and hopefully, it will resolve many of the unanswered questions.
Sweeping, epic battles that are always a matter of life and death. A few late-game plot twists.
Characters are all feeling heavily stereotyped, and the plot feels unclear at times. Overall feels like a filler novel.
An entertaining addition to the Throne of Glass series, but the epic fantasy is starting to feel a little long in the tooth.