Honestly, I did not expect to like this book. It’s only logical. I assumed that I would have the same reaction to it that I had for the first three books in the series, which was basically to be entertained, but also half the time I’m rolling my eyes at the predictable plot twists, the shallow characters, the tell-not-show and idiom-filled writing (a symptom of weak worldbuilding). I just didn’t find any of it particularly compelling, especially Celaena, the central character. I found her to be uninteresting as a character, and worse, an uninteresting character wasting a great backstory.
But I genuinely enjoyed this entire book, from start to finish. I was extremely surprised. Like, I don’t know what happened entirely?
I’m not going to figure out what changed behind the scenes, so I will just tell you what changed for me in terms of the text, and we’ll go from there.
First, I’ve already mentioned Celaena. She was an interesting character for me for the first time. I really responded to her raw grief, and her struggles in dealing (and not dealing) with it. I appreciated how complex her feelings over everything were; the guilt over having survived, sure, but also guilt over the events themselves, guilt over having not done anything for ten years, and just the raw trauma of her whole situation that she’d been avoiding for so long.
And that’s where Rowan comes in. Oh, man, guys. I liked him right away because I’m a sucker for characters with deep hidden emotions, but when it turned out that SPOILERS he and Celaena/Aelin were such kindred spirits, I just about lost my mind. Granted, I’m sure a lot of that is my relief that I was actually engaging with the series emotionally for the first time, but I genuinely love them together. I like Chaol and Dorian, but Rowan GETS Aelin. On a deep level that she will never be able to explain to the others. And it’s pretty obvious that they are going to get together romantically, but I so, so appreciated them being friends first, and having such a deeply platonic bond first END SPOILERS. For me, Celaena’s character arc went from being about 10% interesting, and then skyrocketed up to about 80%. Maybe I’m just a sucker for some of the tropes employed here, but in my defense, they were employed pretty effectively.
For the first time, either Maas’s plotting wasn’t super predictable, or I was enjoying the other parts of the book enough that I could ignore a lot of the stuff that annoyed me so much in the first three. Including that Maas shows her work with Celaena for the first time. No narrator is just telling us what a badass she is without showing. We see it. She’s also a hot mess, but hot mess that is a badass.
I also enjoyed the other storylines. I think part of what deepened my enjoyment this go-round was the expanded POVs. We get not just Celaena, but Dorian, Chaol, Celaena’s cousin Aedion, Sorscha (a healer who works in the castle), and new character Manon. Manon was great. So different. And scary. It was sliiiightly awkward of Maas to introduce her so late in the game for how significant she was in this book, and her story doesn’t tie in with the other ones yet, but I will forgive that because I love her.
I wanted to pick up the next book as soon as I finished this one. I’m still feeling kind of weird about this. Part of me still wants to be annoyed with this series and sit upon high in judgment of it. But the other part is like, shut up, a-hole. Go get that book. So I’m gonna.