So this is one that I’ve heard good and bad things about. Some say it’s an example of toxic romance (see my perspective on that sort of thing here) and some can’t stop raving about the romance. I recently mentioned to my boss that I’m being published and I like paranormal romance and she could not stop praising A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. In fact, my boss loves it so much that she bought me the series and sent it to me.
So of course, now I have to read it! And I have to say, I’m glad I did for a few reasons. First, I’ve been so drowned in working on my own writing that l forgot something important. I LOVE reading. I used to devour 300 page books in a few hours. I’d sneak out to the school library during lunch. I read every fiction book on the shelf. I lusted for books the way as an adult I lust for sex; yearning for that fulfillment, needing that excitement and spark and creativity to give me satisfaction. And it feels so, so incredible to be reminded of that lust.
Wednesday nights I have a deal with my husband that I get the night for myself. No small feat considering our son is teething, and I really appreciate having that me time! So, I take a relaxing bath and enjoy my evening. Tonight, I took the first book in the bath with me and, by the candle light of my shrine to Aphrodite and under the foilage of the small garden dedicated to her above our tub, I decided to read and review A Court of Thorns and Roses.
Spoiler warning ahead! I know this book has been out for a while but if you, like me, have been living under a rock and don’t want spoilers, stop now.
The first thing that stood out to me is that I love the prose. For my tastes, it was just enough flowery language to be drawn into the world without feeling like the author was patting themselves on the back for their own intelligence, a delicate balance at times that can be difficult. The full first half of the book thrives on the beauty of prose, on crafting a fantastical fairyland, and I truly appreciated that. I was just in the mood for something that lingered on that sort of thing, and this hit the spot.
It’s very obviously a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I like this take on the classic tale, including the sisters that were cut out of the Disney version and making it fae-centric. Beyond that, I feel like Sarah J. Maas does truly have an understanding of classic fairytales and fairy lore. Ages ago I read The King of Elfland’s Daughter, a book written by Lord Dunsany in 1924. This book describes Elfland as an eternally beautiful place, always at the most beautiful moment of twilight. I feel like the various courts described in ACOTAR are going to be like that. In this book, we’re only really introduced to the Spring court, where it appears to be an eternal spring. I imagine that other locations, Winter, Summer, Day, Night, etc. are likewise eternally beautiful in the moment that they’re named after, and I like that nod to preceding classic fairytales.
I enjoyed the little twists that popped up. For example, it’s established early on that fae can’t lie by the protagonist, Feyre. And as it’s presented as a fact, I believed it along with Feyre. It was a great little surprise when the love interest Tamlin revealed that it’s nonsense his ancestors told humans to manipulate them.
While all the descriptions are lovely and I can tell that worldbuilding effort went into creating the fae lands, I think that the human world got the short end of the stick. One thing that jumped out to me was the humans’ version of religion – or rather, lack thereof. It is stated multiple times that humans have forgotten the names of their ancestors’ gods and don’t have a religion anymore, aside from a few fanatics everyone hates who worship the fae. This felt… lazy. Humans cling to faith and religion, especially in ‘medieval’ settings, as this seems to be drawing on. It’s something that pops up in cultures wherever humans are, and the idea that almost all humans just forgot the names of their gods, or the fae gods, and never came up with their own deities or version of religion is ridiculous. It would have organically happened, or perhaps they would have deified a human general who fought against fae rule to free humans, as a form of ancestor worship. In fact, this would have been a good way to drop hints previously about the info-dump that gets plopped down in Chapter 32.
A little over halfway through the book, the beautiful mansion that Tamlin and the Spring Court live in is destroyed by enemies, and a survivor of the attack, Alis, is left behind to exposition to Feyre about a curse that until now the only real, tangible effect it’s had is some ominous presence and threats of fae creatures and everyone in the Spring Court being unable to remove masks from the top half of their faces. So, like… batman? To digress a little, I was so disappointed that the curse was something so superficial. In the original Beauty and the Beast, everyone’s bodies are changed and enchanted. The Beast is truly fearsome and horrible to behold – it’s a real curse. In this… I’d say in the scheme of curses, having to wear pretty masks is a minor nuisance. There is another aspect of the curse, one that effects the court’s magic, but that’s not something truly tangible to Feyre as a human. It would have been much more fascinating to me if the mask was part of a religious or cultural taboo, like the Mandalorian’s helmet in the Star Wars universe. Removing a mask could leave a fae magically vulnerable to other fae, or something of that nature. It could have been more than what it is – a pale imitation of the curse in the original Beauty and the Beast.
