A Court of Thorns and Roses
Sarah J. Maas
Spoiler Rating (First Section): Moderate
Spoiler Rating (Second Section): SUPER HIGH
I’ve found yet another book you would’ve been obsessed with: A Court of Thorns and Roses, which is several kinds of awesome and two kinds of crushingly disappointing.
Because I would recommend you read this, but its flaws are significant enough to discuss in detail despite their being super spoilery, I’m going to divide this letter into the relatively-spoiler-free praise section and then the spoiler-full criticism section. So if you don’t want spoilers, uh, only read the first half of this letter.
A thrilling, seductive new series from New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas, blending Beauty and the Beast with faerie lore.
When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it…or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.
The First Chapter
Oh, Lizzy, the first chapter. It is so good.
Nineteen-year-old Feyre’s hunting deep in the winter forest, desperate to feed her borderline-starving father and older sisters. She knows to fear wolves and faeries (who can take the shape of wolves), both of which slaughter humans and both of which have been spotted in these woods recently.
She gets lucky and spots a doe—then gets super unlucky when a supernaturally stealthy, pony-sized wolf begins stalking the doe, too. If he takes it, Feyre and her family will become worse than borderline starving. She needs to kill the wolf.
Feyre brings him down with a faerie-killing ash arrow in his side and a regular arrow in his eye, but his death is unnaturally slow.
Unable to carry both the doe and the wolf home, Feyre skins the wolf (who mustn’t have been a faerie after all, she thinks, because he didn’t revert to his natural form upon his death) and throws the doe over her shoulder for the long trek home.
End chapter one.
So what’s great about this?
(a) We see the world Feyre lives in—bleak and starving and flinching from the looming threat of faerie malice.
(b) This isn’t some scene-setting chapter solely intended to introduce the main character and give some background to the story; Feyre’s killing of the wolf is the single event that instigates the rest of the plot. The author doesn’t waste a single moment/page, which is good, tight storytelling.
(c) But best of all is what we learn about Feyre herself. We see Feyre’s general emotional state—grim and desperate and determined, but also numbed by her circumstances to the softer feelings of joy and hope and sympathy for others. However, that sympathy still lurks somewhere deep inside, half-dead and fully ignored by Feyre because she just can’t afford to feel it. But it’s still there, waiting. And (as you know) one of the themes of Beauty and the Beast stories is the awakening and acknowledgement of sympathy for someone you’ve previously feared and abhorred. Both Feyre’s lack of sympathy for the faeries and the quiet kernel of hope for its blossoming are present from the first chapter. This is A+, four-thumbs-up storytelling.
Flashes Of Lovely Writing Style
Overall, the writing style was fine with the occasional flashes of glorious:
Feyre’s a painter at heart, and as the first-person narrator she has an interesting way of describing light and color and shape. Those beautiful description didn’t come as often as I would’ve liked, but I loved them when they did pop up.
No Love At First Sight, No Love Triangle
This being a Beauty and the Beast story, there shouldn’t be room for love at first sight—but I was still relieved (and rather surprised) that it didn’t rear its ugly head.
Unlike Disney’s Beast, Tamlin can shift into and out of his beast-form (wolfish and feline and horned and bad-tempered) at will; the only mystery about his appearance is the golden mask permanently obscuring the upper portion of his face. When Feyre first meets Tamlin he’s in his beast form, but he quickly shifts back into a man. A sexy man. But Feyre’s instinctive reaction to his unexpected hotness isn’t drooling or even abject staring:
Tamlin isn’t struck by love at first sight, either. It takes them both a few months to warm up to each other, and their romance isn’t derailed or complicated by an unnecessary Young Adult Love Triangle O’ Angst (yes, that is the technical term).
So hurray for that.
