Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury USA on September 5, 2017
Genre: YA High Fantasy
Series: Throne of Glass (#6)
Previous Installment: Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)
Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since the glass castle shattered, since his men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken.
His only shot at recovery lies with the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme in Antica—the stronghold of the southern continent’s mighty empire. And with war looming over Dorian and Aelin back home, their survival might lie with Chaol and Nesryn convincing its rulers to ally with them.
But what they discover in Antica will change them both—and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined.
I have a bit of a complicated relationship with Sarah J. Maas. Her books infuriate me as much as they delight me, and I have as much fun tearing them apart as I do devouring them like my life depends on it. Tower of Dawn was not very different. It took me slightly longer to read than the others (4 days instead of my standard 2), but my favourite characters were nowhere to be seen in this novel, so that was to be expected.
I was also surprised by how much this book actually affected the plot of the general story line of Throne of Glass. I thought it was going to be more of a side story than anything else, but it actually impacts the main plot much more than I expected, and in a pretty smart way (no spoilers, don’t worry). I remember actually stopping to think “wow, that’s pretty clever” after one particular reveal.
I enjoyed quite a bit of it. Although I like him, Chaol has never been my favourite character. But his recovery story line was the one that I was always most excited to return to every time the perspective flipped. I also really liked Antica and its royal family. It consists of a very interesting set of characters in complicated relationships with one another–something that SJM is definitely good at and clearly enjoys writing about.
I also loved how everything ties together so well. Every little thread gets attached to one another, and although it feels a bit gimmick-y, fate is certainly a theme in this series and I really enjoy this particular gimmick.
Unfortunately, what I didn’t like was also mostly character-centric. My number one complaint with this book was Nesryn. Nesryn was born and raised in Adarlan, but as soon as she arrives in Antica she wonders why her father left. And she continues to wonder this and begins calling Antica her “homeland”. And then it’s non-stop, Antica vs Rifthold. This really bothered me because as a person who immigrated to another country at the age of 10, I can’t consider Brazil my home anymore. And while I understand that Brazil is not a great place to live most of the time and Antica is, it still feels rather disingenuous to read this from Sarah J. Maas. If it had come from a POC author or at least an immigrant one, then maybe it would not have upset me. Plus, we never actually find out why Nesryn’s father left. She mentions how he thought they would have a better life, but the question she asks is never answered in the slightest. I also think it rather odd that her father would have moved from Antica to Adarlan, when Antica is such a supposedly idyllic place to live and has free magical health care. Literally. Free magic health care.
Maybe I’m looking too hard into it, but I don’t think this plot line sends a particularly positive message into the world, especially with the political climate we are currently suffering from.
Nesryn also got an unfair lack of character development. She seems to have completely lost most of her personality and doesn’t act at all the way I remember from Queen of Shadows. This also applies to Kashin, Duva’s husband, and countless other characters. It was all a bit odd and honestly felt like a book that was expanded from a novella. Too much of the book felt half-formed; something that would have been fine if it had remained as a novella or short story, but does not quite work for a 650 page fantasy novel. The conversion from novella to novel clearly happened a bit too fast.
And my final complaint is this: SJM, if you’re going to add a POC, please–for the love of god–make it clear that they are POC. I still don’t have a good enough image of Yrene in my head because, although I headcanon her as POC, her description is so vague that I can’t be sure. And I wasn’t the only one who had trouble here because I had very long discussions about this with others. Yrene’s skin is described as “golden-brown” and “honey brown”, which is beyond vague. Same with her hair, which curls sometimes. And she has freckles. And her mother had darker skin. That’s. All. We. Get.
To me, those are signs of POC but it was still much too vague for my liking. Yrene’s image in my head is still so indistinct that it bothers me every time I try to imagine her. This applies to a lot of the characters in Tower of Dawn, in fact. SJM describes someone’s skin at one point as both “light brown” and “beige”. On the same page. Sorry girl, but you don’t get brownie points for having unclear, undefined, possibly-maybe-POCs in your novels. Reading anything by SJM is like having a POC Magic 8 Ball. (“Is this character a POC?” “Outlook not so good.”)
That review devolved into an unintelligible mess, and I am sorry about that. But I did warn you that I have a lot of mixed feelings about SJM. Which means the book still gets 3.5 stars, which is maybe more than it deserves after how much I complained.
Anywho, leave thoughts in the comments! I have more rants I could go on, if you happen to stir one of them up.
“It was hope that stood beside him, hidden and protected these years in this city, and in the years before it, spirited across the earth by the gods themselves, concealed from the forces poised to destroy her.”