Themes Explored: identity, magic, political power struggles, demon possession, demonic influences, spirit warfare, elves, immortality, flying, romance, friendship, sacrifice, wanderlust, meaning of humanity, survival, self-reliance, self-preservation, fear, hope, regret, memory, forgiveness, adventure, swordplay, sorcery, witch lore, death, revenge, betrayal, assassination, world weariness, loyalty, distrust, wariness, deceit
Synopsis: 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. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Review: The first book in the Throne of Glass Series debuted in 2012. Since then, the series has remained a popular mainstay on young adult fantasy. Sarah J Maas was partly inspired to write the series after watching Disney’s animated classic Cinderella. Maas asked the question: what if Cinderella fled the ball because she was an assassin. This led to the creation of Celaena Sardothien, an 18-year-old assassin who is more than she appears. I have thoroughly enjoyed the past three books and the novellas. Queen of Shadows is the fourth book in the installment and picks right up from the cliffhanger at the end of Heir of Fire.
Celaena Sardothien is the assassin trained champion of the Kingdom of Adarlan. Despite their original hesitancy, she forged quasi-romantic relationships with Crown Prince Dorian and Chaol, the Captain of the Guard. Over time Celaena found herself drawn into a dark world of corruption, conspiracy, and the supernatural. However, Celaena is more than just an assassin turned champion. She is the long-lost heir to the Kingdom of Terrasen. Heir of Fire detailed her adventures in the elvish controlled lands where she learned to harness and utilize her fire magic. In Queen of Shadows, she returns to claim her birthright and bring magic back to the Kingdom of Adarlan. First she needs to overcome the invasion of the Vlag, a demonic race from another world who are determined to conquer all known worlds. Aided by a ragged group of human rebels, Celaena sets out to destroy the demons and claim her birthright. Fully embracing her identity of Aelin Galathynius, Celaena/Aelin must overcome the darkness or forever live under the rule of demons.
After building up the romance angles between Chaol, Dorian, and Celaena, nothing happens. Surprise, she ends up with Rowan, the new love interest from book three. I felt a little cheated that Maas had spent a lot of time building up the romance between Chaol, Dorian, and Celaena just for nothing to happen. What a lot of wasted angst. This is one of the big things I despise about YA novels featuring a female protagonist. She is always super hot and every man who meets her falls desperately in love with her. It gets rather frustrating to read about every man blindly falling in love with Celaena and then loyally following her every command like besotted lap dogs. Even for a fantasy series, this seems farfetched and hard to believe. Though Chaol seems to finally see the light and move on. Poor Dorian just comes up unlucky. Celaena is not interested, his father killed Sorcha, and then he gets bonded to a Vlag Prince. It is tough being the Crown Prince of Adarlan.
Once he gets over his period of moodiness, Chaol becomes the voice of reason/wisdom. He takes every opportunity to bring up logical reasons to keep magic out of the land. On one hand, Celaena/Aelin’s fire magic can save them all. On the other, this raw and inhuman power can also wreck the world if left unchecked. Of course the alternative is permanent servitude to the increasingly domineering and wicked King of Adarlan. Though after a while his moral arguments and world weariness becomes rather tiring after the tenth time. We get it, magic is evil and Celaena/Aelin cannot be trusted. Frustrating moralizing aside, Chaol serves a pivotal purpose as the ethical center of the story. Without him, there would be no one asking the hard questions that needed to be addressed. Off all the characters in the series, his development arc has been the strongest. He went from the idealistic captain of the guard to the cynical leader of the rebels. Through it all he remains a loyal friend to Dorian and is willing to bend over backwards to save him.
Talking about Dorian, he is one of the most underutilized character in the series. He has a kind and gentle nature, that is completely at odds with his father’s callousness. Dorian was the only character in the series who did not immediately assume the worst about everyone he met. The past two books have culminated in a heartbreaking subplot for him. I felt the whole Vlag Prince subplot was a little underused in this series. One of the problems with following four different main characters is not every subplot is fully developed. Now that Celaena is embracing her identity as Aelin, her disconnect from the Chaol and Dorian feels both tragic and necessary. Both of the men needed to move on from her in order to become fully functioning adults.
One good thing about Queen of Shadows is that Manon finally got connected to the main storyline. The witches, while interesting, felt like a disjointed note in the overall narrative. They never seemed connected to the rest of the characters. But Manon finally enters into the main arc. In this book, Manon and her unique relationship with her Thirteen is more fully fleshed out. Some of the scenes were quite moving and well written. Manon’s culture is extremely matriarchal and rigid, there is no room for emotion or fulfilling relationships. Throughout the book Manon has to wrestle with deciding if monsters are born or created. There is a lot of soul searching and questioning of the way things are run. And I liked the ending with her and Dorian. I am excited to see where Maas takes that particular relationship in future installments.
Overall, Queen of Shadows is a great follow up to Heir of Fire. Parts of the narrative dragged a little, but the story was engaging. A lot of loose ends and revenge plots were tied up or killed off. I think Maas excels at world building and creating fantastical scenarios. This is a solid book four and sets up book 5 nicely. Unlike Heir of Fire, Queen of Shadows does not end on a cliffhanger.
Queen of Shadows, Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2015, ISBN 9781619636040