Note: This post will contain spoilers for the entire series, including the ending of Kingdom of Ash! Turn back if you don’t want to be spoiled.
If you’ve been following this blog for some time, you would know that I’ve had my ups and downs with the Throne of Glass series. I read the prequel novellas before the first book was released, and was intrigued by the world and its characters. Throne of Glass itself didn’t impress me, but I followed on because if there’s one thing I can be trusted to do, it’s to follow the hype train. I enjoyed Crown of Midnight, Heir of Fire, and Queen of Shadows, and have made countless blogging friends through this series, and because of that, reading these books will never seem a waste.
However, I started becoming disillusioned with SJM’s writing with A Court of Wings and Ruin (yes, it took me that long), and haven’t bothered reviewing any of her books since. Kingdom of Ash is the perfect example of why I can’t enjoy SJM’s writing as I once did, so I’m going to do a book rant and get it all out of my system once and for all. As mentioned above, lots of spoilers below!
The Issues with Racial Representation
There are so many characters in this series, I had to resort to using Fandom Wikia while reading Kingdom of Ash because I didn’t even remember 30% of them. And yet most of them have one thing in common: they’re white. Especially the main cast of characters. Elspeth once said “they’re all the same white woman five times” and I have never heard a more accurate description.
We had Nehemia once, but then she got murdered in the most explicit way possible as character and plot advancement for Aelin. Then we had Nesryn, who barely made an appearance and was quickly bundled off to her own spin-off book. There’s the Southern Continent, which seems to be based on Mongolia, along with a mish-mash of other cultures. However, they were kept so far apart from the main storyline for five entire books that when they were introduced in earnest, SJM had to split off an entire novel to explain who they all were. Writers, let this be a lesson, this is the sort of retcon you have to do when you don’t build a diversity into your world from the very beginning.
Then came the Manongate when the book sleeve art for the B&N exclusive edition was released, where Manon was depicted as East Asian, to the surprise of absolutely everyone in the fandom. SJM’s Pinterest for Manon’s character inspiration are littered with art of white women, Bloomsbury has previously endorsed art of Manon as a white woman, there is certainly no indication in the text that she is Asian. And yet, at the last possible minute, they collectively thought it was a good idea to draw the character as Asian? PSA: No one wants this pathetic attempt at racial representation: off-page, last-minute, poorly thought out, and frankly insulting. Good representation aren’t characters as blank canvases, where readers have to imagine their racial identity. If you want to be a good ally, write it down with ink and paper. Have integrity. Have a spine.
The Unrelenting Heterosexuality
As you all know, this entire series has a lot of issues when it comes to representing anything that is not romantic heterosexual relationships that follows the gender binary. SJM’s obsession with the mating bond between females and males span all of her series. It’s honestly laughable at this point, I can’t tell Rhys and Rowan apart anymore because all of their sentences ends with ‘my mate’. It also sounds ridiculous to Aussie and Kiwi readers because we tend to use ‘mate’ to mean ‘friend’. EVEN THE WYVERNS HAVE MATES. Is nothing sacred. Is nothing safe.
Faes in this book are different to humans in that they’re all referred to either ‘male’ or ‘female’, non-binary and transgender people are absolutely not a thing in any of SJM’s world. Even though they live for millennia and there is an entire kingdom filled with them. The one instance that the book could have used to talk about gender identity, as Dorian learns to shape-shift into a woman, it was played for laughs. Complete with him wondering about breasts and wanting to test out how good he would be at masturbating in this body. Just thinking about it gives me a rage-induced headache.
The scene with Dorian also leads to him flirting with Manon in a woman’s body, leading to her snapping at him to turn back, because what could be more uncomfortable than homosexuality? Keeping in mind that a large part of the fandom has interpreted Manon as someone who is interested in wlw relationships since the day she first appeared. SJM used Dorian/Manon to sink that piece of fan-canon well and truly. Not that Manon and Dorian have any actual chemistry, they both feel out-of-character when they are together. We are meant to believe they share an inexplicable (because even SJM can’t explain why) and powerful attraction because god forbid any of these characters end up without a romantic relationship.
In Kingdom of Ash, I almost forgot that Aedion was our bisexual representation, because the rep came from a single throw-away line in Empire of Storms. The only other reference we get to it in the 1000 pages here is when he seeks out one of his commanders for rebound sex because he’s angry at Lysandra.
Another thing I found distasteful about Kingdom of Ash is the obsession with ‘claiming’ when it came to sex. We learn that during Aelin’s torture and subsequent healing sessions, she loses a lot of her scars: the ones she got in Endovier, from surviving countless battles, from her promise to Nehemia, her carranam bond to Rowan. While this is a powerful imagery in itself, it’s somewhat soured by the fact that no matter what Maeve did, the one scar that remained the longest was the ‘claiming’ scar from the first time she had sex with Rowan. Because out of all the other events in her life, their consummation and mating bond takes precedent. Yet this book is meant to be the feminist answer to LOTR (let’s not kid ourselves, Aelin is basically Aragorn), sounds fake but OK.
The LOTR Rip-Offs
There is a line between homage and plagiarism, and with Kingdom of Ash SJM takes that line, burns it, and salts the earth. I would wager that most fantasy fans have watched LOTR at least a couple of times, so I don’t know how she thought she would get away with passing off entire scenes and dialogues as original content.
