Crown of Midnight
Sarah J Maas
Warning: as this is a reread, it is very hard to conduct this review without spoilers, as my knowledge of what will happen colours my judgment of certain characters.
I have difficulty with this book in the series. I had it the first time I read it, and now during the reread, knowing what is going to happen. Some parts of it just don’t make sense to me. But it’s Sarah J Maas, and I love the series as a whole. I also see why this novel has to happen to make way for those coming after, and it continues the events of the first. So I am still giving it three stars. I do think it could have been executed far better and far more believable, which is why the score is still significantly lower than that of the other books. And why it has taken me so long to write this review.
You may not agree with me. I have read books everyone loves that I couldn’t stand more than five chapters of (Legend by Marie Lu, for instance). It starts off quite well, Celeana is now doing a job she hates for a king she hates. She knew that when she signed the contract at the end of the first book, and she is trying to make it work. She has no qualms killing, we know, but she does have a moral code and the king is asking her to compromise it for a man she does not want to serve. From Celeana, I could have easily accepted her killing those people anyway, to protect herself and keep all she loves safe. She doesn’t do that, however. I am glad she found a way around it, but we also know from the start that this is going to be the source of all problems ahead.
Celeana, as we have seen in the prequel novella’s, is not one for playing a long game. She becomes so when she embraces who she really is, but right now, Celeana just does not have that skill. If she had, she would have realised that this may work for the two months she has been faking deaths, but there is no way such a ruse will last her the years of service it will take for her to gain her freedom. Anyone could have told her that, but wisely she is keeping her mouth shut about it to protect those she loves. She only cracks under pressure when they are about to turn away from her, as we see with Nehemia, something she fears far more than having to accept her friends’ temporary loathing.
In this book, Celeana is pushed about by everyone for their agenda, because she cannot own up to her own. I see what Sarah J Maas is doing here. When you do not know yourself, others will make you what they need you to be, and you will go along with it because there is nothing to center you. Celeana learns this the hard way through both Archer and Nehemia. I have already mentioned in my review of Throne of Glass that I do not believe in Nehemia’s friendship for a second. I believe that people love her and that she wants the best for her country, but I also believe she is a ruthless woman that doesn’t lose a single night of sleep over throwing friend, ally or family under the bus if it serves her purpose. I am proven right in this novel, but not in the way I wanted to be.
I dislike how much Celeana will not understand this about Nehemia. Celeana is proven multiple times that Nehemia has lied to her, and used their friendship, yet Celeana will not let go of the idea that Nehemia truly is her friend. Only in Queen of Shadows does she grasp this, and that was so frustrating to me throughout Crown of Midnight. I see Nehemia as much as a villain as I do Archer, or the king. This is partly why I cannot get behind her reasoning for orchestrating her own death. She is someone who will do everything for Eyllwe. But I just can’t see how orchestrating her death is going to do anything for her. It is true that Celeana will go on to accept her heritage and free both their countries from Adarlan in the next two novels, but only because Chaol puts Celeana on a ship – against her will. Celeana is not spurred into being Aelin by her death at all. She does swear to free Eyllwe, but we all see that it is a hollow promise as she is unwilling to accept herself still and as Celeana she has no resources to do it whatsoever.
Also, Nehemia could not have predicted the rift her death creates between Celeana and Chaol. And despite that rift, Chaol still seeks to protect her, doing the opposite of what a rift would have accomplished. I feel, quite strongly, that this novel is full of events that had to happen because of what is going to happen next. These events do not flow naturally from one to the other. Sarah J Maas explains characters’ motives at the culmination of events, but it doesn’t add up with all of their behaviour beforehand. Behaviours that have been designed to keep Celeana running in circles because things had to happen before she could be told the truth.
Considering the rebel storyline, there is an even balance of what I did and did not like. I am not one for the rebel-storyline, as I’ve said before. They are always a ragtag bunch of annoying, disrespectful people who want to do things oppositely from how the protagonist wants to do them. Still, in Crown of Midnight they are necessary in moving the plot forward instead of being designed to hold it back, which makes them mildly tolerable. Also, Celeana kicks their butts. And they are a major storyline, peppered with a few surprises. Such as two actually members of Celeana’s court, and the fact that they will fall in line in the later novels under Chaol’s leadership.
Archer… I am going to assume that Celeana is blinded by their shared, favorable past, because his association with the rebels is as transparant as a glass door. Raise your hand if you ever thought him to be genuine. I usually applaud Sarah J Maas for weaving such complex layers for her characters and the way they interact with each other. I think I finally figured out what the crux of it is. She is very good at doing so when this is a person who will be integrated into the storyline as one of group. She is less skilled in doing this when they have only a short arc. I see it here with Archer, I see it with Nehemia, and I see it in the next novel with Sorcha. They are too much a vehicle for the story to propel forward to be anything else. Having said that, I did not think Archer was so high up the rebel food chain, and I certainly did not expect him to be behind Nehemia’s death. A perfect villain, if the stalling hadn’t been going on far too long to have us all know it already.
On to Dorian and Chaol. While the three of them had become close in the first book, this of course had to be undone in the second. I really do like the subtlety here. Dorian is jealous, Chaol feels uncomfortable and Celeana keeps both in the dark to protect them. She is falling hard for Chaol, and as lovers are inclined to do, they waltz over others’ feelings. Dorian’s. Just when he finds out that he has magic, which isolates him further from both of them. With magic being forbidden and Celeana trying to protect him, she has never told him about her encounters with it. For the same reason, he does not tell her. He doesn’t tell Chaol because he knows how aversive his friend is towards it and fears losing him, his only ally at court, altogether.
After Nehemia’s death and the grand finale in the secret catacombs, it allows Dorian and Celeana to establish the second part of their unbreakable bond (the first was their similar characters, love of books. The second is their magic. The third is their heritage as future king and queen). Where we have been teased with the possibility Dorian would turn away and turn enemy, we are now again luckily seeing them friends again. It allows Celeana to make her promise to come back for him, which will turn out to be essential.
I’m assuming you know what I’m going to go on about next. The rift between Chaol and Celeana. It is based on absolutely nothing. We are meant to believe that Chaol not telling Celeana Nehemia was in danger, makes her unable to ever – ever! – forgive him? I’m sorry, is Nehemia not virtually a prisoner there, a known rebel leader looking to free Eyllwe, working to stand against the king whose house she is in? When would Celeana ever be under the impression Nehemia was not in mortal danger with every breath she took? It does not make a lick of sense. It was an overdrawn reaction that was severely misdirected.Sarah J Maas needed for this to happen, and then made excuses afterwards. Celeana will admit to the first part later on, but not to the second, while that one is by far the weakest of the two. It is clear it had to happen, but it is also clear Sarah J Maas could have benefitted from one more rewrite.
I am tearing this book, apart, I know. I do still give it three stars, because I found reading it still enjoyable and this book is integral to the series, being a bridge, together with the third novel, to get Celeana from book 1 to Aelin in book 4. You cannot deny that this book full of betrayal had to happen, but I am questioning the execution. Especially in light of how well Sarah J Maas writes and how much I love these books. But I do have to be fair. This is only the second book she has written at all, while I am comparing it with her writing style in the fourth book, and that of her second series, A Court of Thorns and Roses. It’s an unfair thing to do, and I readily admit it here. I’m still glad I can continue on to the yummy goodness of Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows, though.