Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas

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Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien’s only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan’s Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King’s Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan’s biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy. 

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?

I was so excited to read this book. This series has a real addictive quality, and Heir of Fire was no exception to that. Some readers might be jarred by the fact that Calaena spends the book in an entirely new place, with an entirely new cast of characters around her, but Heir of Fire is less about the shippiness and revelations of the king's evil, and more about Calaena herself. She has to come to terms with all that has happened to her and with the past self she has suppressed, and she needs to learn how to access her repressed powers in order to become who she was always meant to be. It's a book of self-discovery for Calaena, and it's empowering in part because of how challenging that self discovery is. Calaena works for every scrap of power and self-confidence she gains, and she faces many set-backs and failures along the way.

Celaena is actually pretty unlikeable in this book, in a really compelling way. She's been pretty much emotionally destroyed by the events of the last book, and the result is a character who's despairing and self-loathing, who lashes out at others, and who is motivated by rage when she's motivated at all. In a first book, this would be unbearable, but here it gives Celaena a lot more depth, and helps to deconstruct the "sexy assassin as badass female character" trope. Celaena has been through a lot of trauma and is pretty much broken as a person, and Heir of Fire digs deep into that and what that means for her future.

Of course, it sometimes also means that readers might want to shake Celaena, or hate the way she approaches her responsibilities and interacts with others, but she feels incredibly emotionally real throughout the book. Her thoughts and actions aren't always good, but they're believable, and the emotional history provided by the series means that they're incredibly compelling as well.

Not to say that this is a really serious book. It's YA fantasy adventure, and it has all the popcorn-munching pacing that readers might expect from this series. We've got the epic showdowns, the requisite moments of self-affirming awesome, the introduction of a new hot guy, plus shapeshifting, monstrous flying beasts, and as much magic and intrigue as you could want. It's a great deal of fun, but its main focus is Calaena and her much-needed emotional journey, and that means that the book has a lot of weight as well.

A great third instalment. Just be sure to refresh your memory of book two before you pick this one up, or you'll be as lost as I was when I began!