So anyway, back to the exposition dump. I didn’t dislike the book past this point, but I was aware I was reading a book rather than being engrossed in a fairytale, if that makes sense. My issue with the exposition dump ties in with the lack of human religion in a case of missed opportunity and a bit of laziness. All the names and history that Alis drops mean essentially nothing to me; they’re the author spitting out facts that I need for the story going forward, but there’s no connection. I acknowledge them as plot points, but it felt like studying for a test. But imagine how different it would be if part of the names dropped were related to a human religion? Alis tells of the ‘big bad’, a woman named Amarantha, and how her sister was betrayed and murdered by a human man. What if that human man had shrines in the human village? Suddenly Feyre has an emotional connection to his body parts being worn as trophies, and the idea that Amarantha killed what the humans believe to be their god makes her much more imposing as a villain.
Feyre (with all of five seconds of debate) gets Alis to take her to Amarantha, who has kidnapped Tamlin and wants to force him to be her consort. I feel like she wasn’t done justice. Previous monsters, in particular the bogge, captured my imagination as fae monsters and what fae monsters could be. Mysterious, terrifying, almost eldritch in nature. Amarantha is… a woman. A cruel woman, to be sure, but I never felt she was unbeatable the way I felt Feyre’s fear of the bogge.
Amarantha is meant to be cunning, and sets three tasks for Feyre to win back Tamlin, but these tasks didn’t feel cunning. I can get behind the idea of her simply being sadistic and forcing Feyre to play games for the amusement of her court until Feyre dies, but then why make magical bargains with her at all to promise Tamlin’s release? Just give her Sisyphean tasks and watch her toil herself to death for your amusement without any potential freedom at the end.
Regarding the three tasks that are set for Feyre by Amarantha, this seems to be a tribute to another old tale, and I rather liked this concept: Cupid and Psyche. In this myth, Aphrodite’s son falls for a mortal, Psyche, and Aphrodite disapproves. Long story short, Aphrodite sets three impossible tasks for Psyche to prove her love before she might be permitted to rejoin her husband, Cupid. One example of these tasks is that Psyche must sort a large amount of mixed seeds by dawn – something she could never do on her own. The task is accomplished by ants who assist her.
I feel like the first task that Amarantha has for Feyre – to hunt a giant carnivorous worm – fits with the impossible nature and sadism of an impossible task, as well as providing sport for the viewers. Feyre even gets a little assistance from those watching, warning her and saving her. It’s not ants, but it’ll do. The second task is to pull the correct lever of three with writing on it or die, which she can’t do because she’s illiterate. She gets help from a fae named Rhysand, which again calls back to the original Cupid and Psyche myth, with Psyche accomplishing impossible tasks meant to make her suffer with assistance from others. The third task is where Sarah J. Maas lost me. The task was simply kill three people. That’s it. There was a twist in that the third was Tamlin and apparently his heart is literally stone and he couldn’t be killed, but it felt like a weak task. Not to make light of murder, but there was nothing impossible about it. Emotionally difficult? Sure. Impossible? Not at all.
The first task had a horrible predator hunting Feyre in a maze – easily something people would consider borderline impossible to survive. The second task was impossible because Feyre is illiterate – though I don’t believe Amarantha knew this, and it would have been better for the theme of the Cupid and Psyche tribute if she had known it. The third task isn’t impossible, and Feyre did as she was told, stabbing all three of the people she was ordered to stab. Done and done. There’s also some nonsense about an easy riddle, the answer to which is “love”, but that part didn’t really engage me. Then once that’s done, Tamlin destroys Amarantha and she’s gone from any position of threat, with a looming specter of a fae king that she’s allied with out of frame to come to haunt our protagonists in the sequels, I assume.
