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Review: Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

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★★★★✩

(actual rating 4.25 stars)

This is a freaking long review but there are no spoilers for this book and very minor spoilers for the rest of the series.

After the disaster that was ACOWAR, I was really scared of this book. I know, I know, ACOWAR is another world, another trilogy, whatever, but the thing is my taste has changed in the past year and my worst fear was that the last two books in the Throne of Glass series would be ruined for me because I don’t like the author anymore. Fortunately, I found that that wasn’t true (at least not of this book), but I also had some problems with it.

The thing you have to know about me is that Throne of Glass is what got me into YA high fantasy. Back when I should have been an experienced reader already, but I actually didn’t know anything about show-don’t-tell or any of the basic rules of writing, back when I didn’t realize that killing a POC character is a pretty shitty thing to do (hello if you’re not in the US you just don’t know these things). So I loved the first books and I’ve reread them enough times that I fortunately don’t have to do it anymore, because if I did I know I would have to massively lower my rating. The world of Throne of Glass means so much to me and even if I’m far from the reader I was when I used to say “sjm can do no wrong” and I kind of don’t like the main characters anymore, I still love the feeling of this world and its side characters so much.

I didn’t write the previous paragraph to justify why I have a “problematic fave”, but because I think it’s relevant to my review. If you’re somehow reading this without having read the rest of ToG and see my mostly positive review about this, it’s still very likely that you might not want to start this series, because I’m mostly biased when it comes to it. I’m not telling anyone “read this” or “don’t read this”, but just keep in mind that nostalgia plays a big role sometimes when judging later books in a series.

Despite everything, I also think I’m fairly objective when reviewing this in all its parts, so we can move on from this long premise.

➻ Is reading this book necessary before reading the next one? 
Well, I obviously haven’t read the next one, but I do believe that if you’re planning to finish this series you should read this. I have no doubt that the discoveries that Chaol, Yrene, Nesryn and Sartaq made will be thoroughly summarized in Throne of Glass #7, but that’s still all they’ll ever be: summaries. There is a certain eerie feeling to both major discoveries that take place in this book, and that’s one of the things where I feel SJM’s writing excels. And even if the discoveries themselves could be summarized in a few sentences, they are so deeply interwoven with the world building and the history of this fantasy world that I fully believe all the “side info” revealed will somehow come back to bite our ass in the last book. So, bottom line, if you plan to continue the series, read this book.

➻ World building 
I’ve said it before, but world building is something SJM is very good at. She knows her worlds and she knows when to give snippets of info that will come back later, and she knows when and how to unload a reveal on you.

I wouldn’t say there was any big infodump, but we are in a different continent than the one we’re used to, and one that is very very different from what we’ve seen so far, so there were a couple of explanations about its culture and society. I can’t speak for the types of cultures that she drew inspiration from, but the society and world felt rich and well researched, and it was interesting to see the cultural shock Chaol went through on a couple of occasions.

Besides that, a lot of the new information we get has to do with all the continents we’ve seen so far, not just this one. Things we thought we knew from the ancient past are explored again and not everything is how we thought it was.

And speaking of the Southern Continent, here’s what you need to know: we’ve had three books to get used to the Fae and the Valg, to the point where they’ve become normalized (especially the Fae). But there are no Fae in the Southern Continent, or there haven’t been for many years. There is magic, specifically the magic of the healers, but they’re all human women. The Fae are still as mysterious to these people as they were to us in the first two books of this series, so to see the people from the Southern Continent ask about the Fae is like jumping back to years ago when you first read ToG and CoM and you felt that aura of mystery around the Fae.

Especially because a lot of the new information our characters find has to with a past that is so ancient that it helps us regain a little bit of focus. It’s kind of a “wtf” moment when you realize the Fae have been there since who freaking knows when, and it’s a good reminder of how ancient they are, not any single one of them specifically but as a whole. And it reminds you how small and ephemeral these human civilizations are. They’re talking about new rules they had like the abolishment of slavery like they’re been there for a long time, but then you realize it’s merely been decades and compared to the Fae and the Valg humans are so ridiculously tiny.

It’s not just that she tells us, but it’s how she tells us, and that’s absolutely something SJM’s writing does well. Sure, it’s a little over the top sometimes, but when it comes to telling or re-telling the ancient history she manages to create almost an eerie aura that draws you to this world she created and reminds you why you fell in love with it.

➻ Characters 
I love Chaol and I never agreed with those who said SJM ruined him in QoS because he was kind of an asshole. Look, he’s human and everything we knew about his character before then pointed to the fact that he was never gonna be someone who was simply going to accept magic the moment it came back. We spent a whole book without him and I think that was needed. Coming back to a book that is full of purely human characters has been a breath of fresh air and Chaol has had the chance to think about everything that’s happened to him (not just about his injury). His character development in this book, his emotional healing was great to read and it was cathartic to me personally.

It’s not a surprise that SJM can write emotional healing well. It’s what she’s done with Celaena/Aelin and what she’s done with Feyre, and what she’s done with Chaol in this book. Personally I think his development was perfect, he wasn’t emotionally healed because of love but because he learned to see his past from a different perspective and he’s learned to forgive others and most importantly himself.

Yrene was my absolute favorite in TAB, and that’s because she was so different than the characters SJM usually writes. She was….I wouldn’t say “weak”, but she was her own sort of strong while also being fragile and scared and hopeless and stuck. I related a lot to her character and I couldn’t wait to meet her again in this book. So, you ask, you’ve met her again now, was she everything you hoped for?

