Friday, September 11, 2015

Review: Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas [SPOILERS]


I have seen two batches of reviews for this book:

  1. The reviews that are all "PERFECTION" and "BEST BOOK I'VE EVER READ" and "BEST IN THE SERIES" and so forth.
  2. The reviews that are all "I feel like I just read 650 pages of fanfiction" and "WHAT HAPPENED TO CROWN OF MIDNIGHT?????"
If I were basing my review solely on the second half of Queen of Shadows, I would probably be leaning closer to the former batch.
Unfortunately, there are about 320 pages in this book that are not the second half. And I understand all too well what those latter-batch people are talking about.

If you recall my review of Crown of Midnight, I was a mess after reading that book. I stayed up extra late to finish it, and even though it was a shorter book than the rest of the series, it blew my mind. I liked the direction the series was going in, I liked the complicated relationships between the characters, I loved the plot twists. I loved those big power moments when characters would swoop in, unafraid, and be totally badass. Sarah J. Maas's writing was just starting to develop those sentences that just kicked you in the gut or filled you with pride or made you want to blow up buildings, and I ate up every bit of it.

Heir of Fire, on the other hand, I did not like much. I gave it 4 stars out of obligation, because everyone was loving it and I felt like I was missing something, and it was a good book—once again, the ending was the best part—but to be honest, it took me a month to finish it because I was bored out of my mind. I wasn't interested in Rowan, had minor interest in Sorscha, and did not know where in Hellas' dominion Manon came from or how she was relevant to anything. My favorite part was Chaol's character development at the end, and Dorian. Always Dorian.

Which brings me to: the first half of Queen of Shadows
Where all of that character development, all of that love that had been painstakingly cultivated for each character, vanished. Chaol and Aelin in particular went back to how they acted right after Nehemia's death. And Dorian was reduced to a plot element, a source of tension between Aelin and Chaol.
Here are the problems I had with every character in this book:

Aelin: She literally blames Chaol for everything in the first portion of the book. She marches in with the arrogance I thought she had outgrown and accuses him of abandoning Dorian [CHECK YOURSELF IN THE GD MIRROR, GIRLFRIEND.], of still being loyal to the King, of hating everything she stands for. For some reason Chaol has become a symbol of everything wrong with Adarlan, even though she told him in Crown of Midnight that he reminded her of what the world ought to be. And it doesn't feel like she just changed her mind or saw some truth about him that she hadn't seen before; her attitude toward him is like he's beneath her now because she is a queen and he had the audacity to make a mistake that hurt her. It feels like the author changed her mind about him, and so the protagonist had to as well.
Additionally, she is ruthless and selfish in the beginning of the novel. The kind of ruthless and selfish she was in The Assassin's Blade and Throne of Glass. One of my main issues with her character has always been that she gives up on people far too easily, even people she claims to love, and there has been zero development in that area so far. I realize that she's bent on vengeance for the crappiness of her entire life, but at a certain point it just starts to seem like a childish way to approach the world.

Chaol: Before I start, let me say this: I am a Chaol stan. I love him, I think he's flawed and realistic and misunderstood, but I think all of that pales in comparison to his quiet strength and loyalty. When Celaena hated him and he'd broken his own heart with the mistakes he had made, he still took care of her. He put her on that ship to Wendlyn and stayed behind to give her the space she needed away from him. He stepped back when she required it, and his anger and resentment toward her were just as valid as hers toward him. They both still thought they had a chance with each other.
Enter: QoS Part I Chaol. Anger and resentment are apparently all he knows. He blames Aelin for Dorian's fate (the difference between them being that she refuses to acknowledge her role in it, while he's been beating himself up with guilt ever since he ran out of the throne room that day). He judges her and calls her a monster even though he had clearly begun to accept who she was in Heir of Fire. It was his main character arc. And by the time QoS starts, it's somehow been forgotten.

What I'm saying is that this book does a lot of takesies-backsies with these two characters. I don't want to make assumptions, but it feels like SJM ended CoM intending for Chaolaena to be endgame, and then she invented Rowan and blew those plans into smithereens. 
There's a part in QoS where it even feels like Aelin is acknowledging this: she tells Chaol something like "I hope I didn't give you false hope, with what I said that day. That I'd pick you." The thing is, Why did she even say it, if their demise has been planned all along??? I can appreciate that she was given the freedom to move on and find someone new to love, but I don't think this series needed to go that way; it doesn't ring true to me, especially given Rowan—which I'll get to in a moment.
Go ahead and tell me that Chaol supposedly loved Celaena and not Aelin, but that's a cop-out, if you ask me. She was Aelin the whole damn time—that's the point. He loved Aelin, even if he didn't know it. You can't just shut off who you are.

I almost don't even want to write about the other male characters, because I really, honestly can't stand them. I mean, they're all good and fine, but not my taste at all. Testosterone and pissing contests: somehow both annoying and boring at the same time.

