Author: Sarah J. Maas
Overall Rating: 3/5
Spicy Rating: 1/5
Tower of Dawn centers on Chaol Westfall and Nesryn Falik as they travel to Antica to recruit aid from the monarchy there and seek help from the Torre Cesme to heal the injuries to his spine from the destruction of the glass castle in Adarlan at the end of Queen of Shadows.
When they arrive they think that they might be together but they quickly realize that they don’t belong together and that their relationship was based on things about each other which no longer exist.
Chaol meets Yrene and manages to convince her to attempt to heal him despite him being the Hand to the new King of Adarlan, Dorian Havilliard. Yrene resents him for serving the king but also still despises Adarlan because the ban on magic cost her mother her life and left Yrene alone to fend for herself.
If you’ve read Assassin’s Blade, the Prequel to the Throne of Glass Series, you may remember Yrene from the novella “The Assassin and the Healer” during which Aelin encourages Yrene to travel to the Tower Cesme. Now Yrene is the heir apparent and likely the only healer who could heal Chaol’s back but the issue is more than physical and it won’t be fixed easily.
One of the major issues that I have with this novel is that the “miracle cure” is an innately ableist trope. While Sarah J. Maas does try to depict the struggle of healing throughout the journey between Chaol and Yrene and does depict some very important aspects of being disabled such as struggling with tasks that were previously very easy, being embarrassed about being observed by able-bodied people, or feeling like a lab rat at times, she also misses the mark entirely by “fixing” Chaol with magic.
The point being, disabled people don’t need to be “fixed” and it’s better to show learning how to live with and embrace your disability than magically curing it in a way that is completely unrealistic for real people who suffer from that disability. At the end of Queen of Shadows, Chaol lost the use of his legs, and that traumatic and sudden accident which made him a paraplegic was something that a lot of real people with disabilities could identify with, by having magic heal him you completely eliminate that aspect of his character that made him more relatable and also helped a lot of disabled people to identify with a main character in a book.
In my opinion, Sarah J. Maas should have never healed Chaol’s spinal injury, she should have allowed him to be disabled and shown us a character that was whole and thriving after such a devastating injury.
Meanwhile, Nesryn meets Sartaq, one of the princes in the monarchy that they are trying to convince to send aid to Adarlan and Terrasen.
The kingdom of Antica and the monarchy and culture within reminded me a lot of the Mongol empire in what is now modern Mongolia. I don’t know much about what the culture in modern-day Mongolia is like but from what I know about the historical period when Genghis Khan ruled there are many parallels between how they plan and execute warfare, the food and dress that are described, and the way that the monarchy is passed from the father to one of his children.
Sartaq is the leader of the Northern Armies and the rukhin, which are imaginary large flying birds that they are able to ride. Unlike the wyverns that Manon Blackbeak and the Thirteen and all of the rest of the Ironteeth witches are flying, the rukhin have feathers and are described as having golden coloring.
I did really enjoy the depictions of another culture which wasn’t the typical fantasy medieval European landscape. Sarah J. Maas did also create a whole host of characters of color that take a major role in this novel which I enjoyed reading about. Maas didn’t fall into her usual pitfall of describing these characters of color as “tan” but rather explicitly described them as having brown skin and darker features.
A hotly debated topic in the booktok, the TikTok community for reading and books, is whether white authors and especially white fantasy authors are doing a disservice to their readers, or being explicitly or implicitly racist, by failing to include three-dimensional characters of color, LGBTQ+ characters, and other minority characters in roles that are important and are not only there for tokenization. As a white person myself I don’t feel that I can do an adequate job reflecting on this issue myself but I will attempt to summarize the two views that I see most often discussed. The first is that by not making any attempt to include characters of color you are failing to even attempt to make your book a reflection of the real world. Within trying to include characters from minorities to which they don’t belong many white authors make the mistake of creating token characters which are based on stereotypes and do very little to add to the story in a meaningful way or to talk about anything except their identity as a person of color.
One such example is the character Temper from the Bargainer Series, who is a terrible example of a black woman and plays into stereotypes about black women and the way that African American Vernacular English sounds to non-African American people.
Because of this, some members of these minorities on Booktok have said that they would prefer that white authors write characters who are physically characters of color, or general scenes that depict cultural landscapes that they can identify with without trying to understand or depict what that character, as a member of a minority that the author is not a part of, might experience. This is because no matter how hard a white author tries to understand the issues that a black character might face or a straight author for a gay character, and on and on, you can never truly understand the minutiae of how that community struggles and might write your own implicit biases into the character.
Because of this, I am of the opinion that we should all seek to read novels from authors who are members of these minority communities and to share their works so that other people can enjoy their perspective the way that they have experienced it and chosen to write it into their characters. Here you can find links to my lists of books by any Own Voices Author for Fiction and Nonfiction, POC Authors in Fiction and Nonfiction, by LGBTQ+ Authors in Fiction and Nonfiction, by Disabled Authors in Fiction and Nonfiction, and with POC Characters in Fiction and Nonfiction, LGBTQ+ Characters in Fiction and Nonfiction, and Disabled Characters in Fiction and Nonfiction. Keep in mind that I am one person and the books that I have read, reviewed, and listed are far from the only diverse books that exist!
If you haven’t started reading Tower of Dawn or Empire of Storms yet, I recommend doing the tandem read of Empire of Storms and Tower of Dawn which happen at the same time, though Empire of Storms centers on Aelin, Rowan, Lyssandra, Aedion, Elide, Lorcan, Dorian, Manon, and the Thirteen as they prepare for war. On the other side of an ocean, Aelin and her group are forced to leave Terrasen and search for allies in some unlikely places. Meanwhile, Lorcan realizes that Aelin tricked him, and along the way to go find her he meets Elide who is bringing one of the wyrdkeys to her. At the same time, Manon and the Thirteen are trying to navigate a threat that they don’t understand while the Blackbeak matron lies about the imminent danger. To remember where you’re supposed to switch you can use stick tabs at the beginning of each section that way you don’t read too far and then have to go backward in time.
If you enjoyed Tower of Dawn you might also enjoy the A Court of Thorns and Roses Series, the Crescent City Series, the From Blood and Ash Trilogy, The Folk of the Air Trilogy (also known as the Cruel Prince Trilogy), the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, and its follow-up the Six of Crows Duology, the Serpent and Dove Trilogy, and The Shadows Between Us.
Buy the book here:
Thriftbooks: Tower of Dawn
Half-Price Books: Tower of Dawn
Better World Books: Tower of Dawn
If you can’t afford to purchase the book, consider subscriptions like Scribd which I reviewed here, or by visiting your local library or using the app Libby to borrow books from the library digitally on your own devices.