This was everything I wanted, and expected from Sarah J Maas, and even more. Despite some tropey flaws that kinda made me cringe just a tad, I was enthralled by A Court of Thorns and Roses. Obviously, as a massive Maas fan, I couldn’t help but compare it to her awesome Throne of Glass series. Verdict: completely different, but in some ways, better.
In this magical retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Feyre is a nineteen-year-old girl living in squalor, hunting what she can to take care of her family. True to the traditional fairy tale format, Feyre’s two sisters are presented as slightly useless and even quite superficial, while Feyre is the truly good girl who does all the work and owns essentially 90% of the family’s brains. But she loves her pointless family, and over the course of the book they prove to have their merits after all.
One day Feyre kills a wolf, not just because its hide has the potential to fetch a pretty penny at the market, but because some wolves are actually faeries in disguise, and since the Fae are evil beings who delighted in killing humans in a war several centuries ago, Feyre isn’t too fussed about being instrumental in ensuring there’s one less to worry about. But her actions backfire: the High Fae Tamlin shows up at her door, informing her that she has violated the Treaty and has to pay with her life. He offers her a choice: a swift death right here and now, or a lifetime as a prisoner in the Spring Court in the Faerie realm of Prythian. Can you guess which one she chooses? Answers on a postcard.
Right off the bat I’ll tell you that I wasn’t mad about Feyre. Seeing as Maas’s other leading lady Celaena is probably my favourite heroine in all of YA literature, I would have thought she would have been able to create an equally complex lead for this new series. Sadly it wasn’t to be, as throughout the novel Feyre just stuck me as Katniss Everdeen 2.0. Not that that’s a bad thing; I like a bit of Katniss. Feyre, like Katniss, is out there being the head of the family and taking no shit, wielding her bow and arrow like a boss and giving zero fucks. She’s a badass but she’s also stroppy and an ice queen at times, but that’ll never stop her from doing the right thing, even if the odds are never in her favour. No, Feyre wasn’t a bad character, but there was no novelty for me. In my mind Jennifer Lawrence played Feyre throughout the entire book. As Katniss. And it was a shame.
“You gave up so much for them.” He lifted his other hand as if to brush my cheek. I braced mysed for the touch, but he lowered it before making contact. “Do you even know how to laugh?”
But even a copy/paste Katniss Everdeen is a better move than simply recreating Belle from the Disney version who, as much as I love her, is no where near as cool as Katniss. Feyre is very different to Belle; she’s not the most beautiful girl in town, she never learned to read so she’s not the bookworm we know and love, chosing instead to let her creativity flourish through painting. Feyre is a lot more resourceful than Belle and clearly a fighter. I mean, Belle’s sole purpose in Beauty and the Beast is to confess her love to Beast to break the spell; Feyre has to do a lot more than that, I’ll tell ya!
Now plot-wise, I was impressed. There were still a lot of key elements from the fairy tale that made up the overall structure, but Maas truly made it her own with some fabulous world-building, spooky beasties, and an intriguing mystery that kept me hooked. The plot was detailed and complex enough without being overpowering. This is where Maas’s skills seemed to have improved the most over the years, as the plot was top-notch and the pacing was absolutely perfect. Since pacing is one of my main complaints with the most recent Throne of Glass installments, I think Sarah J Maas earns a gold star.
She still needs to work on love interests though. Her books have never convinced me that she has ever considered the merits of having a love interest who is actually a person onto himself, and not just the generic good-guy (maybe with a slight edge) that is perfectly crafted in order to make the female readers squeal. Tamlin is the most boring of the Maas love interests, and has all the personality of a dry piece of toast. I wouldn’t mind too much, but we know the main crux of Beauty and the Beast is the love story between these two characters; having a personality-impaired love interest really hinders the believability. Sure, he’s a nice enough guy, but he’s so mysterious, broody and barely says a word to Feyre. Am I expected to fall for Feyre’s claims of undying love here? I missed the childish banter of the Disney version,
I craved the manipulative cruelty of Once Upon a Time‘s representation,
I just wanted to see a real relationship building. Not this “oh-he’s-an-alright-guy-but-why-is-he-so-nice-to-me-but-he’s-a-faerie-who-i-hate-i’m-so-conflicted-no-wait-i-love-him” bullshit. I’d be a little lenient if Stockholm Syndrome was explored in this re-telling but it’s not, so I have to judge it one what it is: a claim for actual love that did not convince me in the slightest and, to tell the truth, bored me by the end (the sex scenes, however, did not ^^).
I was kind of hoping Maas would pull a fast one on us and have Feyre end up with a side character like Lucien or Rhysand. I love Lucien to bits and I need more of him now, and Rhysand has the potential to become epic in the sequels, so either choice would have been fine by me. But Tamlin is just so vanilla, like so many YA love interests are these days. He doesn’t deserve
Katniss Feyre. And I’m not exactly singing her highest praises, but she’s alright in my books and she can definitely do better.
But despite my trivial nit-picking, I can’t deny this is a good book, one I would recommend to anyone. I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in a while, even despite flaws that I usually have such a tough time overlooking. The sequel is pretty much exactly a year away, but I’ll be waiting patiently until the day I can devour its beauty like the ravenous beast I am.