*You can read the rest of the posts in this series here!
Here we are, everyone, finally at the end. Though this reread has been slow, I still can’t believe it’s over. Kingdom of Ash was an absolute joy to read the second time around. It is epic and powerful and heartfelt and meaningful and just lovely all around. If you’re confused as to what I’m talking about, I’m Molly, and in January I embarked on a reread of Sarah J. Maas‘ Throne of Glass series, and I’ve been detailing my findings in a series of posts (linked above).
Kingdom of Ash is where our story ends, but these characters have rich futures ahead of them, you can tell. I am finding it hard to sum up my feelings on this book, though of course that is what I’m here to do. As I rushed through the pages, desperate to continue the story, I also found myself wishing I could slow it down. I would reread my favourite scenes over and over, pouring over word choice and imagining a thousand bright futures for these characters. I would put it down, though, read something else for a day, because I couldn’t face getting closer to the end. But it ended all the same. The pages of my book are crinkled with tears and dusted with laughter. So let’s dive in, shall we?
Note: I’m going to include some rankings and top ten lists and other fun things at the end of this post, so that’s waiting at the bottom!
- First, can we marvel at how gorgeous this cover is?? The gold! The armour! Goldryn! It’s so striking.
- We start with a story. One we all know, and I found myself whispering the words as I read. Once in a land long since burned to ash, there lived a young princess who loved her kingdom… This is the heart of our story, and also a great way to situate ourselves in Aelin’s current state. Not only is she trying to stay focused on why she’s doing this, but she’s also reminding herself of who she is. We can tell right away that all is not well. That it has been too long, that she is slipping farther and farther from the glorious queen we knew in Empire of Storms. Now, over the next 980 pages, we’re going to see Aelin pull herself back up. Once in a land long since burned to ash, there lived a young princess who loved her kingdom…
- Okay am I just dumb or have we never mentioned this magic school before?! It’s mentioned that when Adarlan invaded Terrasen they went and killed everyone at the magic school… and I had no idea that existed. There is some serious spin-off potential there.
- The torture scenes do not get any easier the second time around. For once I kind of wished Sarah’s writing wasn’t so descriptive. It made me feel so nauseous.
- So, if you have read like once sentence of any other post in this series, you know I have an unhealthy love for Chaol Westfall. But where his growth, his pain, with the existence of Tower of Dawn, is very much on the surface, and therefore easy to discuss, Dorian’s is hidden much farther down, and harder to see if you’re not looking. But he has been slowly crumbling for a while. He masks it with strength and sharp smiles and ice, but underneath he is sinking: “All he had was an unmarked grave for a healer no one would remember, a broken empire, and a shattered castle.” Sorscha, whose death everyone has seemed to gloss over whereas Dorian cannot stop seeing that head roll (I talked a lot about that in the HOF discussion), his father and the mix of guilt and triumph over killing him, the ever-constricting crisis of whether or not he can call himself human. With no one to turn to for the majority of this book (I know he has Manon but she’s not really the best with feelings, is she), he has to face all of this himself. And it is hinge of his arc in the series: can he get out of this? Can Adarlan get out of this? Do either of them deserve to? (spoiler alert: yes to all three questions, but Dorian has to figure that out on his own).
- There’s a mention of Vaughan early in the book, and he is mentioned a couple more times. WHERE IS HE????? He’s the elusive sixth member of the cadre, and is suspiciously absent from everything, but brought up enough that it seems significant. What is his deal? I’m so intrigued.
- You do not yield. Words to live by.
- Lysandra is such a badass! She never gives up, fighting in all forms, doing more work than anyone else for a kingdom she believes in. She’s one powerful lady. (Who Aedion definitely does not deserve. Sorry, but that’s the truth.)
- There’s an ongoing theme in this book – this series – about the notion of home and identity. It is present with Rowan, when he looks at Doranelle and wonders whether it is still his home, if its people are still his people. It is also key to Manon’s story, as she grapples with her new title and tries to understand what it means to now be Crochan and Ironteeth. It is the lynchpin of Aelin’s arc over the entire series. And in the end, they find home. In Terrasen, yes, but with each other. Home can be anywhere. (I talked more about this theme, and specifically how SJM uses it with couples, in the COM discussion).
- The first time I read the scene where they break out Aelin, I just rushed through it because I was so stressed and worried. But rereading, I took a closer look at it, and, honestly, I think it’s one of the best scenes in the series. The pacing is perfect, as we switch between Aelin’s, Rowan’s and Lorcan’s POVs, stretching out the moments so we feel every note of tension, every hitched breath and nervous glance. And then it slows down, as Aelin sits in that clearing begging someone to take off her chains. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely sobbed reading this. Aelin, who has always been full of swagger, able to get out of every situation, was helpless. This is the moment when you know it isn’t going to be an easy fix. She will not suddenly be herself again. It’s a hard moment, but necessary.
