By the way, I avoided spoilers for the book as best I could, and have hidden spoilers for the series behind the cut. — David Kudler
In Tower of Dawn, Sarah J. Maas turns a corner from sprawling epic to thrilling psychological fantasy.
In epic fantasy, the action usually centers around outsized acts of valor and evil committed by prodigious heroes and villains. It’s true in The Lord of the Rings. It’s true in A Song of Fire and Ice. It’s true in the first five of Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass books. But the latest installment in the series, Tower of Dawn, looks at action and heroism of a different kind.
Picking up not from the end of the previous book, but from Queen of Shadows (#4), the book follows Chaol Westfall, who was seriously wounded during the destruction of the Glass Castle, and now serves as his friend King Dorian’s ambassador to the Southern Continent. With him travels Nesryn Faliq, his successor as Captain of the Aderlan Royal Guard. Together, they’ve come to the Kaghan’s court seeking an alliance in the ongoing war against the demon armies on the northern continent of Erilea.
They’re also there, however, to bring paraplegic Chaol to the renowned healers of Antica. There he comes under the care of Yrene Towers, a gifted healer who fled Erilea and holds Chaol’s kingdom responsible for the death of her mother. His healing is complicated by his condition, by her prejudice against Aderlan, and by the sinister presence that caused the wound.
To confront the injury, both Chaol and Yrene must look beyond the physical. They have to confront their anger, their fear, and each other. As Yrene finds, “You must enter where you fear to tread.”
And as mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “Where you stumble, there your treasure lies. The very cave you are afraid to enter turns out to be the source of what you are looking for” (A Joseph Campbell Companion). This story centers around entering that terrifying cave.
In the mean time, negotiations are also complicated. There’s intrigue in the Kaghan’s court, there’s a dark mystery in the Kaghan’s family, and there’s an ancient, malevolent presence waking in the Kaghan’s empire. Is there a connection to Chaol and Nesryn’s mission?
The action unfolds in parallel to the previous book, Empire of Storms, and so part of the tension comes from knowing some of what the characters don’t, from knowing that some of Chaol and Nesryn’s assumptions — both positive and negative — are unfounded.
Romance serves as nother major source of tension, which plays an even larger role in this installment than it has to date. Part of that is because the main characters — Chaol, Nesryn, and Yrene — are people more bound by honor than Aelin and some of the other major characters. A part of it is also due to the fact that sex, which has always played a major role in the series, has come even further into the fore. Not that we’ve crossed into a territory where parents should necessarily feel uncomfortable with their teens reading the books, but as with Empire of Storms, the books have crossed the line from Young Adult into New Adult territory.
Real fans will recognize Yrene as well as one other character from The Assassin’s Blade, a collection of prequel stories that enriches the world of the Throne of Glass books.
While less pyrotechnic (no pun intended) in terms of epic action than its predecessors, Tower of Dawn serves as a worthy new chapter in the Throne of Glass saga.