I still don’t know the answer to this. We meet her 2-3 years later, and she’s made a lot of off-page progress herself, so it makes sense that she’s not the same character we saw in TAB. And I really liked her here as well. I just couldn’t help but feel that SJM fell again in the trap of creating almost every female character like they’re all slightly different version of the same mold. Don’t get me wrong, she’s miles away from Aelin, but you still know right away that SJM created her. And that’s kind of a flaw in my opinion. To me it felt like she didn’t know where to put Yrene in the spectrum that goes from “weak” to “badass” and she kinda had her float around. She was still interesting to read about while I had my nose inside the book, but thinking about it critically, I was a little disappointed in how she wrote her, and it’s probably because of my too-high expectations of her.

I think something similar applies to Nesryn. We didn’t know her much before, but I really liked her in this book and I love how she felt so connected right away to the continent her family came from. It’s just, I feel like she wasn’t a very unique character at all. “Badass woman with a special fighting skill that has always been seen as emotionally unattached but is actually kinda soft inside and falls for a guy” sounds like too many of SJM’s characters.

Other characters are completely new and they consist most of all of the khagan’s children. I think we had a nice diversity of personalities among them and I really enjoyed reading about them and getting to know them. I have a particularly soft spot for both my ruthless lesbian Hasar and her brother Sartaq.

➻ Relationships 
There are two parts of me writing this review right now. The part that mostly enjoyed the two main relationships in this book doesn’t know what to say other than that, because the part of me that’s screaming “BUT IT’S ALL THE SAME” is pretty loud in my head.

I’m going to repeat something I said in my ACOWAR review: SJM is good at building relationships, but she’s awful at writing characters in an established relationship (see Feyre and Rhys in ACOWAR). Here we had two romances building from scratch, so this book was thankfully free of the acowar-syndrome.

I enjoyed both romances, and yet I can’t help but being annoyed at the fact that it’s super obvious from page one (or idk, whenever the characters first meet I guess) who is going to end up with who. It’s something I was scared of before starting the book and while I did not necessarily mind either romance, one of them especially didn’t feel any different than how SJM writes all her romances basically. It’s always the bickering ones that end up together and yeah that’s fun to read I guess but at some point you wish she would write something different.

However, my problem isn’t specific to any romance in itself, it’s more a general annoyance at the fact that every.major.character. has to end up with someone and do it in a very heterosexual way. I’m not even here to complain that there are no mlm or wlw main romances in this book, but how is it possible that out of all the books she’s written, out of 10 main romances (if not more) in ToG alone and out of at least 14 romances if you count all her books, exactly ZERO are wlw or mlm? Look, she can write whatever she wants but it’s so clearly obvious that whenever she introduces a new character they’re gonna end up with someone and this someone is inevitably always of the opposite sex. It would be fucking refreshing to see some more goddamn rep and GOOD REP not like the awful bisexual rep we had in ACOWAR.

The only thing I really like is that she’s not afraid to make and break couples because that’s how life works, but it’s like a single main character can’t exist without a love interest for one fucking month and that’s pretty fucking boring if you look at it.

There is one wlw couple, Hasar and her partner, that is just adorable and for once a good rep, but it’s also an already-established relationship, which feels like a cop-out. “Here’s your rep,” it says, but that’s too easy. It’s like SJM is scared of writing the actual development of a queer couple and I just don’t get it. It’s her books and she can do what she wants but I am also allowed to speak up about it. It’s 2017 and heterosexuality is just not in anymore (I’M JOKING PUT DOWN THE PITCHFORKS).

Also, I wish she stopped putting very not subtle sexual innuendos everywhere and have it be like, the main way that most characters have to flirt with each other. Ugh. Just no. It’s the opposite of hot and just. no. stop.

Something else I wish would stop is the constant use of vocabulary that I feel promotes toxic masculinity. I want to talk about this more in depth in a discussion on my blog sometime in the near future so I’ll leave it at that for now.

➻ Disability rep 
I kept this point for last because I can’t actually talk about it. I’m an able bodied person so I have no right to speak of the rep in this book. All I can say is that at first I thought it was kind of bad until some point, but then it made itself better. I went and looked for reviews of disabled readers and foundthese two reviews that actually say that they felt the rep is pretty good.

I definitely encourage you to read their reviews and find others (I haven’t been able to find more than these but definitely feel free to link some in the comments), and also I would ask to never take the words of a single person when it comes to judging a certain kind of rep. Most of the time these things aren’t a black and white matter, and some readers might be hurt by something that others have found highly empowering. The best thing to do is listen to ownvoices reviewers and not speak above them one way or another.

Have you read Tower of Dawn? What did you think of it?

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2 thoughts on “Review: Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

  1. “it’s 2017 and heterosexuality is just not in anymore” i’m DEAD, someone finally said it

    this was such a good review tho! I definitely get the feeling of already being attached to a series that you acknowledge is kinda trashy/problematic, I’m pretty much the same way about the shadowhunters books. I’ve also noticed the sort of obsession with hypermasculinity in SJM books, and it’s definitely something that really irritates me.

    Like

    • Thank you Emma!!! Yeah it’s kind of a nice but weird feeling being so attached to a series after you find out how bad some aspects of it are. I point out “aspects” and not “all of it” because I truly think there are many positive things that this series did and does, it’s not always (almost never actually) black or white.

      YES sjm is really obsessed with masculinity and that’s why I want to make a post whenever I find enough time and energy. I ‘ve been thinking about it lately and I never noticed how bad it was.

      Like

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