An Intriguing Antagonist
I know you like charming and engaging antagonists as much as I do. Now, I promised not to spoil anything major in this section, so I won’t tell you anything about him, but let me just introduce you to Rhysand:
Tamlin and Feyre are our primary characters, sure, but oh my goodness I need a book about Rhysand. His story is, to me, significantly more interesting than Feyre and Tamlin’s. (I’m seriously trying to restrain myself from obsessing about him all over you right now. Trying so hard.)
Feyre’s Not A Disney Princess
Rhysand might be my pet character, but that’s not to say that Feyre didn’t speak to me at all. I really liked how grim and bitter she is from the story’s first chapter, and that she doesn’t transform out of that grimness and bitterness anytime soon.
See, she’d made an oath as a child, and this is a world that takes oaths very seriously.
Feyre considers her oath broken because Tamlin stole her from her ungrateful, useless father and ungrateful, useless sisters, leaving them to beg and starve. Upon hearing this, Tamlin tries to be comforting:
Is her first reaction relief that her family’s not begging in the streets, not starving to death? Nope.
Her first thought is I worked so hard for them and now they’re going to forget me. She thinks My family doesn’t have a place for me anymore, because they no longer need me. She fears I and all I’ve done don’t matter.
And that is heartbreaking. Heartbreaking and honest and real, much more real than if she’d cheerfully thanked him for sending them money, then settled into a carefree life of painting and romance.
Her reactions to other events are similarly not-Disney-princess-esque. No spoilers, but man, her response to trauma is generally pretty great. She gets wounded, emotionally and mentally, and not all of those wounds heal cleanly. Those new scars are scars, altering the topography and sensitivity and pattern of her character like physical scars alter flesh.
If the other books in this series continue to follow Feyre, I can’t wait to see how she continues to shift and change.
All right. It’s time.
I have two major complaints about this book, and in discussing them I’m going to spoil the book’s climax and conclusion for you. Stop reading now if you’re not cool with that.
The Final Third Of The Book Isn’t Quite Logical
Because this is a Beauty and the Beast story, you won’t be surprised to hear that Tamlin and his people are cursed, and the curse will only be lifted if he can get a human girl to fall in love with him before an arbitrary amount of time (49 years) has passed. Once the girl wholeheartedly tells him she loves him, the curse is lifted.
The curse, by the way, was laid by the evil High Queen of the faeries, Amarantha. She’s a vicious figure who (well before Feyre was born) subjugated the seven High Lords of Prythian (the faerie territory that dominates the northern four-fifths of the island Feyre lives on), stealing most of their powers and enslaving most of their people. But Amarantha saved this extra-special curse for sexy Tamlin (High Lord of Spring) as punishment for refusing to become her consort.
If Tamlin manages to break his curse, he’ll get all of his power as High Lord back, and his people will be freed from eternal slavery. And, more to the point, with his restored powers he’ll be able to fight and kill Amarantha, freeing his fellow High Lords and all of Prythian from her destructive evil.
Feyre enters the scene within months of Tamlin’s 49-year deadline. Do they fall in love? Yes. Do they have a few steamy scenes that don’t quite fade to black? Yes. Is Feyre clearly two seconds away from saying the magic words that’ll prevent Tamlin and his people from being doomed for eternity? YES.
AND THEN. Three days before the deadline, two-thirds of the way into the book, Tamlin decides to send her back to the human lands.
(a) Amarantha hates humans and is planning to exterminate the human race after she’s solidified her power over the seven High Lords. Sending Feyre back to her family—who lives practically in the shadow of the wall separating the human and faerie lands—will not in any way protect her.
(b) But more importantly: Feyre is about to say she loves him. All Tamlin has to do is hear her say it, instantly regain his super awesome High Lord powers, then send her off to the human lands for the brief time it would take him to hunt down and kill Amarantha. Once that’s done, he could summon Feyre back to his estate and they can live happily ever after (or whatever).
