Title: Tower of Dawn
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Genre: Young Adult, (actually New Adult), Fantasy, Romance
Page Count: 660
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s
Notable Notables: Disabled protagonist (though representation is not great)
Recommended Readers: Only die-hard fans
This series keeps getting worse and worse.
Truthfully, all of Sarah J. Maas’ books take a sharp decline in quality whenever she’s allowed to write whatever and however much she wants. Tower of Dawn is not the exception, a book that was originally supposed to be a novella but somehow became a 660-page monstrosity.
It should’ve stayed a novella. There was so much filler description that my eyes constantly glazed over, and it seemed like any time characters finally stopped internal monologuing about everything to have a conversation with someone else, their dialogue would then get interrupted with paragraphs if not pages of exposition.
Because this country, Antica, and all the characters therein were never supposed to be introduced or become the focus of this series–they haven’t been this entire time–but now here we are, so we all have to play catch-up before the last book comes out, and then never return here again.
Spoilers and sneering abound under the cut, so read at your own risk.
I couldn’t take anything about the Southern Continent seriously. Everything from the khagan to the warrior horsepeople was an obvious rip-off of the Dothraki from Game of Thrones, only I had to be explained to constantly how they aren’t the Dothraki because they’re civilized now and rule from a great, shining city and have 36 gods and they freed their slaves and, and, and–
I’m not fooled. Not when you still have the khagan’s children fight to the death for the throne. The recent khagan, I was told, not shown, claimed the throne after killing his brother in a six-hour gladiator match. Six hours! Do you know how ridiculous that sounds? Gladiator matches would last minutes at most, especially with live blades, attack animals, and armed charioteers being thrown into the mix. But reading these books means you have to suspend your disbelief about how over-the-top they are; I can’t anymore.
Not when so much is ripped off from better sources. The Baast cats are absurd, clearly stolen from Egyptian mythology without any shame and shoehorned into this fantasy world out of nowhere. (She didn’t even change the name. She added an “a” and thought, Good enough. They’ll never know.) Then, we have that godawful cover which doesn’t match any of the other Throne of Glass books because it’s too busy looking like, yep, Game of Thrones. Chaol even gets offered the same solution to bolster his spirit that Bran Stark gets after he became paralyzed from the waist down: to ride horses with special straps and stir-ups.
It’s amazing, too, how seemingly perfect Antica is as a country, how it’s so prosperous and everyone is happy, even the poor people. Oh, and there’s no longer any slavery (because that would present a moral quandary to our heroes, who come from a country that only just freed their slaves), so isn’t that so convenient? But they still have indentured servants who can earn higher status by performing sexual favors for the nobility, but it’s all done with consent so somehow that’s A-OK.
Maas, honey, seriously. What is wrong with you?
I literally wouldn’t mind stuff like this if she actually presented it as a morally-gray scenario, but she doesn’t. It’s always painted as being so idyllic, or her presentation is so half-assed that characters address it as being wrong, but then they sweep it under the rug and it’s never brought up again. That’s what I have a problem with.
As for the other places–the Torre, the aerie, the Tavin Mountains, the desert oasis–they’re unremarkable, and they stay that way, no matter how many giant eagles, speedy horses, too-intelligent cats, or large, evil spiders you add.
Oh yes, let’s talk about Chaol and his “injury.”
Please note: His character was destroyed long ago back when Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows were published because Maas was allowed to write more, and she had to have an over-powered, territorial (but bland) Fae love interest for her special protagonist, Celaena/Aelin/who cares. (I won’t even get into how much she cannot write Fae here.) The current relationship between Chaol and Aelin could not last, so Maas did the only thing she knows how to do: turn the obsolete male love interest into a terrible person who turns his back on his established characterization and firmly-held beliefs.
Remember the Chaol whose primary concern was protecting/worrying about Dorian? Yeah, he’s gone. Fake Chaol thinks about his best friend and current king’s safety only sometimes, usually when he can find a moment in between feeling disgust/hopelessness at his paralyzed state.
Remember how Chaol was the respectful, steadfast, and straightforward Captain of the Guard? Nah. Fake Chaol is too busy resenting Nesryn, his current love interest, for being promoted to Captain of the Guard in his place, won’t communicate with anybody, is horny all the time, respects men’s assumed “ownership” over other women, and is otherwise a complete asshole. (Oh, and by the way? Chaol’s new title? Hand of the King. Just like in Game of Thrones.)