- It was no less shocking to see Aelin’s scars gone the second time. It is like Maeve is stripping her of her history, all her struggles meaning nothing. Devastating.
- There’s a line when they’re on the underground boat about how long it has been since they left that goes, “three days, if whatever senses Rowan and Gavriel possessed proved true. Perhaps the latter carried a pocketwatch.” And OMG the idea of Gavriel having a pocket watch is so absurd it just works.
- The moment that Aelin goes off the boat to find rings is so sweet. Rowan has been so worried about her and what she’s thinking, and this is her way of telling him that she still loves him. That everything is changed and knocked off its axis, everything but her love.
- There’s a line about how a year ago it was the Yulemas ball and I actually had to stop and put the book down, because I cannot believe its only been a year. So much has happened. How is that possible?!!
- The whole Chaol/Aelin/Yrene reunion was amazing. When Yrene gave Aelin her note back… my heart.
- Did not catch the first time around that Fenrys’ last name is Moonbeam… that’s absurd and hilarious and I burst out laughing when I saw it.
- So we need to talk about that scene with Aelin by the river. You know the one. Right after she finds out that Maeve is valg, she runs to the river, and Rowan follows her. I just want it to be over, she says, again and again. As I mentioned earlier, this book is Aelin’s rebirth. She has to build herself up, get herself back to the hopeful, sarcastic, inspiring queen we know. And this is a key moment. She has been faking the swagger, the smirks, just trying to get through it all. At this point, she just wants whatever happens to happen. They win or they lose, she lives or she dies. She is finding it so hard to keep fighting. And it is devastating. She is not yet back to her normal self. And she won’t be for a while. But it also makes her feel more human, as she’s imperfect and fighting and growing. There is a beautiful callback to this later when she’s fighting with Maeve, and she realizes that she doesn’t want any of it to be over. Though her life will be hard, she wants it all. She finds herself again, just not yet.
- I think it’s really important to note Aelin’s relationship with her fire. You don’t really notice first time around because, you know, battle, but it’s this subtle curve we’ve been following for a while. She was tortured with fire. Fire that had always been her friend, her confidant, her ally. But now that has changed. And yes, she’d been saving it all up for Maeve, but I also feel she wasn’t using it because part of her feared it. And that doesn’t easily get better. How do you teach yourself to love something that gave you so much pain?
- Okay, settle in, we’ve got to have a long chat about Manorian in this book. So when Manon proposes to him, there is a lot going on. She proposes because she thinks it will help them both politically, and it is stated that she clearly doesn’t really want to do this (at this point). Of course, she also proposes because she cares about him! And that scares her clearly, based on how she lashes out, but he is slowly melting her cold, cold heart.
That being said, it’s important to note, that, at this point, this relationship is not love. For either of them. It is about comfort and connection and caring, but not love. Dorian even says at one point “the woman I love [Sorscha] is dead.” Love, not loved. It is present tense. Whereas our other characters (Aelin and Rowan, Yrene and Chaol, Elide and Lorcan, etc) are falling in love hard and fast, Manon and Dorian aren’t there yet. They make each other happy, and it is strongly hinted at the end of the book that they’ll get together (Yrene’s “you could just get married” is iconic and one of the best lines in this book), but this isn’t true love. It will become a type of love, a strong one, but neither of them are the romantic type. Not anymore. So their relationship, I think, will always be more about caring about each other, about partnership, than intense love. And that is perfectly all right. That is fantastic. As well, both their arcs this book is focused on personal growth, so I do like that their romantic plot-line isn’t overdone or overly emphasized. They have to grow as people outside of the relationship first.
- When Aelin is looking through the Wyrdmark books for any help with the lock, she comes across a spell for opening portals to jump between places, not worlds. Which she ends up using at the end with the lost fae!
- I’m talking about Dorian a lot, but it’s so hard not too! He’s got such a good arc this book. There’s this wonderful ongoing motif of “true or false” with him. It has to do with Damaris, which can tell if something is true or not, but the motif seeps into Dorian’s story, as he tries to determine Adarlan’s fate and his own. It’s a nice framework that keeps us on track with his journey, as we see him decide that Adarlan is worth saving, and that yes, he is human. He wants to be worthy of his crown. His character development is quite phenomenal really.
- Dorian double crossing Maeve. What! A! Boss! F you, Maeve. (And “there’s only one witch who will be my queen” yessss)
- When the Crochans come swooping in to save Orynth… I think I actually whooped out loud.
