Book Review: Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

4/5 stars

I’ll admit, when this book was announced, I had my reservations. I’ve had various issues with the Throne of Glass series in the past, the biggest being that I feel like the entire tone of the series and all the characters’ personalities changed radically somewhere between Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows. While I’ve found her recent books to still be fast-paced and fun, I wasn’t sure whether stretching a novella into a 660+ pages book was a good idea.

However, after reading it, I enjoyed it. This is definitely still a Sarah J. Maas book. There’s popcorn-y action that follows fantasy story tropes, names that don’t follow any obvious linguistic rules, and a liberal helping of romance to go along with your violence. If you’ve never been a fan, this won’t convert you. But if you enjoy these hallmarks of Maasness, you’ll find plenty to entertain you here.

My usual SJM reservations haven’t gone anywhere. There’s lots of Manly Man time, complete with endless attention paid to the fact that ermagerd, Chaol has MUSCLES! Like, I get it! He’s buff! It gets repetitive to constantly read things like, “Chaol picked up a cup. The mighty muscles that corded his arms clenched.” or “Chaol scratched his ass. His muscular back rippled.” And this is not a Chaol problem. I’m honestly worried how they’ll cast male actors for the Throne of Glass TV show because all of them are described as looking about as different as the same bodybuilder in different-coloured wigs.

SJM also continues to refuse to end questions with question marks. There’s tons of “What,” Chaol said. and “Where are they.” I get that she’s trying to convey that they’re saying it like it’s a statement instead of a question, but you can literally write that in the dialogue tag and not have my grammar nerd brain short-circuit.

Beyond those little nitpicks, though, I really liked Tower of Dawn. It took me a while to get into it (I found the beginning really slow) but once I got about a sixth of the way in, I started flying through. It is true that this volume is a little less action-heavy than other installments, and I do think that it didn’t need to be over 600 pages long, but it still kept me turning pages at a steady clip.

I was also really impressed by how fleshed-out the supporting characters were, especially considering that this book has A SHITTON OF SUPPORTING CHARACTERS. Every single one was given nuance and personality. Some of the best were Borte, Hafiza, the ten seconds we got with Nesryn’s sister, and Sartaq. However, the real stand-out for me was Hasar. She felt very multi-faceted and her character constantly surprised me. I was never quite sure which side she was on or whether I could trust her, but I liked where the story went with her. It was great to see a female character who got to be crusty and crabby and unlikable, but still very human.

Obviously, the focus of this book is on Chaol and Yrene. While this is ostensibly a fantasy novel, at its core, it’s about the romance developing between the two of them and how it affects them. I’m a bit hit and miss with SJM couples. I really liked Feyre and Rhysand, I do not get Aelin/Celaena and Rowan. This was a hit for me, probably because it was quieter and more realistic than the SJM romances I’ve read in the past. There’s a lot of HE WAS MALE, MALE-Y MALE, SMELLS LIKE MALE, STRENGTH OF MALE in her stuff, which I always find kind of humorous, but, except for the aforementioned repetition of how muscled Chaol was and a few moments in the one (surprisingly short for her) sex scene, he didn’t really go down that path.

Yrene was very take-no-shit in a way that seemed like more than just an excuse for Sexual Tension Banter (trademark Jane Austen, 1813). Her journey to confront the horrors and wounds in her past was very relatable, and the emphasis on the strength of healing and helping others heal rather than destroying was something I feel we haven’t seen in this series so far.

Also, that revelation at the end! Sarah J. Maas always manages to keep me in the dark as to where she’s going with her plot, and this book was no exception. I did NOT see that coming. As much as I love to be a big snob about her books, underestimate her at your own peril. She will make you reconsider everything you thought you knew about her world, rip your heart out, or maybe both. I always end her books with this urge to make these very primal AAAAHHHHH noises. (See: me at the end of ACOMAF) I’m happy to report she does not disappoint on that here.

No, Tower of Dawn doesn’t blaze new ground for what it means to be a Sarah J. Maas novel. But it’s a lot of fun, and, let’s be honest, isn’t that why we read in the first place? We read for the rush, and Sarah J. Maas knows how to bring that.

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