His injury, however, is what is most ridiculous about him. This book actually takes such great pains to tell me that he can’t feel anything from his waist/hips/lower back down–and then I’m informed that his dick still works and he can feel that. What he’s most upset about is that he can’t have sex with Nesryn the way he wants to, so they’re not having sex at all, and they’re definitely not talking about it.
Are you kidding me?? At least Maas lets you know right away what this book (and the series at large) are really about: sex.
It’s lurking in every description, especially in Chaol’s POV. Servants and women with “narrow waists” and “full, peaked breasts.” The only women in this book who don’t become sexual objects are the old women because they’re old and, therefore, not sexy enough; there aren’t any fat women or women who could be perceived as less than beautiful to be found.
The men are something else altogether, Chaol included. There isn’t a single Fae in this book, but all these human men are sitting there growling and snarling at each other, making sure other men know that the woman he wants is “territory claimed.” This is exactly how Maas writes her Fae characters–like pubescent, 15-year-old boys getting in each other’s faces in a locker room–and it’s wrong. It’s insulting, not just with how boringly alpha and animalistic (but still being perfectly beautiful) they are but also with how straight they are. It’s almost like she doesn’t know how to write Fae or compelling male characters in general, not without turning them into strutting cocks looking to fight over a worm.
It wouldn’t be so bad if these kinds of descriptions and occurrences didn’t happen constantly, but they do, in Tower of Dawn and those preceding it. Sexual comments and descriptions are sprinkled heavily throughout like garlic in a pasta dish, and it’s not nearly as satisfying. Reading from Chaol’s POV is especially agonizing because it’s like being back in high school again, surrounding by little boys who only think with their penis and who can somehow turn any conversation into being about boobs and sex.
Surrounded by horniness, Chaol’s entire story arc and purpose was supposed to be about getting the foreign khagan to lend military aid to the war effort. However, instead of clever dialogue and political maneuvering, you will be subjected to Chaol’s real arc and purpose: getting physically, sexually, and emotionally healed by his brand new love interest because that’s the only thing Maas knows how to write, and not even well.
Which leads us to the illustrious female protagonist of this novel…
What a fucking joke she is. Yrene was first introduced in The Assassin and the Healer, which you no longer have to read because Yrene spends a lot of time breaking down her meeting with the “woman, goddess, whatever she was” who saved her and gave her life meaning.
Because that’s exactly what Aelin needs. Another mouthpiece to proclaim how amazing she is while they touch themselves to the thought of her, but I digress.
Yes, enter Yrene Towers, a white woman with golden-brown skin, golden-brown hair, and golden-brown eyes, this bizarre half-way person between Chaol’s former lover, Aelin, and his current one, Nesryn.
Enter Yrene with her huge breasts, narrow waist, spitfire tongue, but also her gentle, soothing demeanor. Look, don’t you see how perfect for Chaol she already is? How Maas has taken this one-off character she wrote for a shitty novella years ago and has now orchestrated for her to be the best person to both heal Chaol’s body and his weary, broken soul?
That’s to say nothing of Yrene’s own broken soul. The fact that she hates Adarlanian soldiers for burning her mother alive when Yrene was a child ensures that she will hate Chaol, the former Captain of the Guard, and that will add so much tension between them.
Except it doesn’t. How can it, when Yrene also has the goal of returning to her homeland to heal those fighting in the war? Do you know who fights in war? Soldiers. You know where some of those soldiers will come from? Adarlan. Apparently, Yrene hasn’t thought about that, but neither has Maas.
Because this tension is half-assed and fake. This romance is obviously forced and is only happening because everyone must have a love interest in Maas’ books, everyone.
Yrene, for her part, can’t maintain a consistent characterization to save her life, and for someone who is supposedly the greatest healer of the Torre, she’s not very good at it. In treating Chaol, her methods of choice seem to be frustration, anger, and emotional manipulation.
At one point and despite knowing how prideful and self-conscious Chaol is about being paralyzed, she parades him in front of a bunch of apprentice healers like he’s an experiment, talks about him like he isn’t even there, and then proceeds to let these girls man-handle him off his horse even though they’re all too weak to carry his weight.
All without asking his permission for any of it, which you do not do for a patient with that kind of traumatic injury, and then she has the audacity to wonder, Why is he smiling at everyone else and not at me? Why is he mad at me?
