New Adult Romance, YA Fantasy

My Review: Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5): by Sarah J. Maas

Publish Date: September 6th, 2016
Number of Pages: 689 Pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, YA Romance

***Warning!! This review contains spoilers for previous books in the whole series, continue reading at your own risk! You’ve officially been warned!***

To see my review for book #0.5 – The Assassin’s Blade – Click HERE

To see my review of book #1 – Throne of Glass – Click HERE

To see my review of book #2 – Crown of Midnight – Click HERE

To see my review of book #3 – Heir Of Fire – Click HERE

To see my review of book #4 – Queen of Shadows – Click HERE

To see my Fancast/Dreamcast for the whole series – Click HERE

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

For me, Sarah J. Maas is one of the few authors who can make a near 700 page novel feel like it barely surpassed 300. Empire of Storms moved incredibly quick, even though it’s become one of her more intricately plotted books to date. Right away you’re brought right into the thick of what is all going on, and just as quickly takes off with Aelin, Rowan, Lysandra, and company traveling to look for allies, Dorian is attempting to help rebuild Rifthold heal from its past horrors, Manon and the Blackbeak Clan continue to clash with the other Ironteeth clans and Erawan, plus many more going on behind the scenes!

This book is also the source of a lot of controversy and criticism because of its more erotic scenes involving certain characters, and how they’re worded on paper. I can admit, some of it’s pretty cringe, and some readers don’t like that this series has shifted yet again, and now has similar adult content like her other popular series, A Court of Thorns and Roses. I love both of her series tremendously, but I can’t entirely discredit the concern some people have when they count as Children’s/Young Adult literature. Sex is a topic that teenagers should be able to explore and figure out for themselves what they feel and think about it, and it is a big coming of age theme depending on how it’s handled within a story. In this story, it can be viewed more as purple-prosed erotica, and while I was fine with it, I am able to recognize that some readers may be turned off to it, no pun intended.

On a more positive note, there were plenty of things in this book that I loved! Manon Blackbeak and her developement being the biggest factor for me. Usually I’ve been finding her storylines boring even as I love the character, but this book changed that tremendously! I also loved the storyline/development of Lorcan and Elide, a.k.a. “Elorcan” as most fans put it. They were a couple I had no idea I’d love so much until they meet in this book, so what a happy surprise! I also am one of the readers that actually did appreciate the more mature romance. While it was worded strangely to avoid using certain terms, I thought it did add to the story and make it that much more impactful.

That being said, there were of course some other things I didn’t like as much: The big one being the lack of Chaol and Nesryn. Dorian’s character has taken a weird shift too, to which part of me was disappointed with as he’s my favorite character in the whole dang series!

There’s yet another shift in the series that’s different than the first two books, and even the third and fourth novels. There’s no denying that SJM can write, and the series started off as a much simpler story with just Calaena, Chaol, Nehemiah, and Dorian that made you feel really close to them, and then it shifted into a much broader epic fantasy series with a large cast, each having their own stories and developments, comparable to popular series like Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire. I can appreciate both types of stories, but I do like how this series has shifted from one to the other. I think it served as a good basis to get to know the core characters, and then allowed it to branch off like it has with more intertwining subplots, more characters, and raising the stakes with every page.

Some readers miss the simplicity the first two books had, but I personally think SJM works better with these larger casts of characters stories; something lost but something gained.

Overall, I immensely enjoyed this book; it’s at this point in the whole series that I really just love where the everyone is at and so many characters have been introduced in varied ways. Some are more fleshed out than others, but part of the journey of reading a book series is slowly learning more about the newer characters as they stick around. The action was absolutely riveting, especially the events in Skull’s Bay! The romance was scorching—or earth shattering—and somehow the stakes continue to rise as even more secrets are exposed, and certain characters that we haven’t seen or heard from in awhile make a unexpected return.

Hearts will pound in anticipation and break over the loss; you’ll be on the edge of your seat either way!

Where do you think you’re going?’ Darrow demanded.

She looked over her shoulder. ‘To call in old debts and promises. To raise an army of assassins and thieves and exiles and commoners. To finish what was started long, long ago.’”