There’s absolutely no reason for him to pull this idiotic stunt; he’s an intelligent and brave High Lord, not a dumb and cowardly one. I don’t believe for a second that he’d actually think it’s a good idea to send her away when she’s clearly about to break the curse.
The only explanation for his incredibly idiotic move is authorial interference. The author forced her character to do something totally against his nature for the sake of a cool and sexy plot.
You see, I think the author wanted to have two things: (a) Feyre and Tamlin to be all lovey-dovey and sexy before they’re separated, and (b) Feyre to have to save Tamlin from Amarantha by completing impossible/potentially-fatal tasks to prove her love for him.
Wanting both of those things is fine, so long as they fit together logically (and by logically I mean without turning characters into idiot puppets).
Here are the top three logical ways I think this book should’ve played out:
(i.) Their relationship could be ambiguous enough that Feyre isn’t even ready to confess her love until after she is returned to the human lands.
(ii.) Feyre and Tamlin can keep their sexy lovey-dovey romance, Tamlin can do the totally in-character thing and risk waiting those last three days, Feyre would confess her love, then Tamlin could hie off to kill Amarantha with his newly-regained power.
(iii.) The best of both worlds: they get sexy and lovey-dovey, but she says the magic words too late. Tamlin sends her back to the human lands in a pitiful attempt to protect her, and everything else proceeds as written. (Sure, getting Feyre safely out of Prythian would be more tricky in this case, but not impossible. And “tricky” would make for more interesting reading than how she’s actually sent off in the book.)
But for some reason the author wanted Tamlin to just get weak and weepy and give up, when his salvation is so incredibly close.
As a result, I spent the final third of the book—with all its brutality and heartbreak and desperation—thinking This isn’t logical. How could the author make Tamlin do that? None of this even needs to happen. It was really difficult for me to ignore this issue and just enjoy the remainder of the book.
The Riddle Is So Dumb
When Feyre arrives at the High Queen Amarantha’s lair and demands that she free Tamlin, Amarantha’s reply is, of course, “Complete three trials to prove your love and sure, I’ll free him.” Amarantha also gives Feyre a second option, if the trials are too difficult for her:
The answer to the riddle is so obviously Love that I was flabbergasted that (a) Feyre didn’t immediately figure it out, and (b) Amarantha/the author chose it to be the subject of her riddle in the first place.
Feyre spends months trying to decide what person or animal or disease the riddle could be about, never once even considering it could be a concept or emotion. She endures incredible hardships for months while I’m bashing a head-size hole in my living room wall, wondering when she’s going to figure it out.
Of course, she figures it out literally as she’s dying:
It is so very groan-worthy that the answer to the riddle is Love. Yes, it fits the theme, but it fits too well.
Why not Hatred? Or Loneliness? How about Anger or Prejudice or Desperation or Responsibility? All of those things (and so many others) would’ve been pertinent to the story and to Amarantha and to Feyre’s character arc, without being so ridiculously obvious. A riddle about any of those things could’ve been much harder to solve, and I would therefore be able to share Feyre’s fear and frustration as she struggles to find the answer, rather than wanting to chunk the book across the room because it’s so infuriatingly stupid.
What should’ve been a tragic and triumphant moment—Feyre solving the riddle in the moments before she dies—instead had me throwing my hands up and thinking Jesus Christ, finally, what took you so long. Which is just heartbreaking.
(And don’t worry yourself about Feyre’s death; aside from the pain of a potentially amazing climax falling far short, this book doesn’t have a sad ending.)
VERY LATE UPDATE:
Issues With Consent
Allow me to just direct you over to Tiff’s amazing post about sexual violence in this book. She covers the topic beautifully, and it’s too important a topic not to be aware of. Please, please give this a read.
Obviously I’m frustrated and disappointed by the failures in the last third of the book, but overall I really did enjoy reading it, and I know I’ll be rereading it within the next year or two. And yes, I’ll be tapping my fingers impatiently for its sequel to arrive.
Sending you all the hugs,