Girl, are you stupid? That was a rhetorical question, by the way. I know you are.
Yrene also doesn’t have any moral consistency. She chooses to heal a woman who is clearly being physically abused, but “only the hurts underneath.” She leaves the coloring of the bruises in place and tells the woman that the Torre is always open to her if she wants to come–but Yrene can’t just bring her there, can’t force her to come; a battered woman has to choose to be saved, has to choose to leave because no one can do that for her. Ah, Maas’ fake feminism strikes again. I’m calling absolute bullshit, and it was this moment that sealed it for me: I absolutely hate Yrene Towers.
Because while she can’t make the choice to actually try to help this woman, she does expect Chaol to feel whatever she wants him to feel, aka for him to never fall into regression or have “bad days,” and she expects him to do whatever she wants him to do whenever she wants him to do it.
I don’t want it to seem like I’m defending Chaol here because I’m not. As much as I disliked Yrene, I especially hated how much Chaol was irritated, angry, and hateful towards her in the beginning (true for her towards him as well), but then he gets feeling back into his toes after a healing session and suddenly… All is forgotten. Chaol is nice to Yrene and downright flirtatious, and I wanted to scream, because then, inevitably, Yrene starts being flirty with him and noticing how attractive he is.
The entire time this is happening, Chaol is still very much in an established relationship with Nesryn. So I had to spend a book watching this couple commit emotional cheating and then physical cheating on Nesryn, and I was expected to find it romantic because they’re clearly so perfect for each other that things like common decency don’t matter. Not when you’ve found your soulmate who heals you and completes you like nothing ever has or ever will. Cue eye-rolling.
I was never a fan of Chaol and Nesryn to begin with because that romance was forced and underdeveloped, too, but fuck Chaol and Yrene.
It’s so transparent how much Maas didn’t care about Nesryn until this book, how much she was created to just be a substitute so none of the main characters would be single.
I still maintain that Maas doesn’t particularly care about her because she was so quick to cast her aside for Yrene and then make Nesryn not even care about Chaol and their relationship, their promises to each other, or the fact that she got cheated on. Their status as lovers completely fizzles out, and they never even talk about it, though Chaol feels like “such an asshole” for how he treated Nesryn, but he only let’s himself know that.
Having Nesryn and Chaol actually talk and confront his cheating would have been complicated drama to navigate, and I’m convinced Maas is incapable of something that complex.
Instead, Nesryn gets her own little romance because, again, single people don’t exist, so with a note to Chaol–I hold you to no promises. Don’t hold me to any of mine–off she goes with Sartaq, one of the khagan’s children competing for the throne, on the back of his giant eagle.
Unfortunately, Sartaq is about as interesting as watching paint dry. Predictably, he is loyal, honorable, capable–everything Chaol once was a long time ago–only he’s much more bland and just there to sweep Nesryn off her feet, literally. At least his attempts at banter and flirting with her weren’t as cringe-worthy as watching Chaol and Yrene do anything, but still.
Nesryn’s journey, at least, provides some action that revives you a little from how bored to death you are, and when I say “some action,” I don’t mean pointless, terrible sex scenes. I mean fighting giant spiders.
It’s through the mouth of a giant spider in a fit of exposition that Maas drops a bombshell that she totally didn’t just think of while writing this novella, so now that’s why this had to be a whole book: the spiders are agents of darkness, not of the Valg king Erawan but of a Valg queen.
Yes, there is now a Valg queen, and that queen is Maeve, who isn’t really a Faerie Queen; she’s just been pretending to be all this time to escape from her Valg husband, one of Erawan’s brothers.
Hang on, I’m trying to find my eyes. They rolled out of my head and went off somewhere.
Anyway, despite Nesryn and Sartaq knowing each other for a little over a month, Sartaq declares his love for her, but that’s okay, because he’s been in love with her reputation for even longer and she’s even more beautiful than the rumors implied. He also gets chosen as the next heir to the throne because he’s just so upstanding, and we can’t have any of the heroines have a love interest who isn’t, like, king of the universe or the most awesome person ever, or something.
THE KHAGAN’S CHILDREN
All of these characters get lumped into one category because that’s what Maas did. Lumped them together, spewed them out, and then did barely anything with them. I don’t even remember some of their names because they were that inconsequential.