- So if you read my Empire of Storms post, you’ll know I remain confused about the rules of the Lock. Brief recap: if it was going to take both Mala and Brannon to forge and use the lock, why do we only need one person to do both tasks now? My theory then boils down to that Aelin must be more than Demi-fae, but fae AND human, and thus has two lives to lose (this all falls apart with Dorian, I know, but I’m confused, okay?). And this theory was so buoyed by this book! There’s a part when Aelin literally says that she feels like a human wearing a fae body. She feels as if they are two separate identities. And then Rowan asks “why can’t you be human and fae?” (page 723 for anyone who wants to follow along), which basically proves my theory in the roughest sense of the word. So I was pretty happy for a second but then really not when I remembered that Aelin loses her human body. In the flurry of the war, that loss isn’t really given the importance it should. Aelin feels human, identifies as human, and suddenly that’s gone. Like mist on a lake, her fragile humanity is no longer there.
- Manon has stellar character development in this book. There is almost nothing of the heartless witch we were introduced to in Heir of Fire. Of course, there is her ascension to the Crochan throne, and there is her relationship with Dorian, but the majority of her character development comes from the Thirteen and Abraxos. When Abraxos almost dies in the battle, Manon is in pieces. She cannot fathom his death. She, despite her protests, loves him. This scene, with the knowledge of how unfeeling and ruthless she was just months before, is spectacular. She has come so far. She is not afraid to love. It makes her stronger, not weaker. And then there are the Thirteen. That scene made me sob harder than any other moment in the book. These twelve witches were family, and they loved Manon just as much as she loved them. They all met, deciding to sacrifice themselves if need be, so humanity could live, so Manon could live. “Live, Manon. Live,” Asterin said, giving her wing leader, her cousin, her best friend, the chance to grow, to be happy, to find love as she did. They go out in a blaze of light, not darkness like the other witches who Yield, because they are doing this for good, they have become more than their ancestors.
And then Manon walks out to the field, and stays there for hours, kneeling, wishing to everything that her family could come back. Everyone else comes out, laying down flowers, but this is Manon’s moment. She has known loss before, but never to this extent, never when her heart was open, when she could really be hurt. This only shows how far she’s come, how much she cared for them. We’ve been working towards this moment (and because it fulfills the prophecy). And I just hope that she’ll go on to live with love because of them. To honour them. Asterin, Sorrel, Vesta, Faline, Fallon, Edda, Briar, Thea, Kaya, Linnea, Ghislaine, Imogen. Until the Darkness claims us.
- Dorian and Chaol’s reunion. My heart was so full. “As Chaol Westfall dismounted and ran the last few feet toward Dorian, the king of Adarlan wept.” Same, Dorian. Same.
- Now that the crew is (mostly) back together, it’s time to decide what happens with the Lock. Now, not to be rude, but this seemed like the stupidest time to make this decision. Aelin has the power to wipe out entire valg armies with her power and you’re like, hmmm but maybe we should get her to die now on the slight chance the war will end. So dumb! But whatever, it happened, moving on.
This scene, them finally forging and using the Lock, was epic, a saga defining scene. And it is a perfect metaphor that it is happening in Endovier. This is the end of that girl in chains, the making of a Queen. In a place of so much hardship, where she once had no power, she is taking action herself. She is reclaiming the space. She is finally breaking free of her chains (since she was also a slave to the gods this whole time, doing their bidding, lead down this path.) So much goes down here, so let’s go through some of the highlights: 1) The King has no name. This absolutely shook me to my core. 2) Aelin still feels like she has to pay for her selfishness, for the ten years she spent as Celaena. But then she gets the message from her parents, “the debt has been paid enough, Fireheart.” She doesn’t need to feel guilty. She has done more than enough. 3) I almost threw my book across the room when the gods were like “uhh we’re not taking Erawan. What was the point of this then???!!! And when Aelin tried to trade for Elena… girl, Elena is already dead and all your friends are very much alive and counting on you to get rid of Erawan! Why would you even try to make that bargain? 4) “And she was not done yet.” I’ve had this quotation as a note on my laptop since I first read it. She was going to keep going. She was not ready for it to be over. Hell. Yes. 5) The callback to “it is not the end” was beautiful. For both Chaol and Aelin these words have been a guidepost, encouraging them and keeping them looking forward. 6) Rowan put a wyrdmark map in her tattoo… my heart. 7) Feyre and Rhys make an appearance! Cool! 8) “A firebringer no longer. But Aelin all the same.” What a lovely line. Overall, a genius, genius scene.
- “Never underestimate the power of guilt when it comes to Aelin Galthynius.” Dorian telling it like it is.
- “‘I am a god.’ She unleashed herself upon them.” YES AELIN. And in a way, she actually is. What makes a god? People believe in them. Also, this battle brings back my favourite line in the TOG series: “Hers was not a story of darkness.” A reminder for us all.
- YRENE. TOWERS. She saves them all. Not with death, but with life. With the power of healing. Perfect.
