*You can find all the posts in this series here!
Hey all! Did you miss me? Maybe? Maybe not? Well I missed you! If you’re new here, hello, friend, my name is Molly, and I’ve spent the past couple months rereading Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, and cataloguing my findings here. Today we’re talking about Empire of Storms, the penultimate book in Aelin’s journey, and the antepenultimate book in the series.
Here’s the thing about this book, guys: it’s all about rising tension, setting up plots and getting ready for the final battle that is Kingdom of Ash. And it is brilliant to read, especially when you know what’s coming. I could see all the strings carefully being placed, getting ready to pull together to finish out this series.
That being said, it is not as action heavy of a book as some of the others. There are some great battle sequences, and many wonderful character moments, but it does feel like at times we’re waiting for something to drop, which we are, but that absence is sometimes a bit heavy. Nevertheless, I love it and loved rereading it, so let’s dive in!
- (spoils up to KOA)
Our story starts in Terrasen, and how happy Aelin is here did not go unnoticed by me. She is home. And though everything quickly goes south, the lords refusing her position (I mean, if I’m being honest, I see where they’re coming from a bit, she did disappear for a while and is only nineteen and doesn’t really have a resume-ready past, but they take too far when they banish her from Orynth), she is happy for a minute. Especially with Rowan (seriously they cannot get enough of each other it would be awkward if it wasn’t so cute). And it is lovely to see.
However, this does bring me to an important point about Aelin’s character in this book: though she is struggling somewhat under the pressure of the war, she is, largely, on top of the world. She is assured in herself and (mostly) in her power, and though it is so wonderful to see her confident and embracing her true identity, it is a tad distancing. It is harder to connect to her when she is so god-like. Of course, we need this in order to see her build herself back up again in KOA, but it does feel as if her character is fully developed whereas the story is far from over.
In comparison, this book is Manon’s fall from grace, as she realises that her grandmother has not only made her evil, but that she’s been hiding her true heritage from her. Manon’s identity is ripped from her, and she must build herself back up, becoming a better person in the process. I love Manon in this book. The way she stands up for Asterin ( side note: Asterin saying “bring my body back to the cabin” when she’s about to be killed absolutely broke me), how she saves the Thirteen… she is truly unravelled in this book, but it is for the best. And it is the perfect set up to Manon’s rallying of the Crochans in KOA, claiming her rightful position as Queen. We get to watch Manon becoming this hopeful, daring, and good person/witch, and even though it is devastating when she is torn apart, literally and figuratively, her development is necessary and perfect.
Page 127 marks the first time we hear about the kingsflame, the legendary Terrasen flower that blooms when the kingdom is truly at peace. And it marks the last line in the series: “across every mountain, spread beneath the green canopy of Oakwald, carpeting the entire Plain of Theralis, the kingsflame was blooming.” When the series ends, Terrasen is at peace because of Aelin. All she has ever wanted was to protect Terrasen, to help her people, and she does. It is so beautiful, and means so much more rereading what the kingsflame actually is (because I’m not going to lie, I didn’t totally remember the meaning of the flower).
Rowan and Dorian have such a nice friendship. I love when Sarah explores different character relationships, such as when Rowan and Dorian are travelling together after the sacking of Rifthold (side note: Dorian using his powers to destroy the wyverns was so cool). Dorian clearly looks up to Rowan, and seeks his help. Their relationship is somehow quieter that others in the series, often unnoticed, but strong, and seeing it is so nice.
We get a mention of Hollin early in this book, and honestly any time either of the brothers come up (Hollin and Terrin, Chaol’s brother) I’m shocked for a second because I forget they exist. But I really want to hear more about them! Hollin is present for a bit in the first book, but both brothers are absent after that. I think there’s definitely some spin-off potential there!
“She must be a rare, staggering beauty to make you so faithful” oh, Aelin, I love you and your endless ability to compliment yourself.
SJM truly has a way with words. Her prose is lyrical yet unobtrusive, beautiful and intricate. But she does sometimes favour some words/phrases. Word of Empire of Storms: incarnate. A really good word, to be true, but it is used A LOT in this book. Possibly just a tad too much.
Look, I know that Chaol is off having a fabulous adventure in the Southern Continent and getting healed and married and all that, but also… Where. Is. Chaol.
When Aelin and Rowan are on the beach, I noticed that Aelin repeatedly kisses the scar on his shoulder, which is from their fight with Manon back in QOS, which was, we later find out, the moment Aelin knew they were mates. Adorable.
I keep forgetting how funny Aelin is. Her note to Lorcan in the fake Amulet of Orynth (Hope you discover more creative terms than b**** to call me when you find this. With all my love, A.A.G) is absolutely hilarious.
Dorian in this book is a study in character development. While we, the readers, have had a while to process Sorscha’s death and all that’s happened since, Dorian has not. He is still reeling, and he will hold that hole forever. But his reaction is not breaking down as some would, but rather he gets icy, savage. When he talks to Manon about what he would do with the keys, he says he would destroy everything. He is devastated, he is furious. And he will never get back to his past self. Even as he heals in KOA, there will always be an edge to him. Going in to the final instalment, Dorian is in pain, he is livid, he is splintered, but determined. His utter rage is scary, as a reader. But I said it last time and I’ll say it again: Dorian, my love, you’ll be all right. I promise.
