A Court of Mist and Fury
Sarah J. Maas
DROP EVERYTHING AND READ THIS BOOK. NO TIME FOR QUESTIONS GO GO GO.
But if you do somehow arrive at the ridiculous decision to read my critique instead of the book, fear not: this critique starts with a spoiler-free review—after a spoiler-full recap of the first book in the series, so beware of that if you haven’t read A Court of Thorns and Roses yet—and you’ll be amply warned before you tread into A Court of Mist and Fury spoiler territory. You’re welcome.
Starving young human Feyre lives on the border between the mortal lands and the Faerie realm of Prythian, which is a super scary place full of things that find humans tasty.
It’s also home to Tamlin, High Lord of the Spring Court, who (along with all his Spring Court people) has been cursed by the evil-invading-faerie-queen Amarantha. Only a human woman who hates and has killed fae but falls in love with Tamlin can break the curse. Once Tamlin’s free, he’ll have the power to kill Amarantha, thus freeing all of the fae in the seven Prythian courts from her tyrannical rule.
And oh hey, check it out, Feyre hates and has killed fae, and spends an inordinate amount of time near the wall separating the Spring Court from the mortal realm. Perfect!
So Tamlin does the Beauty and the Beast thing, giving Feyre a home in the Spring Court and (halfheartedly) attempting to woo her. But alas, approximately two seconds before she tells him she loves him, he decides to send her back to the mortal realm, thus dooming all of Prythian to rot under the Evil Amarantha’s reign because . . . plot?
Feyre chases Tamlin to Amarantha’s lair, where—with the secret help of gorgeous but cruel Rhysand, High Lord of the sadistic Night Court—she survives an incredible amount of abuse and trauma, simply because she somehow can’t solve the easiest riddle in the world. But she does finally solve it, thus breaking Tamlin’s curse and freeing Prythian from Amarantha’s clutches. And then Feyre dies.
But no worries, because the seven High Lords combine their magic and resurrect her as a High Fae. Now she’s gorgeous and magical! Oh, and she’s also bound to spend one week of every month (for the rest of her immortal life) in Rhysand’s Night Court, much to her and Tamlin’s dismay.
And now, A Court of Mist and Fury:
Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.
Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world torn apart.
There are so many things to praise about this book, I just can’t even.
- Abuse and trauma (and the slow, terrible process of dealing them) are portrayed incredibly realistically. This is in small part due to the fact that the book is fairly long, allowing the characters space and time to be traumatized and (begin) to recover.
- The size of the book also allows ample time to develop new characters and relationships, and I adore every moment of it.
- The breadth and depth of emotion in this book are fantastic. Its characters experience all the feels, and so did I while reading it.
- There’s a solid dose of feminist spirit in this book, hell yeah.
- Rhysand was by far my favorite character of A Court of Thorns and Roses, so you can bet I’m delighted by the prominent role he plays in this book.
- The book’s full of vivid, lovely descriptions that really bring the world to life, visually. We see more of Prythian than we did in A Court of Thorns and Roses, and every glimpse had a visual impact.
But there are also plenty of things that didn’t please me quite so well. So many, in fact, that I’m going to break this list down by category, so your precious brain doesn’t explode.
- I struggled to connect with the book for the first seventy pages or so; there wasn’t much going on, and I was initially frustrated and annoyed by Feyre.
- Personally, I would’ve benefited from a brief recap of the final third of the prequel—you know, the part that traumatized Feyre so much, and established the tenor of her relationship with Rhysand. This might not be an issue for other readers, though.
- Sometimes the prose sounded overly dramatic and angsty (which I personally dislike), while other times it was so overwrought that it stopped making sense entirely—like the book was so caught up in a flowery turn of phrase that it forgot the point it was making in the first place, or didn’t realize the exact meaning of the words it was using. This resulted in many near-injuries from rolling my eyes so hard.
- Pretty as the descriptions and visuals are, there’s shockingly little worldbuilding. We still don’t know, for instance, how the seven Prythian courts work and interact, details about the fae priestesses and what they do, and anything at all about the human realm and its six human queens. When the conflict and stakes are on as large a scale as they are in this book, you’d expect the worldbuilding to bring the scale to life—but nope. We don’t even learn enough about how the Night Court is run to make Rhysand’s rule of it feel convincing, and that’s a damn shame.
