Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J Maas | a frustratingly flat finale

OVERALL: ★★★/5  

(Goodreads summary here.)

Alright you guys, it has been a hot sec because school is overwhelming, BUT I am here with what will probably be a wonderfully controversial review! 

So. Kingdom of Ash. THE top YA release this fall. The conclusion to the Throne of Glass series. My thoughts? It was okay. And just okay.  

I should preface this by admitting I have a complicated relationship with this series and SJM in general. I remember my sister buying the first Throne of Glass book on Kindle like 6 years ago. And I remember starting it sometime shortly after that and not being able to get through the first 3 pages. And then I tried again a year later with the same result. And once again. Fast forward 3 years and one of my close friends at college is absolutely in love with this series. And so I forced myself to read it at the very end of my freshman year. And you know what? I liked it, which was crazy to me. I read the whole series (up until Empire of Storms, since Tower of Dawn hadn’t been released) in about a week and a half.  

So from the beginning, I’ve had some ups and downs with this series, but I was really hoping the finale would solidify it as a great series and sway me towards a more positive opinion of it. That didn’t happen. Let’s get into why. 

Also, this will be VERY spoiler-heavy, since I can’t think of a good way to talk about some things without it, so reader be warned! 

 

To start, I think SJM really just dug herself into a hole she couldn’t get herself out of with the plot. There was SO much going on, and, really, I thought it was actually kind of hard to keep track of everything. This has a lot to do with the huge cast of characters as well, which I don’t think she managed very well. However, this might be more of a personal preference, since I’m not big into Game of Thrones-style high fantasy with a bajillion characters and storylines, but I do still think there’s a right way and a wrong way to handle large casts, and SJM seems to have found the wrong way. 

Let’s review the circumstances at the very beginning: 

  • Aelin is Maeve’s hostage and is being tortured 
  • Rowan, Elide, Lorcan, and Gavriel are trying to save her 
  • Lorcan is trying to make Elide forgive him 
  • Fenrys is also being held hostage by Maeve 
  • Chaol has the khaganate army and wants to save his home 
  • Dorian needs to find the third Wyrdkey and also thinks he needs to forge the lock 
  • Manon needs to find the Crochans and ally with them 
  • Aedion is fending off a whole army and is mad at Lysandra 
  • Lysandra is also fighting a huge army and needs Aedion to forgive her 

Like, that’s a lot going on. Don’t get me wrong, books should have more than one plot and many, many subplots, but I just felt all of these got a bit muddled. Additionally, the fact that so many of these were so similar, with the fighting and the forgiving and all that, that it kind of feels like SJM only had like 2 good ideas for subplots and so used those 2 over and over again. It got boring okay? Even with characters like Aedion and Lysandra, who I wanted to make up, the whole “you lied to me and I feel betrayed so I’ll ignore you until we almost die” got a little tired after a while. 

Speaking of relationships, SJM in general is so unbelievingly frustrating sometimes with her portrayal of the “ideal” partnership. To use Aedion and Lysandra again, there was SO MUCH focus on them needing to have sex. Like, really? Is that all there is to a healthy, loving relationship? Wait, hold up, I can answer that: NO. SJM kept writing that they were “saving” that kind of “connection” so they had something to look forward to after the war. Like??? I was just so genuinely confused that there was so much emphasis on that. And then with Rowan and Aelin and how their reunion had a lot of emphasis on them hooking up again? I’ll admit that them eventually having sex was a sign of Aelin healing from her trauma, but I felt like Rowan never shut up about it in his chapters. It was all, “I really want to have sex with my wife but I get that she’s healing” (you don’t get brownie points for respecting PTSD even though you’re horny) and “we’re doing it again so she’s obviously getting better” (not wrong per say but that’s a gross oversimplification). Maybe it’s just me being ace and overanalyzing, but it was still immensely frustrating. 

Also, almost everyone is married by the end?? The only character expressly not married by the end is Fenrys, and he doesn’t even have a huge role in the book. Yeah, sure, Dorian and Manon are left up in the air, but that just felt like SJM cheating so that you can’t say literally everyone is married at the end. It’s like a bad Shakespearean comedy (which is not a compliment).  