One part of the book that did stand out to me as someone had mentioned it previously as to why they don’t like the series has to do with Rhysand, a rather cocksure and handsy antagonist I get vibes will be part of a love triangle in the sequels (as everything needs love triangles… sigh). He gives Feyre drugged wine night after night and while she’s in a daze he makes her dance for him, sit in his lap, and dress in skimpy clothes and paint for his entertainment. There’s some excuse about this being for appearances a little, but that doesn’t really excuse giving someone magical roofies. So, I feel I need to address my thoughts on this. As of how things stand now after the first book, I don’t have an issue with it. It’s not presented as something good, and this is a work of fiction. Some people like that consensual non-consent roleplay, and it’s safe to confine that play to the pages of a book where you are a participant in the act only mentally. I think I need to see what happens with the love triangle I’m anticipating before I can give a full response as to what I think of this. Once I read book 2, I’ll make another review and address it!
A last note… I’d heard this was a super sexy series and was a little disappointed. There was maybe a paragraph with some moderate erotic sex description, and that was about it. I’m hoping there’s a lot more in the rest of the series! This makes me a little nervous because my boss asked to read my book when she sent me this series… which has a lot more explicit sex and I hope she isn’t expecting something this tame! Let’s hope I still have a job when she’s done, there’s gotta be something in the rules about not sending your boss literary erotica…
Anyway, I enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses. While reading, I could tell that while the descriptions and worldbuilding could be interesting and had potential, they weren’t the main reason for the book to exist. This book is a romance, first and foremost. The setting, the plot, the conflict, the antagonist, the world – it exists to serve the romance and is built around the romance, rather than the romance resulting naturally as a result of the world and its characters interacting. This isn’t a bad thing, though I can see it being something that others might not enjoy. If you go into a meal expecting three courses and only get a fancy dessert, you’ll complain about the lack of steak. But, for what it is, I say we should enjoy the dessert.
I’d rate ACOTAR the following, with 5 being the max:
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5/5 for the writing style. What can I say, I was a sucker for the pretty words and was in the mood for this kind of prose!
⭐⭐⭐ 3/5 for the plot. I like all the references and fresh takes on classic fairytales and mythology, though I think the execution could have been cleaner. Ultimately, the plot serves the romance rather than the other way around.
⭐⭐⭐ 3/5 for the characters. Feyre could be… annoyingly stupid at times, but at least she didn’t sit around and do nothing. Her and Tamlin have good chemistry, Lucien was an entertaining side character, and I even enjoy reading Rhysand. Amarantha’s poor villainy and Feyre’s stupidity take off two stars.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5/5 for the romance. The romance is all that truly matters in this book, and I enjoyed it, so no real complaints!
⭐⭐⭐ 3/5 for the worldbuilding. I like the land of Prythian and the descriptions, but the rest of the world is just lacking in attention and care, and it seems like the author doesn’t feel a need to flesh out some things I would find important.
🔥🔥 for the heat level. They mentioned body parts and didn’t fade to black, so more than one flame, plus the flirting was good, so two fires out of a max of five, with five being straight up erotica and one being fade to black.
🩺🩺🩺🩺 4/5 stethoscopes. Based solely on the romance in this first book (I’ve heard indications this changes in sequels), this is not an unhealthy romance. The issue with Rhysand isn’t presented, in my opinion, as a romantic option as much as a possible antagonist, and so I don’t count that towards the health of the main relationship between Tamlin and Feyre. I took a point off for the kidnapping base to their beginning and they could be better at communicating, but overall they’re not super unhealthy given the setting of the world. They even experience a little jealousy towards previous lovers (which I’m glad they both have, it’s realistic in many cases) but they don’t handle it in crazy unhealthy ways like some books I’ve read, so I’m actually counting that as positive points here.
In the future, I’d like to do more of these Bath Book Reviews, so if you have any suggestions for me, leave a comment! I particularly love romance of the paranormal or fantasy varieties and if it’s queer/LGBT+ and/or polyamorous, I will be all about that.
Have you read A Court of Thorns and Roses? Leave a comment if you agree or disagree with my take!
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