I feel like it's been forever since I've read a real fantasy novel, but it really hasn't been! I read both The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate within the past few weeks, and Smoke and Blood Debt not too long before that. But none of those are really the classic, sweeping sort of fantasy that the Throne of Glass series is, and I guess that's why Empire of Storms felt so refreshing--though the other books were by no means stale.
Empire of Storms is the fifth book in the Throne of Glass series. By now we know that the King of Adarlan wasn't the Big Bad, it's actually Erawan, the Valg King, who was hiding out inside a duke's body until this point. Aelin has also made her return to claim her crown as the Queen of Terrasen, and she and her crew know they're going to have down Erawan or the whole world of Erilea is going to be destroyed. So, with all that in mind, this book does a couple of different things.
It features Aelin's return to Terrasen, which doesn't go very well, and her attempts to both stop Erawan and reclaim her crown. Manon Blackbeak, our resident witch, struggles with the knowledge she's gained of what exactly is going on in Morath. And Elide, who escaped from Morath at the end of the last book, attempts to find Aelin/Celaena to give her the Wyrdkey that Kaltain gave her, though Elide doesn't know exactly what it is she's carrying. Along the way, all of those involved run into plenty of trouble, encounter new monsters, and forge new friendships/ally-ships to get them through. Oh, and did I mention Maeve the Fae Queen might be up to something dastardly, too?
While I liked this overall, Maas did a few things that really annoyed me. First, there's a Big Secret that comes out at the end about Aelin and Rowan. Aelin has been doing things on the sly all along, so I was used to that, but we're typically keyed in about things the other characters are doing--so the fact that three characters other than Aelin knew what happened, and yet we were kept in the dark for it, was annoying. It wasn't SHOCKING when this thing came out, though Maas clearly meant for it to be. Instead, I was just irked that she decided to ditch her typical storytelling convention in an attempt to pull at our heartstrings. And, I might add, not a very successful attempt; I think other parts of the book were far more dramatic and poignant than that.
Second, there is no Chaol in this book, so if you were hoping for Chaol, be prepared to be disappointed. I expected to see some of Chaol and Nesryn (that was her name, right?) on the southern continent, getting Chaol better while attempting to win allies for Adarlan and Terrasen against Erawan. That's pretty much where the end of Book 4 hinted at his story going. But instead, there is a strange Chaol-shaped gap in the story. Would having him have resulted in too many plots in too many directions? Maybe... It's hard to say. But it's very strange to suddenly have a character who was a prominent presence in the former 4 books of the series just suddenly not be there at all.
Third, more Elide and Lorcan, please! This is kind of combined with another one, which is that apparently normal people aren't allowed to do interesting things in Maas' world? Honestly, Aelin was a bit more interesting when she was Celaena, a mere mortal who used her wits and strength to change her path, than when she became a super-powered part-fae-whatever-she-is-now. Even Elide doesn't get to be fully mortal, though she's the closest of the batch to being so. At first having a few "supernatural" characters sprinkled in was fun...but it's getting old fast. But specifically with Elide and Lorcan, I wanted more chapters with them. Aelin and Rowan are clearly together for the long haul and are therefore no longer interesting at this point, so I wanted more of the new blossoming romance here. (There are also other brewing pairings in Aelin's group, but Elide and Lorcan, off on their own, were far more interesting.)
Fourth, and finally (I'll talk about cool things in a minute), Maas has started really pulling in from the novellas that were published before the first book. I don't really like this as an approach; little nods to short stories/novellas that tie in with a series are cool, but expecting people to track down and read them so they understand what's going on isn't. At this point, if you haven't read the novellas, you're going to be pretty lost with some of the characters appearing and things goings on. I have read the novellas, but it's very rare of me to do so, and I can see how frustrated I would have been if I had come to this book and then realized that there was a whole bunch of other stuff I had to read that hadn't been mentioned until this point, and hadn't been included in a main book in the series.
Okay, now for the stuff I liked! I liked the writing, as usual--I think that Maas has really matured as a writer throughout this series, and this book is much better than the original Throne of Glass. There were some very neat settings here, such as the introduction of the Stone Marshes and the re-introduction/introduction (depending on whether you read the novellas or not) of Skull's Bay. Actually, the entire Skull's Bay sequence, including the big fight, was pretty cool, and was actually one of my favorite parts of the book. It ends a little bit of a swashbuckling air to the story and is a nice change from the trekking overland we'd seen until this point.
Another interesting point was watching Aelin's growing network of connections. I totally sympathize with Aedion and wanting to punch her in the face for not telling anyone what was going on, but also understand her reasoning--which Aedion does too, eventually. All of those connections that Aelin has made in the past are now coming back to help her, and it's the continuation of her actually becoming someone worthy of the title '"Queen." I'm glad she didn't actually grab her crown right away upon returning to Terrasen, because this fight has made her a continually more compelling character. Do I like where this book left off with her? Well... I'm just kind of "meh" about it. I've moved on to other favorite characters by now, and I think it would actually be kind of of interesting to see how they would fight back if the great and powerful Aelin fell. But the inclusion of the flashback parts, and the new knowledge of Elena, was very interesting, too. And I loved how Maas finally tied Manon's storyline more completely into the main one.
Overall, I think there is a lot to like about this one, but there are a few things that just didn't seem to fit that drag it down from a most-excellent rating. All those things considered, I'm giving this 3.5 stars, but I'm hopeful for the final volume...though I'm unsure of how Maas is going to wrap it all up.