Total Hours to Read: 58 hours and 54 minutes
--Average pages per minute for the series: 1.36
Romance/Sex: I was actually shocked by how much sex there was within the series, as well as how long and detailed the descriptions were. It starts off slowly with little to none in the first couple books, but picks up pretty quickly after that (once you are really invested in the series). If you are into that sort of thing, then you will love this. If you are definitely not into that sort of thing, then I can tell you that you can safely skip every erotic scene entirely and you will not miss anything of super-important relevance to the plot. (No pertinent details ensconced within the sex scenes unlike some other books, movies, etc.)
Language: There is mild language used throughout the series, but no f-bombs or anything extreme, and the language used never felt very prominent or in your face.
Violence/Gore: Well, the main character is an assassin. If you don't prefer violence this is SO not the series for you. There is a lot of violence over the course of the eight books, including (but not limited to): assassinations, grisly murders, extended torture, abusive relationships, rape attempts, hurt animals, and suicide.
Thoughts: This series has set the bar SO HIGH for whatever I read next that I'm a little scared to pick up another book! It also helped clarify for me what I love to see in books/series: While I love the idea of the lone wolf characters I actually live for killer squads. And second, I love love LOVE super clever protagonists.
My personal suggestion would be to read "The Assassin's Blade" in between "Tower of Dawn" and "Kingdom of Ash" for the ultimate impact.
So, some things that I absolutely loved about this series:
Relationships grew and changed, had setbacks, broke apart, came back together.
I loved seeing this, because in so many other books and series there tends to be one of two formats. Either there is the immature triangle where the protagonist is torn and has to choose between the two who love them, or there is the relationship that once begun is THE relationship and no matter what it stays. So I loved getting to see more realistically depicted relationships. This also applied to the non-romantic bonds as well. Friendships, familial relationships, group dynamics, abusive relationships, even animosities, grew and changed (for better or worse). All of this leads to my second point:
Pretty much every single character that had any length of presence in the series experienced personal growth. Whether they got better or worse, kinder or more cruel, saw the light or gave in to the darkness, they grew, they evolved, and they were affected by the people and events around them. Some characters changed almost entirely from the first book to the last. And, some characters were stuck for a while, but even that was depicted as being a part of their personal journey.
I really appreciate how Sarah J Maas chose to depict abusive relationships. She had several within the series, and each was different. None were explicitly stated as "This is an abusive relationship," but she wrote them in such a way as to SHOW how abusive they were. Sometimes it was extremely obvious and in your face, sometimes it seemed normal at first but revealed a much darker side later on. Sometimes the characters physically couldn't leave the situation, and sometimes it was mental games that kept them feeling trapped. I love that she was able to depict a variety of abusive situations and give the reader a glimpse at many different versions of abuse, their outcomes, their obstacles, and their unique pains.
She also depicted several broken relationships throughout the series. Friendships, romances, and familial. She showed the characters' choices that lead to the break or their choices that lead to healing. Sometimes the choices were hard, sometimes easy, sometimes they were made in spite or begrudgingly, but the consequences were seen for good or bad in the relationship. Several relationships were patched over the course of the books, and it was never an easy or quick thing. It always took work and effort on both sides of the conflict.
Variety of characters.
We had eight thick books to get to know people, and boy did we! We started off small with a few main players and expanded the world exponentially it seemed with each book. There was a brief period where several characters were introduced and I was a little overwhelmed by them all and kept getting them confused for a while, but I learned and really came to appreciate the wide variety of characters. We got to spend time in so many different characters' heads over the course of the series and I am so impressed at the author's skill in introducing and building the characters so that we could do that and enjoy it and not be confused by it. Each character's perspective brought something new to the table as well as bringing more depth and insight to their own character. By the end of the series you feel like you know almost every main character (and there are a LOT) pretty intimately and it gives such a depth to the emotions you feel throughout the final book especially. Everything that happened hit home because everything affected someone that you know deeply.
