Review: Sarah J. Maas’ “Empire of Storms”

We review Sarah J. Maas’ “Empire of Storms”, the latest installment in the bestselling “Throne of Glass” series.

Warning: Some (very) mild spoilers – I did try not to give away much! – for “Empire of Storms” follow. Proceed with caution. Unfamiliar with “Throne of Glass”? Let me gush at you about it here.

When you have to wait a year for the next installment in a book series you love very much, sometimes your expectations can get the best of you. You have a lot of time to think about what you “need” the story to do for you, or to firmly cement your favorite fan theories in stone in your mind. It can be difficult for a sequel to equal, in reality, the book that you built in your head.

So it’s probably not that surprising that Empire of Storms, the latest installment in Sarah J. Maas’ mega-popular Throne of Glass young adult fantasy series, looks nothing like the sequel I pictured in my mind. And it’s still fantastic.

One of the greatest things about Maas’ writing is that her stories have a serious ability to surprise you. Just when you think you know where things are headed, the plot goes someplace completely different. Like it’s the most natural and obvious thing. Maas is a wonderful storyteller, and while you may not like every twist thrown your way as a reader, you’ll absolutely never be bored.

In short: If you’re a fan of Throne of Glass, then you’ll enjoy Empire of Storms immensely.

Crop from cover of Sarah J. Maas’ Queen of Shadows. Photo: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

The series conclusion is nigh.

Things begin where the fourth book Queen of Shadows left off, with Aelin Ashryver Galathynius headed north to Terrasen to reclaim her kingdom. Things do not go according to plan, and we don’t actually make it to Terrasen in this novel at all. Some other stuff happens instead, including an attack on Rifthold, a trip to Skulls Bay, some surprising flashbacks, and a few appearances from previous characters you may have forgotten.

Empire of Storms is the fifth installment in a six book series, and feels like it. The plot is clearly building to the series’ final battle for the future of Erilea. After this book, many dangling plot threads still need resolution. But you can feel it – the coming of an ending. Questions finally start getting answered. Moments from earlier installments take on new or increased relevance.

I can’t imagine what it will be like to say goodbye to Aelin and her friends in the final Throne of Glass novel. But if Empire of Storms is any indication, the series will go out with a bang. (Possibly, literally.) The story descends to some of its darkest places yet, and we see the full consequences of every difficult decision made by Aelin and her friends. We witness horrific acts of violence, and the stakes in the war for Erilea’s future are made very real.

In short: It’s a pretty wild ride.

The three-dimensional characters remain the best part of this story.

The strongest part of the Throne of Glass series has always been its lead character, and Empire of Storms is no different. Aelin remains fantastic and multi-layered – she is becoming a queen, but she remains human and relatable. She is a brave, smart and powerful heroine, but she is also selfish, secretive and stubborn. She loves ferociously, and lies constantly. You will probably spend a large chunk of this book angry at her. And you will still end up cheering for her in the end.

Furthermore, since the cast of characters in the series has grown exponentially over the last two books, Empire of Storms spends a lot of time with people who are not Aelin. Almost everyone gets significantly more to do than in previous novels, with their own agendas and distinct development. Friendships grow organically and feel realistic. (This is such a strength of Maas’ writing, IMO – that these people all really feel like they have relationships with each other that matter beyond the one they share with Aelin.)

It’s wonderful to get to know secondary characters like Lysandra, Elide and Aedion better. It’s satisfying to finally watch Dorian Havillard have a chance to process everything he’s been through in the previous two books. And the evolution of Manon Blackbeak’s story is nothing short of phenomenal. The section of the story featuring Manon, her Thirteen wyvern riders, and the witch clans is probably the strongest in the entire novel. It made me cry twice. (And I used to pretty much hate Manon, so take that for what it’s worth.)

Seriously, the women in this series are just incredible. It can’t be stressed enough how amazing that is – and how rare.

The novel isn’t flawless, though.

The Assassin’s Blade cover, Photo: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

That is not to say that Empire of Storms is perfect. The middle section drags in places. Some of the action sequences feel a bit overlong. If you’re not into the Aelin/Rowan relationship you will really not like the series’ sudden shift into R-rated territory there. There’s also a bit too much maneuvering that seems specifically geared toward giving every character a love interest. While most of these new or building relationships are appealing, the fact that almost everyone seems heading toward paired-off status in some degree or other feels a bit convenient.

Empire of Storms’ ending may also feel a bit familiar to those who read the recent second installment in Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series, as it hits several similar beats. It’s also basically a cliffhanger, which sets several groups of our heroes off on different, world-saving tasks. But the final 50 pages or so worth of build-up to this ending is phenomenal, clarifying and paying off several plot threads from earlier in the novel, as well as few from earlier books in the series.

A suggestion: If you haven’t read the Throne of Glass prequel novellas (compiled in book form as The Assassin’s Blade), you should do so before tackling Empire of Storms. Several key characters, plot twists and emotional beats will be much more awesome if you do.

In the end, Empire of Storms is a thoroughly satisfying piece of the puzzle that is Throne of Glass. It serves as both a solid continuation of Aelin’s story, and widens our understanding of Erilea’s history and politics. New characters are given plenty of chances to shine, the villains are increasingly terrifying, and several disparate story threads are (finally!) woven back into the main narrative.

Where does Throne of Glass go in its finale? I honestly have no idea. But I can’t wait to find out.