In the same vein of SJM cutting corners, I thought the part with Feyre and Rhys when Aelin falling through worlds was so useless. It really sucked because I was so invested in that scene up until that point. Like, it was peak climax, it was do or die for Aelin and I was panicking and then all of a sudden I was pulled out of my reading stupor because I thought that bit was so creative. I think my biggest thing is that Rhys just had to save the day. If Aelin was just falling and happened to see them, I probably would’ve been fine with it. But no, she had to be falling “too fast,” which wasn’t even really necessary to the plot since the scene was stressful enough, and so Rhys had to step in and save her. Um, hello?? This ain’t your series, bud, get out of here. Aelin’s whole character is based on her saving herself, so the fact that she didn’t when it really mattered just really blew it for me. And I don’t want any “Dut isn’t it nice she didn’t have to this time?” Because, no, it’s not. At this point, she already was saving herself, but nooo, something had to go wrong because God forbid Rhys pops up and doesn’t do anything. Also, just the presence of Rhys and Feyre was a little infuriating. It felt like SJM was patting herself on the back and telling the reader, “Hey, look, go read my other series! Oh wait, I’m so awesome you probably already have lol go me!” *cue eye roll* Additionally, anyone really invested in her work would know that she’s said the two worlds were connected somehow. And I’m not trying to diss anyone who didn’t know that or imply they’re not a real fan. I’m just saying that there are some things that don’t expressly need to be portrayed, particularly when they aren’t relevant to the story, which was really the case for this whole bit. 

And the deaths. Emotionally, I’m so relieved none of the main characters died. But from a more intuitive standpoint, it makes no sense. Again, there is a huge cast of main characters, so, statistically, someone important should have died. It’s lazy, scared writing! I know killing off characters is really controversial and has to be done properly, but that doesn’t mean no one should die, especially if the whole book is centered around a freaking war!! Don’t get me wrong, I was heartbroken when the Thirteen sacrificed themselves. But it felt like a cheap shot. Their deaths made sense from a storytelling perspective, the way that any of the main characters could have if SJM hadn’t been trying to please her fanbase. And don’t start me on Gavriel. His death was so unnecessary, and it really felt like SJM needed someone to die, so she just threw him haphazardly into a situation that could kill him. It would’ve been one thing if it was a true sacrifice like the Thirteen, but instead we hear Aedion talk about there was no need for him to die, that they could’ve figured it out together. Okay, yeah, it’s supposed to make Gavriel’s death more tragic because he didn’t need to die and because he hadn’t reconnected with Aedion, but it really just fell flat for me. And Gavriel wasn’t a terribly important character, so I never felt truly invested in him. The Thirteen were really the only truly tragic deaths, and, looking back, even those felt like SJM finding a loophole in killing characters. A lot of people died in this book, but because none of the main characters did, you never get hit with the full force of what is sacrificed in the war. 

I think another element that really drove me crazy was how often characters mentioned that they could die any second. This really struck me in sections with Aedion and Lysandra, largely in respect to the reconciliation plot. It seemed like every paragraph had a sentence that was along the lines of “I know I should forgive her/talk to him because we could die any second in this war, but I won’t.” Which is meant to be frustrating since you want them to talk, but I thought was infuriating in the wrong ways. It honestly distracted me from what was going on in those scenes and the ones surrounding those and was repeated SO OFTEN that it just got stupidly redundant. If you’re writing well, I shouldn’t need to be reminded of the stakes and that the characters’ lives are in constant danger. There’s a f*cking war going on, of course their lives are in danger!! You don’t have to tell me that a hundred times a chapter!! 

Finally, I have no freaking clue where these supposed “Terrasen fae” came from to save the day. I’m serious, can someone please cite where tf in the series they are mentioned because I have no idea. I was SO confused when they showed up, and not just because it was Aelin being characteristically sneaky. I honestly couldn’t take it seriously because it just felt like a gaping plot hole where SJM clearly thought she had mentioned it but I think she just made something up to have them save the day. Like I can fully invest in the suspension of belief and recognize the Aelin does things without anyone knowing, but not if it’s just something that has no background in the series whatsoever, at least not in any memorable way. It’s the one foreshadowing thing I’ve seen nothing about where it was first mentioned, which is bizarre because that’s something that SJM is kind of notoriously/obnoxiously good at, so for her to utterly fail at it is mindboggling to me, and I hated it.

