Oh boy. This is my first book by Sarah J. Maas and I didn’t dislike it. But I’m terribly sad to see the same old tropes used in the same old ways yet again. Two thirds of this book are predictable, generic, and kind of silly, but then the last third suddenly kicks off the plot and it actually gets really good. I hope the next volume doesn’t take so long to build up some steam.
A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES
by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury, 2015
Ebook: 432 pages
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #1
My rating: 6,5/10
First sentence: The forest had become a labyrinth of snow and ice.
No mortal would dare venture beyond the borders of their world to Prythian, a forbidden kingdom of faeries. But Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill, and when she spots a deer being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. Killing the predator comes at a price though – her life, or her freedom.
Dragged to Prythian, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, the faerie lands becomes an even more dangerous place.
You know you can bait me with fairy tales pretty easily, but if you throw in fairy tales (Beauty and the Beast) and a riff on the ballad Tam Lin, my defences are disabled and I absolutely must have that book. Sarah J. Maas has been hyped like crazy which didn’t hurt my instinct to buy this book and start a new series.
The problem with this – and many books of its kinds (yes, there is a kind) – is that it focuses so much on a ridiculous romance and doesn’t really have any plot. Let me sum it up for you. Young girl hunts for food, kills a wolf that’s not really a wolf, invoking a treaty between humankind and fairies. She must spend her life in the fairy lands in exchange for the life she took. Her kidnapper/landlord is insanely beautiful, kind, protective, saves her from danger a couple of times, gives her a nice gift, and – poof! – they are in eternal love. If you consider this a spoiler, I am sorry. But I’d hazard a guess that most people pick this up specifically for that romance and would be pretty pissed if the protagonists didn’t fall in love.
Which, of course, follows in the sad little footsteps of Twilight. An ancient supernatural being (who may look like he’s 26 but has the experience and memory of someone hundreds of years old!) falls in desperate love with a human child. I get it, I really do. It’s wishfullfilment. We all want to be special, we all want to know that the regular, clumsy, non-special human being we are can be someone’s special little snowflake, can melt the heart of a being so beautiful and pure. But it’s sooooo boring. Feyre isn’t special in any way. She is a sympathetic protagonist but even if she looks like a Victoria’s Secret model, I don’t see why Tamlin or anyone else would bend over backwards to be her lover.
I would have forgiven much of this if the romance had been well written, if there were tension between Feyre and Tamlin, and if the actual romance scenes were the explosion of feelings they are supposed to be. But while plenty of tension is built up, Feyre and Tamlin kind of… talk it away in the most unromantic, unsexy fashion I could think of. The sex scene was actually embarrassingly flowery… (if you want a good one, pick up Uprooted).
Much more interesting than this generic teen romance is the politics of the fairy courts and the history between humans and fairies. The world-building stays far, far in the background for most of the story, because romance, but when the villain is finally introduced in the last third of the book, when some clunky exposition gives us a bigger picture of this world, that’s when things start getting interesting. It’s not well done, by any means, but at least there’s something there other than two gorgeous people pining for each other.
And you know what? When I’d pretty much given up hope about the plot, things actually start happening. Feyre goes through some fucked up shit in order to save the people she cares about and, in the process, gets to know two really intriguing characters. Lucien had been intriguing for the entire story, but Rhysand is a different story entirely. Coming from the Night Court, I immediately thought of him as this story’s Hades (and I cannot resist a good Hades and Persephone story, no matter how hard I try). But what makes him so exciting is that you can’t be sure about his motives. Is he evil, is he good, is he just a dick, playing Feyre for his own gain? I don’t really care, because reading about him was just fun!
So the ending gained a lot of brownie points for being exciting and dangerous and full of action. But – and this is a big but – it also involves a riddle that is so ridiculously easy and obvious that I guessed it the moment it was posed. So yeah, I’m good with riddles, but even Feyre has should have guessed it in the time she had to mull it over. The fact that she doesn’t makes her seem much stupider than she is supposed to be. Oh well. The actual ending was, again, predictable and tropey. I won’t spoil this for anyone still interested but there was a lot of eye-rolling going on when I read it.
Because I’m reviewing this for the Fairy Tale Retellings challenge, I should mention the use of fairy tales a little more. The mentions of Beauty and the Beast were easily discovered and done well enough. Tamlin wears a mask at all time (giving him a Phantom of the Opera vibe) and can change into animal form, so he is sometimes literally a beast. There is a curse, which is all I’ll say on the matter, and it takes the fairy tale’s curse and gives it a gentle twist, just enough to fit into this particular world. The ballad Tam Lin makes an appearance mostly through Tamlin’s name and the fact that there is a fairyland. This is one of the story’s strong points. It takes fairy tales, but doesn’t stick to them too much, rather using them to build an original world, peopled with gorgeous creatures and its own internal politics.
I hope that the next book will expose us to more of these fairy politics, show us some of the fairy courts, and do a little better on the romance and pacing. This wasn’t great and it took a really long time to get started, but it was an enjoyable enough read for me to probably pick up the sequel.
MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Good