Hello all. I went back and forth on whether I would review books this year, especially since the first few I read were very meh, and didn’t feel memorable enough to mention. However, having just finished A Court of Thorns and Roses, I decided to give reviewing another go on a case by case basis. So, welcome to 2022’s first edition of Your Mileage May Vary, the blog series where I talk about books I actually finished.
Before we get started, as always:
Confession: I bought this book because it was it was a Big Name and I wanted to see what it was about. Also my cousin was really into it, and, despite the fact that I have learned time and time again that my cousin and I have wildly different tastes, I thought why the hell not.
So, to start with, when I last delved into this genre (romantic fantasy?) I did not know what I was getting into and I hated the result. I went into ACOTAR a little bit more clear eyed, and that certainly helped my enjoyment, though I will say that Sarah J. Maas is the superior writer between the two. Her mastery of writing her protagonist was incredible and made the book far more enjoyable to me than I anticipated, even if everything plot wise fell apart.
There were things I enjoyed about the book and things I really, really didn’t, so strap in.
Whatever one might say about A Court of Thorns and Roses, I thought the Feyre point of view to be excellent. While the beginning of her emotional journey dragged a touch too long for my taste, I also understood why it took her so long to accept her change in circumstances. The moment where she mentally rebels against her own happiness because she is convinced her joy is somehow a betrayal to her family was so good. It should be telling that, even though I am a staunch fantasy reader/writer, I would have preferred a slow burn story about her falling in love with Tamlin and how she reconciles that with her past life, so much more than the messy, shoehorned fantasy plot we got (more on that later). Based on this one book alone, Maas is not a great fantasy writer, but she is phenomenal at understanding her protagonist. It feels weird for me to say that I wish there was less fantasy, the kind that is more on the fringes and colors the world but does not dictate it, so we could have focused more acutely on Feyre’s emotional and spiritual journey, and, yes, the love story.
As an aside, I’ve been thinking about it since I cracked the book open so I would be remiss if I did not mention, the fact that I could not tell for several pages, even a chapter or two, whether Feyre was a man or woman was awesome. In first person narration, especially in romance, it too often feels like the writer is looking for a way to have their female POV comment on their appearance to tell us who she is, and, you know, sometimes that might be appropriate. It was not appropriate in the opening snapshot of Feyre, however, and happily we did not see it. Though, yes, she does make a reference or two to her body in her thoughts, it is more to comment on her circumstances and isn’t gendered. We don’t even learn her name until the second (I think?) chapter, and even then I felt hesitant to assume she was a woman. I think this is great! In those first few pages, Feyre’s gender is immaterial to the plot and her own goals, and the writing reflected that. I appreciated it a lot.
Now we get to the not so good stuff.
Everything about the ending was terrible. I am struggling to think of a single thing about it I liked, to be perfectly honest. It felt incredibly rushed and poorly thought out, which was so incongruous from the character work Maas did in the first half of the book that it soured me completely on the whole novel. Everything, from the weirdly specific “curse,” to the needlessly long third act (why did there need to be a month between each task because that time served no purpose to the plot whatsoever), to the effing obvious riddle that Feyre tries to solve literally even though the answer was the entire theme of the effing book, the ending was BAD.
After spending the first half of the novel building up Amarantha as this faceless dread, the quiet evil at the back of everyone’s thoughts, she came off almost cartoonish when we finally meet her. There was no subtlety about her, yet we are meant to believe she used trickery and cunning to usurp the most powerful faeries in the land of their power and sit on a throne built on fear for decades (centuries? I can’t remember) by way of an exposition that is literally told to us.
The trials, though themselves good and interesting to read (look I did find something I liked), I feel like they lost a lot of their impact by being surrounded with the gross Rhysand plot line (puke, more on that in a sec), and Maas did not do enough to tie them emotionally to Feyre. Yes, she was steeled for them by that point, but we’ve been riding inside Feyre’s head for three hundred pages, I think we deserved a bit more about she coped with the trauma of what she endured and the dread of what would come next, rather than reading about her nightly date rape. In fact. Let me get right into that.
Every last thing to do with Rhysand made my skin crawl. I cannot believe he is meant to be the romantic interest in later installments (if I hadn’t already made the decision not to continue the series, that definitely would have made it a hard no). Sure, he saves Feyre at first from being raped, but then mind rapes her, cruelly murders her neighbor and her entire family, coerces her into an intimate relationship (intimate here not necessarily meaning sexual, but one of close proximity and familiarity, which I simply assume will later become sexual) in exchange for her very life (and, by extension, those of her loved ones, because if she dies they have no hope), drugs and gropes her every night while turning her into a sexual object to be goggled by his fellow courtiers, and forcibly kisses her.
And we are supposed to believe that Feyre is… grateful for all this? That by the end she was glad to be drugged and fondled because at least she wouldn’t have to think about the (other) bad stuff anymore, that it was a good thing Rhysand forced himself on her because he was actually helping her? I would accept these thoughts (albeit warily) if Feyre actually confronts them critically after the danger passed, but instead we are lead to believe that she and her assaulter now have some kind of bond and oh my god I hate it I hate it I hate it I hate it.
Overall, I’m glad I picked it up if for no other reason than I now have a bit more cultural understanding in the book-Twitter sphere. There was some really good stuff in there (mostly at the beginning), but I can’t condone the rest of it or even taking a peek at the second installment. Feyre was a really fascinating POV character that I enjoyed getting know, but in the end she’s not enough to carry such a terrible ending and icky future love interest.
Also there wasn’t enough sex. I thought this novel was supposed to be a sex romp. Or was that a different fairy book?
Final rating for A Court of Thorns and Roses: 2.5/5 miles.
And started off so well…
Until next time my friends, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.