Here we are, the fourth book into SJM’s epic YA fantasy, and this has consistently been one of those series that I’ve been… unsure about the whole time. I’m definitely in the minority with not really falling in love with this series from book one, but I kept giving it chances because people so adore Aelin and her court. In “Queen of Shadows”, Aelin has returned to Adarlan to free her cousin and find out what happened to those left behind as the King devolves into more and more atrocities against his people, and more demons inhabit the bodies of the soldiers. Told in parts, we follow not just Aelin, but get the perspective of several familiar characters: Chaol, Manon, and Dorian (poor Dorian…) to name a few. But we also get the POV of several new characters as well such as Lysandra and Elide, which partially accounts for the sheer size of this book, but it does not account for the reason why it took me so long to finish it.
Again, I know I’m in the minority when I say that I think Chaol always gets a raw deal, especially starting book 3. Chaol and Dorian were the first characters that made me sort of like the series, so it constantly made me bristle when Chaol, whose struggles are so human and so relatable, and who often was a voice of reason when discussing plans with Aelin was constantly dismissed in such an aggressive you're-a-bad-dude sort of way. It was often passed off as Aelin being queenly and a Fae now and so beyond all these human concerns, as if that excuses it because her court is so on board with everything Aelin does, even though she barely shares anything with them, either. Chaol felt like he was hated by many of the characters simply for existing, and then that suddenly stopped, as if SJM just couldn’t muster up the angry vitriol she needed to maintain for all of Aelin and Choal’s interactions for the last half of the book. It honestly made me hate reading their chapters when they were together, because they are both so wrong, and sometimes right, about each other that it got frustrating, to say the least.
The other reason this book, for the first 75% of it anyway, was so easy for me to put down and walk away from for days at a time? Aelin herself. Aelin’s always been a bit arrogant, it was part of the package with her confidence as this unstoppable assassin, now queen with epic fire power. But in this book, the arrogance got dialed up to such a degree that I found her largely unlikable as the lead character for large chunks of the story. Aelin had the habit of just demanding that other characters trust her and not question her often steamrolling over anyone (usually Chaol) with even an ounce of criticism for what she’s doing, then she would sneak off and do something off page that would have a payoff. Every character in this book was such a fan girl of Aelin, and I could not, for the life of me, understand why. It’s hard to believe a character deserves the trust she demands when she does nothing to earn it, harder still when she had no intention of saving Dorian when she first returned, but by the end of the book she acts as if Dorian’s rescue was her goal all along. No, honey, it was not. Her schemes are meant to be mind blowing but you never actually see any of the planning she supposedly does. She just sneaks off and then poof! It all worked according to plan. This is perhaps why I still like Chaol, he often wanted her to prove trustworthy when it came to not destroying all the innocents still in Rifthold, and she’d belittle him for it. Thankfully, this kind of stops in that last 30% or so of the book, but man, this book took me forever to actually like just because I was so beyond frustrated with Aelin.
Now, that’s not to say I hated this book, I didn’t. I’d have DNF’d if I did. Manon is still the shining star for me and her growth in this book was perfection. I loved the contrast Elide served to Aelin in showing there’s all types and ways to be a strong female character. And the last third of this book I sped right through (even if the ending chapters after the dust settles went on a tad too long imo). I enjoyed the twist with the villain too going into the next books, so I’m interested to see how that plays out, as well as seeing how Rifthold and Adarlan, and Terrasen move forward from where things in this book left off. But I’m still waffling on if I like Aelin and Rowan enough to keep going. Will the supporting characters be enough to carry my enjoyment over the threshold? Days after finishing this book, and sitting with it and thinking over how I felt at the start of the book versus the end… and I still can’t tell you. This series has always been a confusing one for me in terms of my enjoyment, and “Queen of Shadows” was no different. Which is why I’m giving it 3 stars. I already have the next book, but if I didn’t, I’d be hard pressed to say whether or not I’d continue on…
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