I'm starting this review at 12:27am. This is a bad idea for several reasons:
- I'm at my most emotional when a) I've just finished a book, or b) it's past midnight. So, double whammy.
- A book like this, my review is going to be long and rambly and I probably won't finish it until at least 2:00 if I do the whole thing now.
- I was totally ready to start another book, and if I keep dwelling on this one I'm going to have such a bad book hangover that I won't be able to do it. I just won't.
I wasn't prepared for this book. It beckoned me to float into the sky and then it beat me down, and beat me down, and beat me down some more.
Right, this is supposed to be the part where I tell you how much you'll enjoy Crown of Midnight. Lucky for you, "beat me down" in my vocabulary tends to mean "got me emotionally invested to the point where I cry when the characters are sad, I cry when they're happy, I cry when their full names are used in butt-kicking, odds-defying moments, and I cry when their expectations of each other are just a little too high." Because that's what happens when you love someone: you expect too much of them. You get hurt, and you hurt them right back.
Let's talk about Celaena Sardothien, the King's Champion, for a second.
Celaena, whose family was slaughtered, whose best friend and first love was murdered, who spent a year in a salt mine prison and then whose one chance for freedom involved a tournament to the death. This girl isn't just followed by death, she is death. Psychologically damaged to the point where you're on edge constantly, waiting for her to break, Celaena is not your average Strong Female Character. And I'm not talking about the padded-room-with-a-straitjacket kind of break, or the eat-your-sorrows-and-cry-in-your-bed kind of break. I'm talking about the kill-now-think-later kind of break. There are a lot of kickass female protagonists that could make you regret being born, but Celaena wouldn't even give you long enough to do so. She's an assassin, and you do not want to cross her.
It's not easy to forget how deadly Celaena is, and yet a few people have managed to see past it. Chaol, Dorian and Nehemia haven't forgotten what she is, but they're more concerned with who she is. Her relationships with each of them are extremely different, but they all ring true-- and that is why I loved this book. Through all the court drama, politics, fighting and magic, it shines with authentic humanity, with connections that sometimes break and can't grow back the way they were before, but they do grow back.
I spent a lot of time in this book arguing with myself. Part of me was mad at Celaena for the way she acted, how quickly she could turn on the people who cared about her, but then the another part of me was constantly reminding myself that she had a history of being betrayed-- and that she's suffered horrible trauma at the command of the king she now serves. And she's a teenage girl. All things considered, I think she's allowed to be irrational, spiteful and reckless. Not even halfway through the series, we have reason to believe that she's not irreparably damaging herself by being this way. Even within this very book she realizes her mistake and admits it. In the next one, maybe she won't be so impulsive or see things in such black and white terms.
Now, moving away from Celaena to talk about the book in general, I thought it was just brilliant. The transition from romance to friendship with Dorian was extremely well done and I didn't find myself doubting for a second that they could be friends. Dorian Havilliard, the Crown Prince of Adarlan, could pretty much have any girl he wanted. He wants the King's Champion, but she is the one person it seems doesn't want him back-- and what does he do? He handles it with such grace and dignity that I grew to love him even more than I already did (and I swear to god, Sarah J. Maas, I'm keeping him locked away in my room until you promise not to hurt him. I have a lot of books he can read). Dorian Havilliard is who Adam Kent should have been, but was never a decent enough human to be.
Celaena's relationship with Chaol-- Chaol Westfall, Captain of the Guard, loyal servant to the king he suspects Celaena wants to see dead-- comes naturally. The stakes are high and you could cut the tension with a knife, but one thing is always abundantly clear: Celaena and Chaol will always choose each other. They are natural enemies who learn to live in the space between right and wrong. Emotional punches left, right, up and down; don't ever get used to things going well. This book doesn't want you to be able to stand.
You might notice that I'm talking more about the characters and relationships than anything else about the book, which may seem like a normal thing for me as those are what I usually care about the most. Honestly, though, I'm not talking about the other stuff because I slogged through it. The action scenes were compelling enough, but the magic/dungeon/exploring the castle scenes, not so much. They felt redundant and were often too long to keep me interested. I still don't find the magic the most interesting part of the series. Luckily, it's worth reading for everything else.
The writing in Crown of Midnight is leaps above what it was in Throne of Glass. Any chapter- or section-ending sentence that started with "Celaena Sardothien" or "The King's Champion" or "The Captain of the Guard" was like an emotional bomb being dropped on the page. And that final sentence? Like I said: Crap. The whole final page? Holy. Crap.
I need Heir of Fire (the revelation that explains that title? Oh yes. Yes yes yes.) right now.