- The overarching plot is very straightforward, but too much of it is conducted off-screen by secondary characters. The book focuses more on Feyre’s emotional state than on the plot—and although I loved her character arc, and I enjoyed the actiony bits she was involved in, I wish she’d been a little bit more involved in the overarching plot stuff.
- The climax feels a bit rushed, with an almost hilarious number of unexpected reveals and additional stakes thrown into the pot. I actually laughed out loud (in disbelief) more than once during the climactic scene, which isn’t the effect the book was going for.
- Several very intelligent characters become conveniently dumb at a crucial point in the plot, while I was literally (not literally) shouting at them to use their brains holy crap can’t they see what’s about to happen? No, they couldn’t. IT’S SO OBVIOUS, GUYS, WAKE UP. Ugh.
- Some characters’ hidden agendas are revealed in the climax, but most of them aren’t really explained. (One character in particular was a catalyst of major plot developments, but I found their motivation deeply unconvincing.) As a result, these characters all appear cartoonishly flat—which, in a book that takes such care in developing real, complex people, is especially jarring. If I don’t get a satisfying explanations of their motivations in the next book, I’m going to be super grumpy.
Spoiler-Free Review Summation
This book is a devil for me to rate. Yeah, I just listed a ton of flaws, some of which I think are quite significant, but I truly loved the portrayal of Feyre’s trauma. My immediate, gut reaction was to give it four and a half stars, but I’m wavering now that I’ve had time to consider.
I guess that, for now, I’ll go with a cautious four and a half stars, and revisit that rating whenever I do get around to rereading the book. Don’t be terribly surprised if I drop it down to four stars sometime down the road.
But let’s be honest here: you’re not even reading this right now, because you (like approximately every other YA nerd out there) had the good sense to shut off your computer, load up on finger-food, and barricade yourself in your bedroom with this book. To which I say: good decision, I approve.
Spoiler Rating: All the spoilers
Honestly, I don’t think it’s worth your time or mine to elaborate just slightly on the praise I listed in the spoiler-free review above. So here, have a few reviews that have already praised the book beautifully:
- Diana @ Diana Prince Reviews offers a fantastic discussion of the book’s finer points, and its portrayal of abusive vs. healthy relationships.
- The Bibliotheque writes beautifully about Rhysand and why everyone’s obsessed with him.
- Alisa @ Reality’s a Bore gushes praise, which makes for fun reading.
- Anna @ Star-Crossed Book Blog writes up a fascinating contrast between this book with its prequel.
And actually, I’m not going to elaborate on all of the criticisms I listed above, either. We’d be here forever if I did, and during that time you could’ve read or reread the book. I’ll just touch on a few issues and call it a day.
Let me give you a quick example of a slightly purple paragraph. (Note I said slightly purple; this is probably the least purple example I could offer, and I chose it because it’s also one of the shortest.) In this scene, Rhysand (who, FYI, has wings) is flying Feyre to the House of Wind, one of his seats of power as High Lord of the Night Court. Yes, this is a direct quote:
The air was chill, but no wind other than a gentle breeze brushed my face—even as we soared with magnificent precision for the House of Wind.
“Magnificent precision”? Yes, coasting in a fairly straight line is an awe-inspiring accomplishment for someone who’s been flying for several centuries.
This is one of those cases in which the book seems to prioritize the tone and atmosphere its words create (in this case, wonderment and a sense of Rhysand’s awesomeness) over the meaning of its words. Here, its words are implying that a powerful immortal who’s been flying for centuries deserves a god-damn standing ovation for flying in a straight line, which undermines the whole “this dude’s a magnificent badass” message.
So I loled.
Obvious Plot Twists:
WAIT NO COME ON GUYS OPEN YOUR EYES
All of Prythian believes Rhysand and his Night Court to be the pinnacle of sadism and cruelty, but the Night Court has a couple well-kept secrets: Rhysand’s actually a great guy, and he rules the Night Court from a beautiful (secret, not-evil) city full of lovely (secret, not-evil) citizens. The city is Velaris, and the fact of its secrecy has protected it from war and hardship for thousands of years.
