There’s no rulebook for what to do once you finish a series that’s so epic that you question your abilities as a writer. At least, that’s how I felt earlier this week after finishing Kingdom of Ash, and therefore, finishing the entire Throne of Glass series for the first time. And let me tell you, it has been a wild ride.
Warning: this series review has spoilers. So if you haven’t read every book, from The Assassin’s Blade to Kingdom of Ash, I strongly recommend you stop reading this review, and instead read the series. Then make sure to tell me once you did, so I can talk to someone about it!
I’ve been very open about the fact that I had a ten-year long reading slump while I was finishing school, and that finally, mercifully, ended last year once I dove head-first into the publishing world and saw the wonderful books, especially in young adult fantasy, that had come out while I wasn’t paying attention.
Throne of Glass was one of the fantasy series that immediately caught my eye, for many reasons. The covers were neat. I heard good things about a strong female lead, whispers of a romantic interest, and a very good friend of mine confirmed it was one of the best series she’d ever read. And that for me was the final push I needed. Plus, the hardcover set was on deep discount, so…
The memory of reading the first book brings back a chuckle, because although I was fairly confident the story would be good, based on the hype I’d noticed for the series, I really had no idea of what to expect. An assassin? A king’s tournament? Alright, fine.
Now here’s an important point I want to clarify. As much as the series was amazing, it wasn’t perfect. But I truly believe that the merits of this series far outweigh any negative points. And the progression of Maas’s writing was something that was also really interesting to see.
It would be impossible to write a fully comprehensible review of the entire series while only having read it once. But there are several aspects that I really enjoyed that I want to focus on, so let’s do that.
The first is a little obvious, but let’s talk about the story for a minute.
The series begins with Celeana Sardothien imprisoned in Endovier, where she undergoes forced labor and whippings for bad behaviour – which is often. It ends with Aelin Galathynius Whitethorn Ashryver, in her palace in Orynth, overlooking a field of Kingsflame flowers – a divine approval of her as ruler of Terrasen.
And there’s a lot that happens in between.
The story, from start to finish, was always engaging and interesting. And it was really refreshing that the series had an ever-evolving goal, that changed with the information that was made available to the reader. It made sense for the goal to change, because our understanding of the world of Erilea changed. And while the goals themselves were lofty and grand (killing the king, bringing magic back, wiping Erawan out of existence), the obstacles that were in the way of the goals were equally just as insurmountable.
One thing I also appreciated about the series is how everything tied in together. Characters that we met in passing in The Assassin’s Blade suddenly became really important in Empire of Storms. Conversations and threads that were spun in Throne of Glass kept re-appearing throughout the series, such as the Wyrdmarks, Wyrdstone, or tales of great shadows and evils of the past.
So yes, the story remained fresh over the course of eight books, which is a huge undertaking. And each book was its own self-contained narrative, while also fitting into the broader series ecosystem. The planning that author Sarah J. Maas had to do before even laying pen to paper must have been incredible to see.
Now on to the second part of what made this series so awesome: the characters.
As with most fantasy stories, there are a ton of characters in the Throne of Glass series. Some are part of each book, some only make a brief appearance. And then some come to play a much larger role than anyone would have thought. But there are two particular strengths that applies to all of these characters that I was to draw attention to.
For one, each of these characters is vastly different. Aelin is a much different person than Sorscha or Elide, for example. And Chaol is different from Aedion and Rowan. This is really a testament to Maas’s character-building skills. It’s difficult to write so many characters and have each one feel like a real person with goals and aspirations. And in a world with as many characters as the Throne of Glass series, it can be difficult to remember each of their names. But if each of these characters feels like its own unique person, then it’s easier to distinguish them.
For example: I cannot remember each name of the Khagan’s children. But I recognize their personalities enough to know who the Ruk-rider one is versus the horse-rider one. And that in itself is an important accomplishment, because it is difficult to make an entire cast of characters all feel different from one another. Some characters are deeply flawed, but those flaws make them who they are and help in turn to advance the narrative.
Secondly, nearly every single important character goes through a change. If characters did not change over the course of eight books, then the series would have been stagnant. But miraculously, every single character goes through a drastic arc, some even going through multiple changes over the course of the series.
This development, to me, was crucial in keeping me glued to the series and reading as fast as I could. Character arcs like Manon’s, for example, made me feel invested in the series. And her redemption arc, if you will, was one of the strongest. Even Aelin goes through a host of changes, some brought about by internal goals, some by external circumstances. These character arcs kept the reading fresh and went hand in hand with what they were experiencing around them in the story.
So what does one do, after reading an epic series of this magnitude?
I’m asking for myself, because I’m not sure what the answer is. As a reader, the series was incredible in ways I never could have anticipated. But as a writer, a not insignificant part of me is jealous. Jealous of how this series came together, and concerned that I might never be able to tell as good a story.
Oh well. Brooding on that point won’t accomplish anything. I’m better off honing my craft and sharpening my skills.
On to the next read, right?
If you’re curious, I did find that Maas’s writing style, and mine, are similar. So if you’re looking for a high fantasy read, consider giving the Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past a try!