- I haven’t talked about Elide and Lorcan much, but they have such a great arc in this book! I must admit, first time round, they weren’t my favourite, but now I love seeing their growth and their relationship does feel real and grounded.
- As we wind down the book, every conversation becomes important, every last interaction, every moment between these characters we’ve all loved so much. I don’t think I need to discuss them all. They are quiet and perfect as is.
The only goodbye moment I do need to talk about is our OT3’s goodbye. Rereading these all in succession, I’ve noticed this friendship, how it evolves, how it grounds the story. This trio, this is where it all began. And when they are saying goodbye, they know that something is ending here too. “Thank you for all you’ve done for me,” Aelin says. Because they pulled her out of Endovier, out of the darkness. They gave her purpose, they taught her that she could be more than an assassin again. She taught them that there were more important things than loyalty and that there were things worth fighting for. She pulled them out of the darkness too. They started down this path together, and it feels only right that they finished it together too. Chaol just keeps repeating “we will see each other again” because he can’t bear it either. This finality.
“I love you both, and no matter what may happen, that will never change.” In this moment Aelin is speaking to Dorian and Chaol, her boys, but to us too. To the readers who made this all happen. To say I sobbed would be an understatement.
- The last chapter ends with Aelin saying to Rowan, “tell me to tomorrow.” The same line that she said to Chaol at the end of Throne of Glass. Everything comes full circle.
- The epilogue is titled “A better world.” This is what Aelin’s been working towards the whole time. And she made it. “The Kingsflame was blooming.” Because Aelin brought prosperity, brought hope back to Terrasen. She is what they’ve been waiting for.
- I only have one last thing to say: Thank you, Aelin. Thank you, Chaol. Thank you, Dorian. Thank you, Rowan, Yrene, Manon, Lysandra, Elide, Nehemia, Aedion, Gavriel, Fenrys, Lorcan, Sam. Thank you, Sarah J. Maas. Thank you thank you thank you.
Now for the fun stuff! *Wipes tears* First, as always, three of my favourite quotations from this book that didn’t make it into the discussion:
- “She was no helpless princess. She never had been.”
- “You are my joy.”
- “Beauty. There was still beauty in this world. Stars could still glow, still burn bright, even buried under the earth.”
I’ve kept it no secret that Crown of Midnight is my favourite TOG book, but here is my ranking of all of them, from favourite to least favourite:
- Crown of Midnight
- Queen of Shadows
- Kingdom of Ash
- Tower of Dawn
- Throne of Glass
- Empire of Storms
- Heir of Fire
Some controversial choices, I know! but I love them all, really. Let me know what your ranking is in the comments!
These books have some striking covers, so next I decided to rank those as well! (excluding TOD, because its cover is so different).
- Kingdom of Ash (Is there even a contest?)
- Queen of Shadows
- Empire of Storms
- Crown of Midnight
- Throne of Glass
- Heir of Fire
If you’ve been reading my posts, first thank you, you’re the only person who has been, secondly, you’ve probably noticed that I put a lot of focus on the actual prose. So next let’s count, in no particular order, the top ten quotations of the series! (This is going to be hard, you guys).
- “Hers was not a story of darkness.” – Heir of Fire + Kingdom of Ash
- “‘What if we go on,’ he said, ‘only to more pain and despair? What if we go on, only to find a horrible friend waiting for us?’ Aelin looked northward, as if she could see all the way to Terrasen. ‘Then it is not the end.'” – Queen of Shadows
- “Even when this world is a whisper of dust between the stars, I will love you.” – Empire of Storms
- “You could rattle the stars. You could do anything, if only you dared.” – Throne of Glass
- “For the city that had offered her joy and pain, for the city that had given her music, Aelin kept the fire burning.” – Queen of Shadows
- “She was Aelin Ashryver Galathynius. And she would not be afraid.” – Heir of Fire
- “The heart he’d offered and had been left to drop on the wooden planks of the river docks. An assassin who had sailed away and a queen who had returned.” – Tower of Dawn
- “A Fire-Bringer no more. But Aelin all the same.” – Kingdom of Ash
- Death had been her curse and her gift and her friend for these long, long years. She was happy to greet it again under the golden morning sun.” – Kingdom of Ash
- “Those she loved with her heart of wildfire.” – Heir of Fire + Empire of Storms + Kingdom of Ash
Finally, I would just like to say thank you. Thank you to Sarah J. Maas for writing these books, for giving me these characters that have helped me grow, helped me see that girls can save the world, and do it while wearing a dress, that it is okay to fall apart sometimes, that love has no boundaries. Thank you for making me believe that I can do this too. That I can write something that will matter to people. I am forever grateful.
And thank you, if you’ve been reading these posts. I might just be yelling into the void of the internet, but it’s nice to think that someone is out there listening.
Now, is it too soon to read them again?