I really loved that the men could have deep, meaningful relationships with each other. So often (in life and media) it feels like men are discouraged from deep relationships with one another to avoid being thought "gay," and I find that really damaging to relationships. It was beautiful to see men so wholeheartedly supporting and loving one another without it needing to turn into something else. And just the fact that they could be emotionally vulnerable (on their own or with their partners or friends whether female or male) was a beautiful thing.
I loved that males and females could be non-romantic friends. They could be totally devoted but not have anything romantic between them. And, in romantic relationships, the woman was never portrayed as making the man weaker or tying them down (none of that ball & chain bs).
Pretty self-explanatory. I love clever protagonists, and appreciate the unique pain it brings when their cleverness fails them. I love it even more when it saves them and everyone is totally blindsided by it!
I love that the author didn't shy away from difficult or more taboo topics such as abusive relationships (as mentioned above), rape, stillborn children, chronic pain and its effects on life, sacrifice and its effect on not only the one sacrificing but others around them as well, the emotional consequences of abuse or just the way people were raised, blind loyalty and the pain and havoc it can wreak, and just trauma in general and the fact that it takes time and work to heal from it. Healing is not a quick or painless process, and I love how she actually took the time to show that and to write it so well.
Forethought and planning.
Some series build well but it is still obvious that the plan for continuing wasn't there in the beginning. With this series, it is obvious that from the very, very beginning there was the overarching plan for the entire series already laid out. The beginning had to be written with the ultimate end in mind. There is no way this series could have been accomplished anywhere near this well if the plan had not been laid out and thought through really well from the very beginning. But it was, and it shows. BEAUTIFUL planning.
As I mentioned above, I absolutely love seeing groups that can work together like a well-oiled machine. (Emphasis on can, doesn't mean they always do.) Or groups that are rabidly loyal to each other no matter what they might be going through. Seeing the formation of that group, though? GORGEOUS. This then kinda ties back in with the first point about relationship growth. Seeing the dynamics of a group grow and change as the individuals grow and change and come together is a beautiful thing to behold and the author wrote it in this series so well.
Slow burn enemies to allies.
If you like this trope you will like this series.
I really appreciate Sarah J Maas' finesse in writing things that are unexpected without them feeling like a cheap trick or a forced twist. The reveals were always masterful and excitingly unexpected. I never knew what was coming. I usually guess ahead when I'm reading or watching a show, but I couldn't with these books. A++ for creativity and originality.
This story was centered around strong females in so many different forms. I also loved how the females themselves were strong in different ways. So many authors think having a strong female character means a super buff chick who can knock out a guy in one punch or something. It was beautiful to see women's strengths shown in their various forms (emotional, mental, physical in so many different ways, etc.). It was also lovely to see women be strong in different ways and like different things and not be looked down on if they had "typical" feminine interests (eg. makeup, fancy clothes, manicures, etc). I loved that they could be both so strong and care passionately about whatever they wanted and not be thought less of or mocked for it. And in general, this series felt different in that it felt like women really were the focus and the driving force. The men played their part, and it was substantial, but women seemed to be behind everything. It just felt flipped from the usual format and I LOVED it. I don't know if that was the author's intention or not, but I absolutely loved it.
Things I didn't prefer about the series:
With every new book the author seemed to have one descriptive phrase that she would overuse just a touch for that book. But for the series, I think the phrase, "...she said softly, but not weakly," was used a bit much.
There was one tiny, tiny thing that had been promised in the middle of the series that I wanted to see happen at the end and it didn't.
I very much do not prefer sex scenes, especially in such explicit detail.
That's it. Out of 8 books and almost 60 hours of reading those are the only three things I can think of that bothered me.
And honestly, if the books had opted for lightly mentioned sex scenes rather than full-on detailed, play-by-play, chapter-long sex scenes this series would have landed 7 out of 5 stars and been my new favorite. But as it is...