Rowan: Aelin's carranam. Her "friend" who was strictly her "friend" in HoF and suddenly they spend a few weeks apart and now it's romantic between them, no matter how much they denied it in the last book. I would still like to deny it. 
  • Possessiveness? Not romantic.
  • Hero worship? Not romantic.
  • Animosity toward any other male who comes close to her? Not romantic.
  • Thoughts about getting your scent all over her? NOT ROMANTIC.
  • Oh and he *hates* Celaena Sardothien? Remember when Chaol received that "You can't pick and choose which parts of her to love" speech from Dorian? Judging her for the identity she was forced to take on = NOT ROMANTIC.
Oh but he's a big strong Fae prince, the most powerful in the land of course, and he's spent hundreds of years JUST LOOKING FOR HER! SWOONITY SWOON
I basically just dislike how he's more concerned with making her his than he is with being her person. Their romantic relationship developed too quickly and it was too high-stakes for me to believe it (there were no small acts of friendship or love, it was all "you are my queen and I will die to protect you" and wanting to rip her clothes off and Aelin acting like he was more important to her than her own life). Remember when Chaol got her chocolate cake?

Aedion: I wish that he could have been more of a comic-relief character, especially with Dorian not himself in this book. He was basically the same person as Rowan, except less powerful, and related to her so not romantically interested [the first male character in the series who hasn't been, because SHE IS JUST SO AMAZING, AMIRITE?]. They picked up where they left off far too easily after 10 years apart, and he was blind to every single one of her flaws: that she makes rash decisions, that she has little concern for people unless she can see herself in them, that she'll blame anyone but herself for her problems. They bickered, but it was always about Aedion doing something wrong, never her.

Now, on to the good.
Manon (eventually).
second-half Chaol
last-third Aelin
Rowan at two moments in particular (the healing and that thing he did with the wind)
That one person toward the end who shouted, "All hail Dorian Havilliard!" (and Chaol pumped his fist in solidarity, wearing his #1 Dorian Fanboy t-shirt)
of course
the one and only
my precious baby prince boy
beautiful cinnamon roll
too good 
too pure

Dorian Havilliard.

The second half of this book would receive a solid 4 stars from me, as opposed to the first half's 2 stars. I'm still dropping one because of Rowan/Aelin and because some of the writing got too heavy-handed (we get it, everyone kicks ass), but the plot was much more intricate, the characters had more believable interactions, and just generally it felt more like the Throne of Glass series.
Mostly because the focus came back to Dorian, finally. We got little glimpses of him around Manon, because the demon was afraid of her (nice, Manon), and I actually hurt myself from flailing too hard, but of course it wasn't until the very end that we finally got Dorian back.

Dorian: So worth slogging through this book to make sure he got saved. He's the same old Dorian, but with haunted eyes and a new title: Precious Baby King Boy.
Lysandra: Girlfriend rocked this book. You don't understand how happy I was that she and Aelin realized they had been judging each other when they could've been friends, and that Lysandra proved to be more than Aelin assumed her to be, and that she got a chance to SAVE THOSE BIG STRONG MALES WHO WERE ABOUT TO GET THEIR ASSES HANDED TO THEM HA HA HA
Manon: You know, I still didn't care for her through most of this book. She was too ruthless, too insensitive, too oblivious to her own cruelty. And then she brought out the Dorian inside Dorian and I forgave her because that was literally all I wanted. And then Aelin taught her a lesson in mercy, and Manon did the honorable thing and returned the favor. BY STOPPING HER FROM KILLING DORIAN.
You see what's really important to me, don't you.
Oh, and then she saved her witches and Elide I swear to god if SJM reneges on this character development in the next book I'll quit the whole series
just kidding no I won't because Dorian
Elide: The cowering and shaking grated on me because I'm so used to all the female characters in this series doing things, but eventually I grew to love her.
Nesryn: I like her. I want more of her, because I refuse to accept that she's just another kickass girl with a crush on Chaol, who's pretty much just like "okay cool"
etc. etc.

What I took away from this book is that I am no longer going to view this series the way I once did—as a story about a hidden queen coming back into her power and finding someone to stand by her side along the way. She did that, and it wasn't satisfying to me.
I'm going to view this series as a story about a queen, hidden because of tragedy, forced to become a weapon before she could take back her kingdom, who learns about friendship from two boys whose bond is stronger than any magic. Because that, for me, is what this book ended up being about. Dorian and Chaol. Heir of Fire was painful because there was a crack in their foundation; they didn't know if they could breach the distance between them. Queen of Shadows was rewarding because they did. In HoF, Dorian sacrificed himself for Chaol. In QoS, Chaol sacrificed himself for Dorian—and only made it out alive because of Aelin.
This book may not have been what I wanted, but the ending alone made it enough.