In previous books, we have already seen instances where phrases from LOTR and GoT were re-purposed as though SJM just came home from a garage sale:
- “To whatever end.”, the 2nd most uttered phrase when it comes to Rowan/Aelin, right after ‘my mate my mate my mate x24527’, comes from Theoden’s most triumphant scene in The Two Towers.
- “You bow to no one.”, with regards to Aelin, comes from what Aragorn tells the Hobbits at his own coronation at the end of the trilogy.
- “The Queen Who Was Promised” came straight out of GRRM’s prophecies in ASOIAF, who also goes by Azor Ahai, who wields Lightbringer, and is also known as the Son of Fire. Sounds familiar? I know prophecies are fires are dime a dozen in fantasy, but the similarities here are uncomfortably close.
- Orynth, with its white walls and snow capped peaks is pretty much an amalgamation of both Minas Tirith and Winterfell.
- As mentioned above, Aelin’s journey very much mirrors that of Aragorn. The lost heir to a powerful throne, spent years in the wilderness denying their claim, joined forces with the elf/faes to reclaim it, has an immortal elf/fae as consort.
- That moment where Nehemia names Aelin Elentiya, she used this line: ‘I give you this name to use with honour, to use when other names grow too heavy. I name you Elentiya, ‘Spirit That Could Not Be Broken.” , and it sounds so similar in tone and cadence to the way Galadriel describes the light of Earendil to Frodo. The name Elentiya even sounds Elvish, and sits discordant with the other naming conventions in Eyllwe.
- The famous ““You could rattle the stars.” that people loves to slap on mugs and graphics (I have done it myself once), actually came from Treasure Planet.
In Kingdom of Ash, we take it one step further, with so many of the war-related scenes immediately revoking memories of The Two Towers and Return of the King. So much so that instead of reading the book for the night, I ended up rewatching LOTR instead.
- Manon gathers the witches to go to war by starting a series of beacons, lit all across Erilea, from snow-capped mountains to the woodlands… this was such a powerful scene, and it also came directly from the RoTK segment where Pippin helps Gondor call for aid. I was so mad at this direct rip-off that I could not read the book for hours afterwards. This is one of my favourite cinematic moments of all time. HOW DARE SHE?
- The wall defences of a city is completely sound, except there’s one more way in, through a grate in the water canal. We’re not even trying to pretend this is not exactly Helm’s Deep. There is even a scene where someone asks if there’s a secret passage the women and children can escape through!
- The speech that Haldir gave when he arrived in Helm’s Deep, uniting the elven and human forces, is paraphrased at least three times in this book. Most notably when Manon brings the Crochan witches to fight alongside the humans. She actually says “Long ago, Crochans and humans fought side by side…”
- In that same clip I linked above, Legolas says “that is no orc horn”, guess what, Lysandra says the exact same thing in this book – replacing ‘orc’ with ‘Morath’, because we don’t really wanna be sued here.
- New lore in Kingdom of Ash dictates that there are kingsflame blossoms, which only blooms when the kingdom is at peace and the rightful monarch is on the throne… totally does not sound ripped off from the White Tree of Gondor at all.
There are many more instances, such as the dam unleashing the force of the river onto Isengar– I mean the city of Anielle. So much of the second half of this book felt like a montage cut and pasted from LOTR. It really calls to question the originality of this entire series. What does it say about SJM’s ability when so many of the most beautifully written moments in these books are not entirely her own work?
SJM Becoming A One Trick Pony
Never mind the liberal usage of LOTR content, SJM also pilfers direct scenes and plot points from her previous books. Honestly, if you have read A Court of Wings and Ruin, you don’t need to bother with Kingdom of Ash because the ending is exactly the same.
- The main character sacrifices their life for humanity, to be called back by sheer force of the mating bond.
- The main character are not allowed to come into harm’s way, and will survive a number of scenarios that would have killed a lesser mortal. They are not allowed to suffer any actual loss or sacrifice anything of note. Aelin’s biggest sacrifice for this entire book was giving up her human mortality and human form to seal the gods away. You mean she has to be a beautiful, immortal, magic-blessed fae forever? WHAT A NOBLE SACRIFICE. WHAT LOSS.
- A multitude of powerful forces shows up at the last possible moment just to help them defeat the great evil just because. What’s the need for foreshadowing or world building when you can just throw a random legion of Wolf-Faes into the fray at chapter 102 of the final book?
- A whole load of het couples angsting about their bond and their desires for one another, while the world is ending in another 3 seconds.
- A lot of Rhys/Aelin posturing about how they are fair rulers who will do things by democratic votes, except they always get to make the call on the most important decision, such as dying and leaving the kingdom without the ruler because noble plot twist.
- A saccharine sweet ending where no real loss or sacrifice has taken place, where traumas are wiped clean, and everyone is just thinking about building libraries and theatres and making babies.
SJM does not have it in her to make her characters confront mortality or old age or long-lasting trauma. You’ll just get pretty words and a few dream sequences.
The only people who ended up actually sacrificing themselves in this book was Manon’s Thirteen. Who were the few remaining characters I actually cared about in this book. The sisterhood of powerful women were largely ignored in Kingdom of Ash in favour of bad Manon/Dorian sex scenes. When they did feature they imploded themselves to save everyone’s asses and fulfil one of SJM’s boring prophecies. I am the most bitter about this particular plot point.
I think I have to come to terms with the fact that SJM peaked at ACOMAF for me. I did enjoy some of this book, especially in the first half, but as you can see there was a whole lot more I was pissed about. I feel exhausted. It’s been a long seven years. What did you think of the finale?