But after reading Queen Of Shadows, the fourth installment in one of my favourite series ever, I'm just slightly confused and vaguely offended that SJM thinks her readers are so dumb they wouldn't notice the abrupt, poorly justified shift in characterisation and in relationship dynamics between characters.
In saying that, QOS is a good book. If I set it apart from the series, and pretend that these characters are not the same ones as in TOG, COM and HOF, then I would give the book five stars. It is impeccably written, has a beautiful plot and despite it's 644 pages, never really has a dull moment. And there is (probably) nothing SJM could ever do to make me hate this series (THAT IS NOT A CHALLENGE PLS SJM DON'T TRY). Although, in my opinion, this book was way out of character and a complete shift in plot from the earlier books, I still have some faith that SJM will pull it back (not in the way I would want it to be, but I'll get to that in the spoiler section).
If you've read the first three books and are questioning whether to continue, especially because of the sheer amount of negative reviews circulating, then I'd say yeah, it's worth continuing. As I mentioned, some characters are ripped to shreds in terms of characterisation (disclaimer: if you love Chaol like I do, please beware. Your heart may be squashed almost as much as his character was), but it's still a fantastic book.
You can check it out on goodreads here, and read the synopsis below:
If you haven't read QOS, beware of the spoilers below!Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she's at last returned to the empire—for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past . . .She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight.She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die for her. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen's triumphant return.
Queen Of Shadows has me very conflicted. And you can bet you'll read about why I'm conflicted very shortly, but first I'm going to talk about why this was a fantastic book.
Sarah J Maas is an incredible writer. She uses her words so nicely and she is a master at world building. When reading her books, I am constantly in awe of how spectacular she is at creating such vibrant and complex fantasy worlds.
And this book was no different. The setting was so intense and beautiful and scary, it makes for the perfect backdrop in an epic fantasy series like this. The mythology and the depth of ancient magic and folklore was just incredibly beautiful to watch develop and unfold even further, despite being in the fourth book of the series. Nothing is surface-deep in SJM's books. Everything is intricately built, carefully constructed so that the reader truly understands the way Terrasen will start to flourish again, the exact way the Valg demons take and possess people, and the way they are destroyed. No corners are cut in terms of world-building, and SJM never skirts over complications or leaves any plot holes.
I was also incredibly happy to see elements of the novellas (The Assassin's Blade) pop up in QOS, like Lysandra, whom I'll talk more about shortly, Aelin's time in the Red Desert, and Aelin's tense relationship with Arobynn. The way SJM subtly expanded on these themes really added depth to not only the novellas and the series, but to Aelin's character.
Lysandra slowly became my favourite character in this book, because of how Aelin and Chaol were treated (which I will discuss later on). She was fiery, sharp-tongued, and wasn't afraid to do whatever to get what she wanted for herself and for those she loved. Her loyalty to Evangeline, Aelin and even Clarisse was so strong. Then, we later found out she was a shape-shifter, and this just added to my love for her. It was amazing to see her character expanded on and developed in an incredible way, after only seeing her in fleeting times during The Assassin's Blade. Even down to the fact that she shifted into a ghost leopard and saved Rowan and Aedion, and her friendship with Aelin. It was all so nice to see. Her fantastic characterisation almost made up for the travesty with other characters.
Let's discuss Rowan/Aelin, before I dive into the issues with Aelin and Chaol's characterisation and the mess that is Rowan/Celaena/Chaol. Rowan is a nice guy, I'm not disputing that at all. But honestly, we've all seen Rowan-esque characters before. Does Ash from the Iron Fey ring a bell? How about Tamlin, from SJM's other book, A Court Of Thorns And Roses? Regan, from City Of Halves? They're all the same character trope: the stoic, possessive male who is surprisingly loving and passionate when it comes to their slightly rambunctious love interests. All loosely supernatural, all boring. Rowan was funny at times, and I don't hate him by any stretch, but his character is just so overused. It was way more interesting when he and Celaena/Aelin were just friends, and their relationship was entirely platonic. When he helped her deal with her feelings for Chaol, and might have even helped them get back together. But no, SJM just had to completely change a clear, well written plotline and make Rowan/Aelin a thing.
And in theory, I have no problem with my ship (Chaolaena, if you hadn't already guessed) not being canon. It would hurt my soul a little, but if she wrote it well and made sense of it, I could look over it, because I'm not one of those crazy "make my ship canon or I will hunt you down and steal your fridge" fans. The thing that upsets me with the Rowan/Aelin/Chaol storyline is how flippant and weak Aelin's transition between the two was. In COM and even HOF, Celaena/Aelin was completely in love with Chaol. She said multiple times that he was her one and only, that she would always choose him. To me, that seems like a solid, endgame storyline. But in this book, she completely flip-flopped. She decided that she had literally no feelings for Chaol whatsoever, which just doesn't make any sense in comparison to things she said in TOG, COM and HOF. It's just not consistent.