— Sarah J. Maas, “Empire of Storms”

What It’s About:

The Official Blurb:

Kingdoms will collide.

The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius as war looms on the horizon. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don’t.

With her heart sworn to the warrior-prince by her side, and her fealty pledged to the people she is determined to save, Aelin will delve into the depths of her power to protect those she loves. But as monsters emerge from the horrors of the past, and dark forces become poised to claim her world, the only chance for salvation will lie in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

In this breathtaking fifth installment of the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series, Aelin will have to choose what—and who—to sacrifice if she’s to keep the world of Erilea from breaking apart.

Dorian offered a lazy grin in return. ‘Believe it or not, this ship has an unnatural number of attractive men and women on board. You’ll fit right in. And fit in with the cranky immortals, I suppose.’”

— Sarah J. Maas, “Empire of Storms”

What I Liked:

  1. Manon Blackbeak’s Character Development! Very easily the MVP of the whole dang book, Manon is by far the best character with the way her storyline progresses and how she grows as a character. So much happens to her, and unlike the other books, I was completely riveted with the words on the page whenever she was the main focus for the chapter. Before Empire of Storms, I was never really fully invested in her… Her as character YES, but her storyline wasn’t too thrilling, but that changes in this book HEAVILY! I can’t give away what all happens just because I don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone who’s a first time reader, but Manon fans will REJOICE!
  2. Lorcan and Elide! This was such an unexpected surprise; these two interacting the way they did, and how their relationship developed was such a delight. Elide had finally escaped from the clutches of her uncle and is travelling back to Terrasen in search of both Calaena and Aelin—oh the irony—while being tailed by Lorcan. I never thought they would ever interact, but then SJM goes and gives us ANOTHER couple to completely obsess over. The last couple of chapters put them through so much, but I was so into it!
  3. The Mature Shift of the Romance! This is perhaps the most controversial topic of this book—no, this whole series by this point! There has been a shift being seen since Heir of Fire (book #3), but there’s ANOTHER shift with this book particularly where the lines of YA become mixed with NA, and yes….there’s sex. Pretty graphic sex too I will add. Personally, I didn’t have a problem with it as much as a lot of other readers do… I mean, yeah, maybe some of the descriptions were really cringe and apparently I find it funny that Rowan’s orgasms can cause earthquakes, but hey, in the moment…. you know what, not gonna go there! To me, it’s like these books have grown and matured along with SJM and her career, and I really like that idea, but I can also agree that the younger readers in the fandom might be a little wide-eyed and blushing like they’re stashing a copy of 50 Shades underneath their pillow whenever their parents come in. I was also reading erotic romance in like 8th and 9th grade, so I say it all just depends on the reader specifically. If you’re uncomfortable with sex scenes in a book, that’s cool. If you’re all for it, that’s cool too!
  4. Aedion’s Confession! I so wish there was more exploring of this small tidbit…
  5. Fenrys and Gavriel! You kind of met Gavriel in Heir of Fire, but he returns with another alpha-fae in the form of Fenrys—who is just such a delight. These two are total opposites, and Gavriel had a much deeper story arc, but they could only add more to the cast that is already stacked with so many names!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. No Chaol and No Nesryn…Despite what a lot of people say about him, plus my own disappointment with some things he’s said and done, Chaol is still one of my favorite characters! At the end of Queen of Shadows, he’s brutally injured and can no longer walk, so him and Nesryn head down to the Southern Continent to look for a healer and to gain some new allies for the war ahead. I’m not gonna lie, the two of them not being in this book felt like such a large chunk was missing. HOWEVER, I do know that the next book in the series, Tower of Dawn, will focus on them as it will show what happens parallel in this book. I can agree that if they were to be combined that it would be too much at once!
  2. Dorian’s Character Felt Off…LOVE LOVE LOVE Dorian, he’s easily my favorite character in this whole series! That’s why it feels weird to say how I’m not entirely sure I was 100% behind him in this book. Sure, he’s just faced a huge trauma of losing Sorscha, being possessed by a Valg Prince, killing many people under its control, killing his father, and almost losing his best friend, Chaol…. that’s a lot of trauma to deal with! I would love to see if anyone could come out the same after experiencing all that, and not even being in control of his own actions for some of it. Maybe that’s why he felt off, like he was an entirely different character. It felt like pieces of him were no longer there…