 divider-review

I’ve seen a handful of people refer to Kingdom of Ash as a great fanfiction, and I can honestly say that’s about where I stand with it. I expected so much more from it, for my heart to be broken over and over, but I ultimately really felt like, for most of it, I was reading to know what happened, not because I was actually invested in the characters and the plot. Yes, it was exciting and moved along and had some epic battle scenes, but a lot of the book just fell flat. Especially at the end, everything felt too easy, so it was fast-paced for the wrong reasons. I really do wish I liked this book more, but I’d be lying if I said I loved it. I know I didn’t really mention any positives, but I did like a lot of it. Just not the majority of it. 

Have you read any of the Throne of Glass series? Did you think Kingdom of Ash was a good conclusion? What series finale just didn’t quite cut it for you? 

Keep reading, 

Francesca M. Healy (1)

 

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5 thoughts on “Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J Maas | a frustratingly flat finale

  1. I kind of love this review but then it’s because I have a bit of a difficult time with SJM myself. If I’m fully honest I don’t like her books because I think they’re problematic and yet simultanesouly boring. I feel like the same stories and plots and character arcs get used, not just within one series, but within both of her series so far. And yes, I have issues with Rhys that go beyond what I’m willing to type here.

    I enjoyed this review though because it entertained me but you also explained your reasons behind your feelings for the book very well! I think it’s incredibly difficult to master a series that grows more complex and if George RR Martin can’t do that than unfortunately SJM definitely won’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it because I was angry-typing pretty much the whole time I was writing it because that’s how frustrating the whole thing was for me, so I just kind of let everything out 😅 it was really cathartic though, if I’m being honest

      I think my main problem is that when I read the first books in this series, I read them so quickly that I didn’t bother to recognize how problematic and, like you said, repetitive they are, and it wasn’t until more recently that I started reflecting on them and seeing their issues. And it’s simultaneously frustrating and satisfying to be able to look back and say, “okay, yeah, that was problematic why didn’t I notice that before?”

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love to read people’s blog rants and I love to write them too! I agree, it feels cathartic to get frustrations off your chest and I like to read honest and open opinions especially when there can be some hesitancy in the book blogging world to post reviews that are less than positive about certain books. It makes me feel less alone about my opinions if I read someone posting about something that I agree with!

        I think it’s fine to like and love problematic books because people like what they like and that’s allowed. It would be a dull place if we all enjoyed the same things. I think I have liked books that others have commented as being problematic and sometimes I *genuinely* can’t see it while other times I can but like it anyway.

        I think the ACOTAR and TOG fandoms and followers of SJM are interesting ones to delve into because there is a sense of strong… passion can I say? If anything less than positive is mentioned, the response can be a tad ‘passionate.’

        It’s my personal opinion only but I think its fine for the books to be enjoyed, I just don’t think they are the wonderful, epic high fantasy, feminist feast they are made out to be but I love reading when people write reviews on them because I either wholeheartedly agree or don’t depending on the reviewer. They are definitely divisive and get people talking and I sure love that!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. YAAAAAASSSSSS!! I don’t want to be all “down with SJM” but yes, there were absolutely some huge problems with KoA (also, I think she just can’t finish a series well because I basically hated ACOWAR).
    I absolutely agree on the Rhys thing. I mean, Rowan tattooed the map on her back – why didn’t that get more play in the book?! Seeing them from a distance, sure that was cool, but Rhys stepping in was so unnecessary. He’s powerful, we get it.
    Also, I hate how she pairs everyone off. Why can’t people just be single? And not just the LGBTQI+ characters (because let’s face it, Mor is the only one ever (and she’s in the freaking closet), and she’s the only one without a partner which pisses me off to no end). Maybe Fenrys is actually gay, which is why he isn’t partnered off with anyone at the end.
    And yes, kill more characters!! It’s a war!! I’m so over everyone coming out of everything alive and fine. “Oh, the war ended, but I’m suddenly filthy rich and can afford for all the repairs to my kingdom to be done, which will create industry and aren’t I just the best ruler ever. Also, let’s get drunk because what PTSD?”
    Soz…. I’m feeling a bit ranty today!!

    Liked by 1 person

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