I’ve officially entered the cult fandom that surrounds Sarah J. Maas‘ A Court of Thorns and Roses series. Somehow I missed the hype about her books until this year when the series’ second installment, A Court of Mist and Fury won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fantasy. When I started reading ACOTAR, I didn’t even bother to read the book jacket, so I had no idea it was meant to be a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I kept thinking, “Hmm…this story seems vaguely familiar,” and, sure enough, that is what Maas intended.
That, perhaps, is one of the only elements of the novel that I had an issue with. Labeling ACOTAR as a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale is a stretch. To say that it was freely adapted is a bit of an understatement, guv’nah! (Kudos if you get the Easy A reference). It was, nevertheless, a gorgeously written contribution to fairy tale literature.
Feyre (Fay-ruh) lives in a destitute village on the south side of a wall that divides her country into two sections: the faerie inhabited Prythian, and the small mortal section in the country’s southernmost region. After a brutal war, hundreds of years earlier, humans and faeries hate each other with a contempt that has been bubbling under the surface for years.
After Feyre’s mother’s death and the loss of her father’s fortune, the family must scrape by however it can. For years, though, Feyre has shouldered the brunt of the effort. She is the only one who hunts and cooks and trades for what her father and two sisters need. Feyre made a promise to her mother before she died, vowing to take care of them until the end. And in Feyre’s world, a promise is kept until death.
In one moment, Feyre changes everything when she kills a wolf in the woods—a faerie in his transfigured state. She is taken from her home by a beast who tells her she must live in Prythian or submit to execution. When she reaches Prythian, Feyre finds herself wrapped up in the world of two High Fae named Tamlin and Lucien; it is their friend that she murdered. As much as she tries to resist getting used to their world, the magic—and Tamlin’s allure—keep her ensnared.
Feyre soon learns, though, that the magic surrounding Tamlin’s court is constantly under threat of dangerous faeries that only he can kill. But soon enough, even his power won’t be able to keep away whatever darkness is plaguing Prythian. Something—or someone—is trying to force Tamlin’s upper hand. Trying, perhaps, to harness all of Prythian’s magic.
After five Throne of Glass novels, Maas is a master of world-building. Clearly she has a penchant for fairy tale retellings, but it is her inclusion of ancient fairy lore that captivates the reader in ACOTAR. Pucas and bogges lurk in the shadows surrounding Tamlin’s court, along with other creatures whose stories have been passed down through folklore for ages. Maas weaves these creatures’ stories seamlessly into the story’s plot line and develops a sinister backstory in which humans were once slaves to faeries. Humans, in turn, hate faeries for their power and ruthlessness.
Maas is also a master of character development and deft plotting. It was nearly impossible to put the book down, and never possible in the middle of a chapter. She devotes the perfect amount of time to developing each piece of the story, EXCEPT when it came to explaining the real reason for Prythian’s “blight.” When Alis—Feyre’s maid during her stay at Tamlin’s Spring Court—reveals all that happened in the past, I felt like I had to read the page at least five times to catch all the details. The reader goes from knowing bits and pieces about the whole damn thing in, like, five seconds. It was a little too much to process all at once.
In terms of character development and interaction, Feyre had me hook, line, and sinker in the first chapter. I thought she was the most bad ass chick, especially since her family was such a ball and chain. These feelings started to flicker about halfway through the book, however. I started to get annoyed at her endless thoughts about escaping the Spring Court and consistently not believing that Tamlin had her family taken care of. It’s understandable to a point, but my sympathy started fading quickly.
On top of that—she made some STUPID decisions. Like, say, the night of the spring solstice when both Tamlin and Lucien tell her repeatedly to STAY IN HER ROOM. But no. No one can tell Feyre what to do, which nearly gets her in a heap of trouble. Which leads me to the…shall we say…steaminess of Tamlin and Feyre’s affair.
I did not expect things to be so hot and heavy. Usually, YA books suggest things—use innuendo—then cut out before the actual sex acts. Maas sure didn’t beat around the bush. (Mind out of the gutter!) Feyre and Tamlin—one they realize they do, in fact, harbor a burning desire for each other—go at it. Besides the fact that it was unexpected, I approved of the fact that Maas doesn’t make a conundrum out of it. Feyre wants to be with Tamlin. She initiates what happens between them, as she did with her childhood lover across the wall. I like the idea that Feyre can want something and have it without going through a moral dilemma about it as many young people in novels do.
That being said, I’d go for Lucien over Tamlin any day of the week. So much sass.
As the novel comes to a close, several threads are left open for the next installment. Several messed up threads, if I’m going to be honest. Maas’ ending leaves a lot to be desired because it really just fades out the way things do before shit hits the fan. I’m mentally preparing myself now for the second book, and I can’t even fathom what the third book will bring us upon its release. Spare us from pain, Sarah J. Maas. Spare us.