Conclusion:

This is the 5th installment to my favorite Fantasy series, Throne of Glass, and it takes yet another shift towards something that’s matured along with SJM’s writing. Gone is the whimsical, lighter tone from the first two books, and now there’s a more erotic mature theme added to the story that have shown up with the mutual maturation of the characters and their development. Like the controversy over her other series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, the romance has become intended what most critics would say is more geared towards a New Adult level than Young Adult, what this series is originally advertised and marketed as.

Loved this book so much, I can personally say I appreciate the tone in which these books have shifted to. The whole plot of the series has continued to become more intricate and deeply thought out, and let’s just say to expect some major twists and turns along with plenty of heartbreak, especially with that doozy of a cliffhanger ending!

The biggest disappointment had to be the lack of a former Captain of the Guard, but luckily he’s the main focus of the next book. We’re getting closer to the final battle, and things can only keep getting more intense as Aelin fights for her destiny!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Uncategorized, YA Fantasy

My Review: All the Stars and Teeth (All the Stars and Teeth #1): by Adalyn Grace

Publish Date: February 4th, 2020
Number of Pages: 384 Pages
Publisher: Imprint
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars

Boarding a magical ship and following the tail of a wandering mermaid, you’ll be absolutely shanghaied into joining a fearless heroine with ominous magical abilities and her newfound crew as they set sail to save the kingdom!

This title has been one of the more highly anticipated YA Fantasy releases of 2020 so far, and it’s also the author’s debut novel as well! Saying that, it’s a pretty impressive work to say the least, and with a solid first book under her belt, Adalyn Grace has a bright looking future in YA literature. Not much is known about her, but in her short author bio, I thought it was worth mentioning that she was actually an intern on Nickelodeon’s animated show, The Legend of Korra, and is a big fan of burritos; add those two facts with how she’s written a story taking place on the high seas with pirates, mermaids, curses, romance, and plenty of danger, I may have a friend-crush on her!

Adalyn if you’re reading this, you’ve got a bookish friend in me! Let’s grab some burritos sometime and talk bookish topics!

It was a lot of fun to get this book as a surprise in the February Owlcrate box with the theme that was “The Power Within” (For those of you who don’t know, Owlcrate is a YA Fantasy monthly subscription box where there’s a theme, several bookish gift items based off well known books that fit that theme, and a special edition of a newly released book that they don’t reveal until the box literally plops onto your doorstep! I personally recommend trying it out!)

Here’s a link to their official website: www.owlcrate.com

You saw the original cover on the top of this post, but check out their exclusive edition that came with the order:

They added more colors to the scheme of the cover but kept it in shades pertaining to the ocean and it’s many majesties and mysteries, it’s own original foil design inside the jacket, plus was signed by the author herself with a special letter!

Alright, so special editions and gorgeous covers aside, back to the book itself and my reasoning behind my rating. Basically, overall it was a fun read filled with interesting imagery and enjoyable characters, and while the adventure they partake on in the story was action packed it never really blew my mind or made it feel like the stakes were high enough. I never felt like the characters were in real danger. The intensity and emotional impact wasn’t all there, but like I said, this book was fun and pretty impressive for a debut!

What It’s About:

A map of Visidia, image courtesy of fiercereads.com

As princess of the island kingdom of Visidia, Amora Montara has spent her entire life training to be High Animancer—the master of souls. The rest of the realm can choose their magic, but for her, it’s never been a choice. To secure her place as heir to the Visidian throne, she must prove her mastery of the monarchy’s dangerous soul magic.

When her demonstration goes awry, Amora is forced to flee. She strikes a deal with Bastian, a mysterious pirate: he’ll help her prove she’s fit to rule if she’ll help him reclaim his stolen magic from a conniving tyrant.

But sailing the islands of their world holds more wonder—and more peril—than Amora had ever anticipated. A destructive new magic is on the rise, and if Amora is to conquer it, she’ll need to face legendary monsters, cross paths with vengeful mermaids, and deal with a stow-away she never expected… or risk the fate of Visidia and lose the crown forever.