On top of that, the progression from platonic to romantic in regards to Rowan and Aelin was ridiculous and unbelievable. It was clearly said multiple times in HOF that they were completely platonic, just friends due to AELIN'S FEELINGS FOR CHAOL!!! So why, all of a sudden, did they just decide they were in love with one another? If this progression had been written well and over time, maybe it would've been more believable. Check out this quote from page 250, from Rowan's perspective, about Aelin:
"While they'd been in Wendlyn, it had taken him a while to realize she was beautiful. Months, actually, to really notice it. And for the past few weeks, against his better judgement, he'd thought often about that face."
Last time I checked, it normally doesn't take supposed "soulmates" months to realise the other is beautiful. What a flimsy attempt to create a somewhat "instalove" style relationship. As I said on twitter, whilst live-tweeting as I read, I'm not buying it.
Now, let's discuss the biggest problem I had with this book — my poor baby Chaol's characterisation. Chaol in the earlier books was calm, loyal, protective and conflicted. He was an amazing friend to Dorian and Celaena, and he took his job and loyalties seriously. He was filled with self-loathing, and always blamed himself for everything. He trusted and loved Celaena and Dorian, and was incredibly selfless and loving.
In the first few pages, we see Chaol get furious at Aelin, as soon as she returns. He picks a fight with her, blaming her for the horrific things that happened in her absence, even though he was the one to ship her off to Wendlyn to start with (an action proving his selflessness, loving nature and deeply ingrained self hatred — he gave up the woman he loved and pretty much any chance of being with her so that she could reach her full potential and take back what was hers). The young man we saw in TOG, COM and even HOF was calm, collected and selfless. This immature, insolent boy we see in QOS is hostile, angry and short-tempered. His character shift was completely unexplained and so abrupt I could barely believe I was reading about Chaol.
In addition to this, Chaol was in love with Celaena, just as she was him. Similarly to Celaena, his feelings seemed to be stamped out so quickly, him moving on so fast, I was so confused. Love like Chaolaena had doesn't just disappear the way SJM portrayed it, not at all. He was stubborn, obnoxious and constantly put himself and his agenda first. He acted like a sulky child, which was just so out of character. Of course, all these things only happened when he was actually mentioned. For a major character, he was degraded to such a minor role. He only had a few short chapters in his point of view here and there, and most of the time, his actual thoughts and opinions weren't recorded, only his observations and actions. I even started to think he might have had a demon in him, too. He was simply pushed to the side for convenience, to make room for Rowan and to ignore the one gaping plot hole — where the heck did Chaolaena go?
I was so upset at the way Chaol was treated in this book. He was such an interesting, caring, intricate character that was completely ripped to shreds in the process of tearing the story away from its natural progression and setting it on a whole other route. It was unfair on his character and the readers, and so this is the main reason why this book could never be five stars or perfect by any means to me.
Okay I spent ages discussing characters and very little time discussing actual plot, so to keep things (somewhat) short, I'll quickly talk about the plot here. In this book, we see a build up to the killing of the King, the rescuing of Dorian and Aelin claiming her place as Queen of Terrasen. I am excited to see how Aelin rules, and what will happen next (hopefully Chaol will be avenged!!). I was particularly fond of Manon, the Wing Leader of the Blackbeak witches. We finally got to see her interact with Aelin and the other main characters, and I loved the relationship she had with Aelin. I loved the message she left for her on the wall — it just gave me chills. I really want to see more of her in the next book (and possibly watch her kill her grandmother and take control of the clan... Just an idea!).
I was also really fond of the Arobynn storyline. I am so glad he's dead, after what he did to Celaena and Sam and Lysandra, and I think Lysandra killing him was just perfect. I love that she felt no guilt, that she killed him and never looked back. And when Aelin switched the wills, I laughed so hard, because she felt like Celaena again, and I truly did miss Celaena in this book. I feel like Aelin and Celaena are slightly different people, and I feel that Celaena isn't nearly as heartless or cruel as Aelin portrayed her to be. Celaena was brave and calculating and funny, and in my opinion, less hard and bloodthirsty than Aelin, anyways. Throughout the book, Aelin killed and threatened to kill without any shred of remorse, whereas Celaena always felt remorse and the weight of her actions.
What did you think of Queen Of Shadows? I am aware that it is a highly debated book, and very divisive, too. If you want to share your opinion, let me know in the comments or via any of my socials. My question for you is — what are your ships in the TOG series, platonic or otherwise? I'm still holding tight to Chaolaena, even though I highly, highly doubt it'll be endgame. I also have strong feelings about Chaol/Dorian as a brotp, Manon/Asterin, and even a bit of Lysandra/Dorian, even though they've never met. I just feel like they'd get on really, really well.
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Have a wonderful day, and I'll see you here next week with another post!