When Lorcan and Elide meet up with the rest of the crew… What. A. Scene. Aelin burning all the ilken. Manon and Aelin fighting over Elide. Lorcan being stupidly protective. Overall, it stands out to me as one of the best scenes in the series. All the players are finally here.
The reappearance of Ansel! I missed her. But this moment also offers some insight into Aelin’s vulnerabilities. She kept this potential alliance secret, as she does many times, because she’s afraid of failure. She wants people to see her as this powerful Queen; she wants to do things right, not make fake promises. She is doing everything she possibly can for Terrassen. But she’s afraid it won’t be enough. This leads to one of the most heartbreaking scenes in Kingdom of Ash when Aelin tells Rowan that she has no tricks left. Now it is all on what they have. And she’s scared of that. She has done all she can. But in EOS she’s still got a few surprises left, and every reveal is better than the last.
I love how important Eyllwe still is. Aelin cares for the country endlessly, and wants to save it for her friend almost as much as she wants to save Terrasen. When Maeve starts to burn it it is awful for Aelin. This country holds part of her heart. I adore that though Nehemia died in book two, the story has not forgotten her.
Okay, friends. We need to talk about the lock. The biggest player in this book, and, not going to lie, I have so many questions about it. First Brannon mentions it, then Deanna, and we are then lead to believe its in the stone marshes, but there is actually only a mirror there, which is where things get complicated. I’d kind of settled this in my mind as “there is a lock for the keys and Aelin must die for it to be put in place and the world saved.” But uhhh.. the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.
First there is “nameless is my price.” This is the moment that Aelin figures out that she’ll have to die for all this to end, for the lock. Fenrys says this before the mirror, so she doesn’t know any specifics, but she’s pretty sure she’s going to die. She knows she has the mark of the nameless. She knows that people have said this to her multiple times in the past, including Baba Yellowlegs, who, as an extremely old witch, would’ve probably known something about the lock in the first place… because it had to do with the witches as well.
This I completely forgot. The reason that the Eye is the same as the witches’ Three Faced Goddess symbol is because Rhiannon Crochan helped Mala and Brannon forge the lock (and the witch mirror that Aelin and Manon go into.) This is already a lot. Why didn’t we need a witch presence the second time? BUT THEN it turns out the Mala had to die only to forge the lock, and gave up her human body (real Q: how did she fall in love with Brannon?), but Brannon was going to have to die to actually seal the Wyrdgate. So then why can Aelin do both on her own? This whole time we’re like “Aelin or Dorian must die” but doesn’t the lock need two people’s power?
My only theory is that Aelin is a Demi-Fae with a human form, which is already pretty weird, so maybe that is another part of the “Queen Who Was Promised” thing. She has all the fae abilities whereas usually Demi-Fae only get some, so perhaps she is more than Demi-Fae but rather fae AND human. Maybe when she forges the lock in KOA she first gives up her human life to forge the lock, and then she was going to have to give up her immortal life (and the power connected to it) to use the lock, before Mala gave her some extra power to hold on to and give instead of dying. This theory is standing on very thin legs though, and falls apart as soon as the Dorian bit comes into play, so if anyone has any better ideas please share. I mean, it’s such a cool element and really makes the world of the story more intricate, but I am in need of a bit of clarity.
On a semi-related note, it’s clear with hindsight that Aelin saying “I need you to do something for me” to Rowan after the “nameless is my price” thing is her asking him to marry her. So cute and perfectly blunt. That reveal, that they’re married, was no less devastating/wonderful the second time around.
This line appears again at the end: “Those she loved with her heart of wildfire.” This line has shown up in HOF and comes up again in KOA and every time I read it it makes me cry. Aelin does everything for her loved ones. All she wants is for it to be enough.
The entire ending. I forgot how it all happened, with Lorcan betraying them to protect Elide, Maeve revealing that she had faked Lyria being Rowan’s mate just so he wouldn’t know Aelin and he could keep him strapped to her and eventually gain control of Aelin and use her to find the keys, Aelin getting whipped and thrown in that coffin. (The moment when Cairn laughs at Aelin’s tattoo horrified me and made me so impossibly angry). And then Rowan finding out she’d been taken and completely breaking down. This is our set up for the ending of the whole series. Everything has fallen apart. It’s time to put it back together. It will take time, but we’ll do it. Aelin will do it. All for Terrasen.
So there you go! My thought on my reread of Empire of Storms, another phenomenal book from Sarah J. Maas. Next up is Tower of Dawn, which gives my guy Chaol Westfall the page-time he deserves! Until then!
As always: three quotes I adore that I didn’t mention:
- “One does not deal with Celaena Sardothien. One survives her.”
- “‘It’s not such a hard thing, is it – to die for your friends.’ ‘No it is not.'”
- “Grateful she had met them all, that she had seen some small part of the world, had heard such lovely music, had danced and laughed and known true friendship. Grateful that she had found Rowan.”