What I Liked:

  1. The Main Cast of Characters! Our Protagonist is Amora Montara, who is the princess of Arida, about to ascend the throne if she can showcase her particular soul magic in a ceremony. We also have Bastian, a pirate of a ship named the Keel Haul, and he was a fun & sexy character to add to the story. He’s certainly keeping plenty of secrets, but has a nice romantic dynamic with Amora. There’s Ferrick, who’s betrothed to Amora through an arrangement much like plenty of royal family histories, and he was a little tropey by being the skinny, naive boy who makes it easy for the MC to pick the other love interest, but he does grow a pair later on in the story which I appreciated! Then there’s Vataea, a kidnapped and vengeful mermaid who is rescued by the others in order to save the kingdom. She was vicious and adorable all at the same time if you can believe it!
  2. The Group Dynamic Aboard the Ship! One of the real highlights of the book was the group aboard the ship and their development as their mission is acted out. While Bastian and Amora have an obvious attraction to each other, the author also explores that possibility with the other two, and am curious to see how that plays out in the next book!
  3. Pirates & Mermaids Aesthetic! I’ve always been a fan of them since I’d first watched Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl back in the day! I still consider it to be one of my all time favorite movies, and I’ve always had a love for the ocean and mermaids. Ariel from The Little Mermaid was always my favorite Disney princess growing up! I’m glad to see a Fantasy novel have these qualities that I adore, and not just for that reason but because they aren’t used as often as I’d like!
  4. The Gorgeous Cover Design! Add this book to any list of books that have absolutely stunning and artistic cover design! It certainly draws the eye, both the Owlcrate Edition I have and the original!
  5. 7 Magic Systems! People that love well thought out magic systems will appreciate that this novel can boast an astounding number of them! Each island in the story hosts people who have a specific ability as it’s a part of the history of the land and is basically law.
  6. Amora is Morally Grey! She’s not some Mary-Sue, goody-two-shoes type that will bore you to tears; the princess has a dark side! She’s not afraid to draw blood in a fight and smirk at the sight of her weapon protruding out of her enemies, and you really see it in the ceremony in the beginning of the book. Amora having her boss-bitch moment and embracing her dark side had me like:

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. I Wanted More Mermaids…The hype surrounding this book was that there were many vengeful mermaids the characters would come across through their journey, but all I’ve met so far is just Vataea, who says she may be one of the last of her kind! I hope the next book will show us more of the sirens of the deep, and have them be as beautiful and terrifying, much like the ones you saw in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie!
  2. This Was A Little Too Predictable…Honestly, as someone who’s read quite a few Fantasy titles, both Adult and YA, this book didn’t bring too much “new” to the table in terms of plot, story arcs, etc. Nothing really shocked me, none of the twists really blew me away; for the most part I’d seen it all before.

Conclusion:

Overall, All the Stars and Teeth was not a bad debut novel by any means! I enjoyed the characters, the setting, the worldbuilding, and the fact that there’s romance treated as a subplot rather than being a big driving force. The plot was more or less the same sort of story any sort of fantasy reader has read before, especially in YA Fantasy, but it’s still easy to get swept away if you connect with Amora and the crew of the Keel Haul. While I wasn’t disappointed and definitely plan to read the second part of this duology when it releases in 2021 most likely, it also didn’t exactly blow me away to the point of me obsessing and immediately pushing it onto my friends/coworkers to read. I still had fun reading it, it was just nothing too new or mind-blowing for me personally, BUT the positives do outweigh the negatives!

I would recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a more ocean-centric Fantasy/Adventure title to try out, and of course anyone who enjoys Pirates and Mermaids! Quite honestly, I don’t see as many novels coming out that feature those aspects, so it’s a nice change of pace to keep the genre a little fresh, plus I plan to write a Fantasy book series with a lot of similar aesthetics, so it gave me an opportunity to compare and think of how to take the idea even further! If you love the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, the Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes, or the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas, I have a feeling you’d enjoy adding this title to your bookshelf!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell