Tower of Dawn by Sarah J Maas

Tower of Dawn is the next installment of the New York Times bestselling Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas. Tower of Dawn follows Chaol , Nesryn and Yrene Towers on their sweeping journey in a distant empire. This may be one of Sarah J Maas best works, highlighting just how adept Maas is at world-building, character development and story-telling.

Please note that the below review may contain some spoilers for Tower of Dawn by Sarah J Maas, in addition to other books in the Throne of Glass series. 

Chaol Westfall has always defined himself by his unwavering loyalty, his strength, and his position as the Captain of the Guard. But all of that has changed since the glass castle shattered, since his men were slaughtered, since the King of Adarlan spared him from a killing blow, but left his body broken. His only shot at recovery lies with the legendary healers of the Torre Cesme in Antica–the stronghold of the southern continent’s mighty empire. And with war looming over Dorian and Aelin back home, their survival might lie with Chaol and Nesryn convincing its rulers to ally with them. But what they discover in Antica will change them both–and be more vital to saving Erilea than they could have imagined.

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I had a hard time writing this post, but not because I did not enjoy this book – instead, because I just wasn’t sure how to convey how much I absolutely adored Tower of Dawn. This is, without a doubt, one of Sarah J Maas’ best works – and should undoubtedly be ranked among her top 3 novels to date. The below review touches on only the tip of the iceberg – this book is loaded with goodies for both new and old fans. In Tower of Dawn, Maas once again displays how, exactly, she earned herself the title “Queen of YA Fantasy”, laying out a sprawling and complex plot lined with stunning world-building and flawless character development. And yet, just when readers thought they had everything, Maas adds a new element of diversity to her wildly loved Throne of Glass series, touching on themes of ableism and racism throughout the novel.

“These were her people. The skin in varying shades of brown and tan. The abundance of shining black hair – her hair. The eyes that ranged from uptilted to wide and round and slender, in hues of ebony and chestnut and even the rare hazel and green. Her people. A blend of kingdoms and territories, yes, but here … Here there were no slurs hissed int eh streets. Here there would be no rocks thrown by children. Here her sister’s children would not feel different. Unwanted” – Sarah J Maas, Tower of Dawn, p. 10-11.

Following the events of Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass #4), Choal Westfall, former captain of the guard, now Hand of the King to Dorian Havillard, found himself paralyzed from the waist down, confined to a wheelchair. Thus, Aelin Ashryver Galathynius and Dorian, recognizing their need for more allies and the potential of the healers on the Southern Continent, sent Choal and Nesryn Faliq to Antica to forge an alliance with the Khagan, and hopefully find a cure for Chaol’s legs. As such, Tower of Dawn not only introduces a cast of almost entirely new characters (save for Choal, Nesryn and Yrene Towers), but the story itself also takes place in a new, foreign land. And Maas doesn’t cheap out when it comes to world-building and character development, painting a rich picture of a foreign land with various customs, traditions and beliefs very different than those seen before, not to mention a people as diverse and unique as any seen in our own society.

Maas builds a Antica into a city not only foreign, but familiar, as she develops the Khagan’s family into more than just pieces in a game, but real live people – with ambitions, hopes and dreams of their own. Furthermore, maas does not shy from exploring Nesryn’s experiences of racism during her time in Adarlan. As she delves further into Nesryn’s own heritage, something she had previously neglected, Maas highlights how Nesryn’s physically different appearance earned her, and her family, much scorn and hatred in Adarlan. And as the reader progresses through the story, Nesryn, through her experiences and interactions with those around her, begins to realize just how unacceptable the treatment of her people was in Adarlan – how isolated and alienated it made them feel. How unjust and unwarranted such treatment was.

“Using the chair is not a punishment. It is not a prison,” he said. “It never was. And I am as much of a main in that chair, or with that cane, as I am standing on my feet.” – Sarah J Maas, Tower of Dawn, p. 694.

Maas also did not shy from exploring Choal’s experience with paralysis and his wheelchair, in addition to his struggles to come face to face with the demons in his past. In the beginning, Choal resents his wheelchair, describing it as a prison. Those around him – namely Nesryn – treat him as an invalid and as a person in need of their constant help. For example, despite the fact he is physically capable of wheeling the chair around himself, Nesryn insists on wheeling him everywhere, and is shocked to learn that he could ride a horse, having considered him incapable of doing such a thing on his own. Her attitude, as well as the attitude of some of the khagan’s children, highlights ableist beliefs within the world Maas has created – beliefs which are reflected in our own society. And yet, Choal begins to believe that he can still be something, even with his acquired disability, after meeting Yrene.

Yrene, a skilled and gifted healer who first appeared in Maas’s novella The Assassin and the Healer (a story which is also included in The Assassin’s Blade), treats Choal as capable from the beginning, considering him integral to his own healing. She always asks if what he is capable of doing, rather than doing it for him, she rarely, if ever, wheels his chair for him, and it is she who designs the specialized saddle for him so he can ride again. Through Yrene’s attentions, Choal begins to see him acquired disability and the wheelchair as they should have always been seen – an injury and the tool he uses to navigate the world, rather than a hindrance and prison. And by the conclusion of Tower of Dawn,  Choal recognizes that he is just as a much a man in the chair as he is out of it.

Maas’ exploration of Choal’s experience, and of the attitudes of those around him, in addition to her exploration of Nesryn’s experience as a visual minority in Adarlan, brings some much needed attention to the negative attitudes of those around them. Attitudes and beliefs which we see reflected in our own society. And Maas challenges these negative, ableist and racist beliefs by highlighting just how problematic they are through her exploration of two characters’ lived experiences in the face of such discrimination.

Finally, Maas wrote not one, but two beautiful romances in Tower of Dawn. These romances, like Aelin and Rowan Whitethorn’s relationship, grow out of journey’s of self-discovery, partnership and equality, wherein both partners in the relationship are equally committed partners. In my mind, Choal and Nesryn never worked – they were both far to hot-headed and contradictory to ever have a successful relationship. However, Choal and Yrene, and Nesryn and Sartaq, fit together like pieces of a puzzle, their relationships a perfect mesh of give-and-take. I can’t decide which couple I am more in love with, but I simply know that both are exactly what Choal and Nesryn needed in order to heal and grow as individuals.

Overall, Tower of Dawn was a tale of self-discovery and healing, not only for Choal, but also for Nesryn. Both learned much about themselves, and who they are as individuals, and in doing so, forged a new path for themselves. A path which reflects their needs and wants as individuals, rather than the needs and wants imposed upon them by those around them, or by society as a whole. While Nesryn continues to challenge gender norms, Choal challenges the reader to reconsider their notions of ability. And throughout the journey, Maas challenges the reader to reflect upon their own biases and beliefs, by emerging us in a world so diverse and new that the reader has no choice but the confront some hard truths. Add romance, deception and Maas’ typically complex story line, weaved together with elements from the rest of the sprawling Thron of Glass series, and Tower of Dawn is undoubtedly among Maas’ best work (5/5).

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