But war’s looming again, because the Evil Fae King of Hybern has plans to conquer the world and redecorate it with everyone’s entrails. Rhysand and company need to get their hands on a magical book that will vastly diminish the Evil King’s power—and half of that book is in the possession of the six (Fae-hating) human queens. So Rhysand reaches out to the queens, explaining how evil the Evil King is, and begging for the book. The queens dither, and dawdle, and finally say, “Look, as far as we know, you’re super fucking evil. How can we trust you? Prove that you’re not the pinnacle of sadism and cruelty that the entire world believes you to be.”
And the only way for Rhysand to prove that he’s actually a decent guy, and that the Night Court isn’t pure evil, is to show the queens the beauty and peace of perfection of Velaris.
If he chooses to keep Velaris a secret, he’ll protect it from war, but doom the rest of the world; if he reveals Velaris’s existence to the queens, he’ll save the world but risk Velaris’s safety. Being the good guy that he is, he chooses option B.
The human queens listen to Rhysand talk about Velaris, observe the city through a magic ball, nod to each other, then spit in Rhysand’s face and leave. “Thanks for the info, you evil bastard,” they sneer on their way out. “Like we’d ever actually give a monster like you that precious magical book. WE WERE JUST PLAYING ON YOUR HOPES ALL ALONG, SUCKER.”
Oh, but one of the queens does believe Rhysand, and secretly leaves the book tucked under her chair where the other queens couldn’t see, along with a note saying (in short): DON’T TRUST THE OTHER QUEENS, THEY’RE CONNIVING BITCHES WITH PLOTS UP EVERY SLEEVE.
Now, what do you think our merry Night Court band do next? Here’s what I was expecting:
- Someone says, “Beware the queens? What could they possibly do to us? Humans wouldn’t dare attack Velaris.”
- Someone replies, “Yeah, it’s not like they’re in league with the Evil King of Hybern, after all, ha ha.”
- A moment of silence while that sinks in, and everyone reexamines everything the queens have said and done.
- Someone else says, “Oh, shit. What if the queens are in league with the Evil King of Hybern?”
- Rhysand immediately devises a Just In Case The Queens Are In League With The Evil King Of Hybern plan to protect Velaris.
What actually happens? This:
- Someone says, “Hey, we got the book! Awesome!”
- They take the book to Velaris, and try to decipher it.
- Rhysand leaves Velaris, taking his immense magical power and elite fighting skills with him—despite the fact that he knows the King of Hybern magically tracks his movements, and will instantly know that Velaris is without its High Lord’s protection.
- The Evil King of Hybern attacks Velaris while Rhysand is gone.
- TONS OF DEATH AND DESTRUCTION IN BEAUTIFUL VELARIS.
Meanwhile, I was flabbergasted that none of them—Rhysand especially—even considered the possibility that the ancient, super-powerful, super-cunning King of Hybern might’ve conned or lured or threatened the queens (or even just one queen!) onto his side.
HOW ABOUT THAT MATING BOND
This book focuses heavily on Feyre’s right to freedom (of all kinds), and her struggle to attain it. She frees herself, with difficulty, from an abusive relationship with Tamlin, from the damaging expectations and demands of the people around her, from the downward spiral of her depression and PTSD, as well as the more immediately dangerous traps cast by antagonists and enemies. This book is about freedom in a big way.
So, uh. Why did the book have to throw in her mating bond with Rhysand?
Fae, we’re told, do marry—but the truly lucky ones have soulmates, who are their equal in every way. The mating bond isn’t a choice; it snaps into place of its own accord, and can’t be undone. And it’s not just between people in love, either; Rhysand’s parents had a mating bond, even though they didn’t particularly like each other.
Rhysand and Feyre’s mating bond was established years before Feyre even entered Prythian in the first book. Which, just to be super clear, is years before they even met for the first time.
Did the mating bond prevent Feyre from falling in some kind of love with Tamlin? No. Did Rhysand (who knew about the mating bond) try to prevent Feyre from staying with (and even almost marrying) Tamlin? No. But the bond’s existence ensures that she’s permanently and intimately bound to Rhysand, for eternity. Without her consent or even (at first—for years) her knowledge.
I mean, it’s a relief she and Rhysand fell so deeply in love; her life could’ve royally sucked if they ended up hating each other. And it could still end up sucking, if they have a falling out and decide to separate. Sorry, Feyre; guess you better hope you guys get along for the rest of eternity.