She tried to do the Game of Thrones thing where all the siblings are competing for the throne to varying degrees: some are political-minded, some are strategic, some are soldiers, and some don’t really care. They all have to be careful about who they marry and if they have any children because the next khagan will kill them and their family to eliminate competition if they don’t pledge loyalty. This, by the way, is a long-standing tradition, and why Yrene refused to have a relationship with one of the princes (because, of course, a prince is also attracted to her in this book).
None of that actually happens. There’s no political maneuvering or backstabbing between the family, no witty dialogue, no mad grabs for power, nothing. Sartaq gets chosen because he wants to marry Nesryn and thinks the killing tradition is stupid and claims he doesn’t want the throne or his titles if that’s what he has to do. (This is easy for Sartaq because he has an adoptive “hearth-mother” and “hearth-sister” that the eagle-riding people all have because they’re a tribe, so he doesn’t lose anything by making this declaration, one of many reasons why he’s so “perfect” yet bland.)
And the khagan gives him the throne anyway for moral fiber, I guess, and all the siblings decide, Yeah, bro, you’re so right. Let’s stop killing each other and be a family at last.
Can someone please tell me how Maas keeps making royal characters be so goddamn boring?
I’ve already touched on this a lot, but you still need to know how mind-numbing it was to watch Chaol and Yrene bumble into each other.
I had to endure the following scenes:
- Chaol and Yrene’s first cheating scene occurs when they are lounging on pillows in front of everyone, including Nesryn. They blame their mutual attraction on everything they can think of except themselves: the lithe, barely-clad dancers gyrating around them, the wine, the mood lighting, and the opiates (don’t forget the opiates).
- Yrene gets upset and runs away nearly crying when she finds Chaol and Nesryn sleeping in the same bed together because, you know… They’re a couple.
- They argue about stuff (like how Yrene treated Chaol as a medical experiment) but never resolve anything because something almost life-threatening happens to one of them, and the other eventually rebuts with “this bad thing happened to me one time and that’s why I’m this way and my behavior’s excusable.”
- They first kiss after Yrene picks a fight with Chaol for being in a bad mood. She keeps pushing and pushing him until he yells at her. She starts crying and tries to leave, and Chaol realizes that if he doesn’t stand right now for the first time since he’s been in the chair, he’ll lose her forever like he lost everyone else. So he stands, Yrene starts maneuvering him around the room, and you realize she isn’t really crying, it was a Ploy All Along to get him to stand, so he backs her against the wall, and they make out, and I have honestly never been less turned on in my life.
- Yrene gets the bright idea to shove a princess known for killing people who have displeased her into a pool because she insulted Chaol, who Yrene hasn’t but desperately wants to bone, because that makes sense. The act is punishable by death, but the princess lets it slide despite being publicly humiliated because Yrene “finally showed some backbone.”
- Yrene and Chaol then go and immediately fuck in a tent.
- “It broke her, and unmade her, and rebirthed her.” Omg, shut up, are you even serious?? Yrene, honey, you’re not having crazy ceiling sex or something. You’re having missionary sex with a man who can barely walk without a cane right now, and you’re bottoming, so calm down.
- Yrene realizes belatedly that maybe not all Adarlanian soldiers are bad, even though she’s already been fucking the former Captain of said soldiers. This was the great conundrum of her soul she hadn’t reconciled and forgiven within herself yet, but with sex and more sex, all things are possible.
- With love and light, Yrene completely heals Chaol to where he can walk again, unhindered by cane or chair (which Maas often forgets to include in her scenes whenever she wants Chaol to be sexy in Yrene’s eyes). Yrene tells him he has to avoid straining himself in case of further injury. They fuck for hours anyway.
- They both declare their love for each other and admit that they probably loved each other “since their first meeting, they just didn’t know it yet” lol okay.
- The Bullshit Happens, which I’ll get into more below.
- After maybe two months of knowing each other, they get married off-screen, and Chaol gets obsessed with calling Yrene “wife” and “Lady Westfall,” despite the fact that he hates being called “Lord Westfall” and (I don’t think) is even acknowledged by his father anymore??? So he’s not technically a lord or even has lands??? You know what? I really don’t care.
I don’t even know what to say about the plot. Maybe, what plot? The majority of the book was all these fake-ass relationships.
