Crown of Midnight is the latest book by Sarah J. Maas, and god is it fun (if somewhat traumatic) to read.
I reviewed the first in the series, Throne of Glass, last year, and loved it as a cracky, addictive sort of YA novel. Action and magic and shippiness with princes? I was hooked.
Crown of Midnight follows a similar pattern. Celaena is now the King's Champion, ordered to assassinate his enemies. If she fails, the King will kill her closest friend, Chaol. Yet she despises the King and everything he stands for, and so she must work against him, while convincing him that she is his servant now and forever.
The first half is quite slow, with lots of focus on relationships, as Maas attempts to escape from the love triangle she set up in the first book. On the one hand, it's nice to see a young adult novel that doesn't have "oh I love both these guys!" running until the end. But on the other hand, why set it up in the first place, if a great part of the second book was going to be dedicated to undoing it? However, once that set-up is done, the second half is an absolute read-in-one-go, left-dying-for-more rollercoaster of a plot. It's brutal, and it's shocking, and although some of the twists are predictable, you certainly won't see all of them coming. (Or maybe you will. But I didn't). There are so many twists and so many revelations that it might be said to be too much -- we don't get time to mull on the consequences of all that's happened and all that we've learned, because another shock is hurtling towards us. Perhaps this is just the sort of thing a fun book about courts and magic and assassins needs, though. Constant stuff that'll make you gasp out loud, grasp the pages tighter, and race to the end.
I also like that Celaena is from the "Arya Stark" school of badass fighting heroines. Yes, she might be able to kill you, and willing to do so with nary a second thought, but the book makes clear that there's darkness and trauma there as well. Being an assassin isn't about being a "strong female character." It's about survival, with all the psychological consequences that involves. Meanwhile, she befriends her counterpoint in the quiet, dignified foreign princess Nehemia, a girl who adds some needed diversity to both the female characters we see and the racial makeup of the cast. She is, in many ways, Celaena's opposite. She's an understated scholar, a woman who is all about elegance and knowledge and kindness... but also a woman who faces the battle against the King, and her part in it, with far more fearlessness than Celaena, and someone who is certainly more than she first appears.
If you're looking for a series that you can settle down with and mull over for a while, this probably isn't the right choice. But if you're looking for something to read when trapped inside by a rainstorm or stuck on a plane, something that will pull you in and make the hours pass like seconds, add Crown of Midnight to your list. It's so much fun!