There’s something about this you have a soulmate against your will thing that just makes me look at the book’s whole freedom is of the utmost importance message a little sideways.
TAMLIN VS RHYSAND
Rhysand made a great foil for Tamlin, and really highlighted (for both the reader and Feyre) Tamlin’s flaws and how abusive her relationship with him was. Rhysand is attentive, supportive, level-headed, not domineering, not sexist; Tamlin, meanwhile, is an asshole.
But, frankly, I think the dichotomy went too far; Tamlin had no redeeming qualities, and Rhysand had no flaws. Neither character was as complex as they could’ve been, and I was left disappointed in both.
(The same criticism of Rhysand can be applied to his posse and Velaris. His posse are all wonderful people with too-few [if any? I can’t think of any] flaws, and Velaris is basically heaven: everything and everyone is lovely. I would’ve liked a dash more realism all around.)
(Not to say I don’t love Rhysand, of course. Don’t be silly.)
I STILL DON’T GET YOU, DUDE
You might recall that I was completely fucking baffled when, in the first book, Tamlin sent Feyre back to the human realm when she was seconds away from breaking his curse and enabling him to destroy Amarantha and free all of Prythian. The only motivation I could come up with for him was “because the plot is more exciting this way,” which is literally the worst motivation a character can have.
Tamlin’s decisions and actions in this book also made no sense to me.
Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s neat that Tamlin is consistent in his behavior in both books: in each, he prioritizes Feyre’s (temporary) safety over the lives and safety of everyone in both Prythian and the mortal lands. “Oh, protecting Feyre means dooming literally everybody else in the world?” Tamlin says. “SOUNDS LIKE A PLAN.” I appreciate that kind of consistency in his character, and that his decision in the second book will have even more awful and widespread repercussions than his similar decision in the first book.
HOWEVER. This consistency will only truly work for me if it’s built on a sturdy foundation of reasonable motivation. And, based on what I’ve seen of Tamlin so far, I do not believe he’d choose to prioritize Feyre’s temporary safety like this—especially because he knows that Feyre’s safety would, indeed, only be temporary. When he sent Feyre back to the human realm in the first book, he knew that Amarantha would soon break down the wall separating the fae lands from the humans, and every human would be doomed. In this book, he signs Feyre up to serve under the Evil King of Hybern during his bloody conquest of Prythian and the world beyond. In neither of these cases is Feyre’s safety guaranteed.
You know what WOULD guarantee her safety? Letting her break his curse and killing Amarantha in the first book; refusing to ally with the Evil King of Hybern in the second book.
Yes, you can argue that he’s obsessed with her, and that watching her endure torture and death at the end of the first book has pushed him over the edge—and I do think that’s a fantastic direction for the series to take his character in. But that still doesn’t (for me) adequately explain his actions in the first book, when he wasn’t obsessed with her.
It just feels that, at this point in the series, Tamlin’s actions are interesting and make for a great story, but are built on a broken, or flawed, or hollow foundation. I’m the type of reader who needs solid foundations/motivations to really believe in the characters’ actions, especially when those actions significantly affect the plot.
All that said, we don’t get to see much of Tamlin in this book, and it’s entirely possible that there just wasn’t time or space to elaborate on his motivations in a natural, realistic way. He’s going to be much more present in the third book; my fingers are crossed that we get to finally uncover his motivations then, and that they make sense.
Spoiler Rating: All the spoilers
Just out of curiosity, did anyone else feel a deep and growing panic when you learned that Rhysand has to use his magic regularly or else he’ll literally go insane? Because, uh. That seems like super important information to see dropped—especially since Feyre is now High Lady of the Night Court, and can step in to take over Rhysand’s duties if he goes insane (and possibly has to be mercy-killed?) in a later book.
But then, I mistook other things as foreshadowing in this book (I was convinced that Azriel was a traitor, whoops), and was very wrong. Hopefully this wasn’t hinting at things to come either. *Sweats.*
Even if you didn’t enjoy its prequel, I’d highly recommend you give this book a go. Maas is taking both Feyre’s character and the plot in amazing directions, and (if the steady improvement of her writing is any indication) this series is going to be stellar.
And yes, I have already pre-ordered the third in the series, and I’m counting the days until I’ve got it tight in my greedy hands.