But the Valg had to come in somewhere because the royal family had to finally be given a reason why they should aid these foreigners with their little war, and the answer lies in the fact that the demons will destroy them all if they don’t band together. “United we stand, divided we fall.”
It’s obvious but also unnecessary. The Valg are shallow, poorly thought-out antagonists and nothing here improved that fact. The moment when Maas introduced these cartoon villains and made them somehow be “greater” than the world she created was when this series lost its heart and soul. The moment she made the Adarlanian king not be the main villain but a man who had been “possessed by the Valg,” attributing all his horrific actions to the demon inside him, was when she lost my interest as a reader.
Well, actually, it was when she made Celaena go through this great healing journey, but when she came back as Aelin, she hadn’t changed, she only got worse, proving that nothing Maas writes in one book sticks in the next. There’s no actual character progression, only regression and stagnation to the point of character assassination.
And if her horrific treatment of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series is any indication, she’s going to pull a deus ex machina out of her ass that will allow the heroes to win the day with little if any emotional impact, so forgive me if I just don’t believe in the Valg as an actual threat.
Tower of Dawn escalates with the scene between Chaol, Yrene, and the Valg who’s been hunting her. The Valg, we learn, is a Valg princess possessing Duva, one of the khagan’s children who you rarely saw and therefore would never suspect. (No, eyes, stay in my head.)
By this point, we’ve learned that Yrene is So Important because she can likely heal someone of being Valg-possessed, meaning we don’t have to cut off people’s heads anymore, darn. She’s also yet another character who is touched by a god or goddess–in this case, the goddess of healing, Silba–and it was actually Silba, not Mala, the fire goddess, who created the immunity ring that prevents the wearer from being possessed.
Oh, I love ret-conning!
The real sad thing is how Maas makes the characters and her die-hard fans swallow her convoluted schemes and ret-conning garbage. Worse still is how she can somehow get rave reviews despite using the same exact plot lines, scenes, stakes, and solutions over and over and over again.
Case in point: Yrene’s complete healing of Chaol’s spinal injury is all undone when Valg-Duva hits Chaol with darkness.
So Rhysand–I mean, Chaol is dying, so Feyre–I mean, Yrene accepts the powers of the High Lords, oh sorry no, the powers of all the Torre’s healers to heal Chaol and bring him back. Only it comes with a cost because of course it does!
Yrene’s magic has bonded to Chaol, meaning he will only be able to walk as long as Yrene’s magic is fully replenished. The rest of the time, he’ll have to use a cane or be in a chair.
Additionally, Yrene and Chaol’s lifeforces or something have also been bound together, so that if one of them dies, the other will, too. Yep. Maas actually gave two human characters both a mate pact and a death pact, one that makes absolutely no sense, but this is her brand of drama, so whatever.
Wow~ I’m absolutely swooning~ This was such a great idea. I hope they both die in the next book lol. I hope everyone does, but we all know that’s not going to happen.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. It was probably painful, but I can assure you that reading the actual source material is even more so because you don’t have to only deal with the content.
You have to deal with Maas’ horrible writing style, too.
Here are a list of words and phrases you will quickly grow tired of in this book alone:
- Silver-lined eyes (those are tears, by the way)
- Killing field (it’s a battlefield, omg, stop making everything sound like it’s so much more impressive and brutal than it actually is)
- Tan/bronze/golden/golden-brown skin (every character, and the majority of them are actually white)
- “Fool. He/she was a fool.”
- “Perhaps he/she loved her/him since that very first meeting”
- Ellipses…being used…on every…page…
- Em dashes lurking on every page–if not every other paragraph–multiple times
- One-line paragraphs, incomplete sentences, and repetition, over and over again
So I know what you’re probably wondering. Mel, if you hated this and have hated the series for a while now, then why are you still reading? Why are you reviewing?
Because this book alone has a 4.47 rating on Goodreads at the time of writing this, and that is an affront to God. I’m well aware that I’m in the minority on Maas–in fact, I used to adore her.
Until A Court of Mist and Fury came out, and I recognized her for the fraud she was.
If I can warn at least one reader away from her books, from not wasting their time and frustrations on them as I have, then I will. I have to.
So seriously, if you’re thinking of picking up Throne of Glass, don’t. It’s not worth it. Save yourself before it’s too late.
I, for one, will probably jump for joy and order a large margarita when it’s finally over.