A Court of Thorns and Roses tells the story of Feyre, a young woman who innocently kills a wolf whilst hunting in the woods and pays the price for it when a rather beastly creature comes knocking on her door (almost literally) to demand payback for the killing of one of his brothers. The wolf was actually a Fae and Fae don’t take too kindly to humans, or so says the history of the world in which humans were subjugated and Fae constantly lurk, threatening this unsteady peace treaty. Feyre is taken prisoner by the Fae Lord, Tamlin, and forced to return with him to live in his magical court in a land that is lethal to humans. But her feelings towards Tamlin change from loathing to passion as she finds herself sinking deeper into the Fae world, and discovers that everything she has seen there is not quite as it seems.
Disclaimer: I invite you to read my rating and decide for yourself whether you want to read a review from a person who decidedly did not get on with Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses. In fact, I wouldn’t call this a review, it’s more of a rambling rant.
To sum up my feelings towards ACOTAR, I will take a leaf from the book of Jeff Winger in the TV show Community “To me, religion is like Paul Rudd. I see the appeal, and I would never take it away from anyone… but I would also never stand in line for it.” (Although, lbr, Paul Rudd is great, you get my point, right?) I would never try to take ACOTAR away from anyone who enjoyed it but I would never stand in line for the next book’s release. I would also like to review all the problems I had with it so that people who didn’t like it don’t feel alone like I did until I went on Goodreads. Also, there are spoilers everywhere in this review, seriously, this is your only warning, do not read if you haven’t finished the book. This lengthy disclaimer aside… let us return to this rant/review…
My main problem with the book lies in an insurmountable issue… downright lazy writing. I started to actually highlight instances of repetitive sentence structures but had to quit after a chapter because I’d already highlighted six occasions of this one “quirk” of Maas’ writing – she loves lists of three. She adores and obsesses and worships them. (See what I did there?) I could forgive this – goodness knows I have my own writing style idiosyncrasies that annoy even me (yes, I know I overuse commas) – but Maas has an editor, presumably an editor who is paid a not inconsiderable sum to iron out some of these little quirks. But they weren’t edited out and it’s like when someone points out that all the scenes in the first two Harry Potter films end on one of the characters saying something half-funny or witty – once you know about it, you can’t stop noticing it, and the noticing it takes you out of the story every single time it happens which, in ACOTAR, feels like every other page. Further into the novel’s plot, however, I stopped noticing it… why? Because things got interesting! I couldn’t tell you how many instances of lazy writing were in the last twenty or so percent of the book because an actually interesting plot arrived, just in the nick of time. The plot brought with it a character that (along with Lucien) saved this novel enough for me to give it a two-star rating – Rhysand, Amarantha’s little whore who, I swear, existed just to disrupt Tamlin and Feyre’s sexytimes, but I was so glad he did.
Returning to the arrival of the plot – the best part of the novel was the action Under The Mountain. Before that there are hundreds of pages of hints and traces of Amarantha’s cruelty and Tamlin’s shady past but Maas denies readers anything more concrete than a few winks on Fire Night until Feyre finally journeys to rescue her Prince-Not-So-Charming. To me the pacing is odd This action, the setting up of Feyre’s three challenges, ought to have happened sooner in the book because what transpired Under The Mountain was not given enough of the story to be explored to its full potential.
And thus we come to something that ruined this oh-so-promising turn of events – the riddle. I say riddle, “riddle” is more accurate. From a cursory look on Goodreads, reviews, and Twitter, I conclude not at all scientifically that about 90% of readers knew the answer to the “riddle” as soon as it was posed. In fact, Feyre is among the few who don’t know the answer that is quite literally staring her in the face. I can forgive a character for not getting riddles; I don’t get riddles and I’m not great at cryptic crosswords either because my brain just doesn’t work like that. However, I think with Feyre, Maas was hoping to play on her illiteracy as an explanation for why she doesn’t get the riddle immediately but that falls down entirely because the answer is literally all she thinks about. She obsessively stares at Tamlin and thinks about how much she loves him. Like…? Her not being able to put two and two together frustrated me to no end and completely demolished the development of Feyre as a strong, brave, and clever individual in the face of Amarantha’s disgusting challenges.
(Oh and Tamlin’s heart of stone? “Cop out” – say it with me? It’s not clever when it’s barely even hinted at throughout the novel, that’s just a convenient get out we call “deus ex machina”, Sarah.)
We haven’t even touched on the truly problematic elements of this book yet. What I’ve covered so far has been largely stylistic problems that, actually, could be down to personal preference. Now buckle up for the genuinely concerning elements of A Court of Thorns and Roses which I will present via direct quotes from the novel:
It made me sick – the thought of Tamlin forcing me […] But hearing that… that some feral part of him wanted me…
And, after all, Tamlin was a High Lord, and it was a great honour. And I supposed Tamlin was handsome. Terribly handsome.
I couldn’t escape. I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to.
Conclusion: Rape is ok if the dude is handsome. And if he has a “feral” anything, because that’s just his inner “beast” talking so, I mean, it’s just nature, he can’t possibly control himself, he’s so wild. I feel like this description is a remnant of trying to do a Beauty and the Beast retelling, it’s just that a brick to the face has more subtlety than ACOTAR.
I would have been gentle with you, though
I would have had you moaning my name throughout it all. And I would have taken a very, very long time, Feyre.
Conclusion: Wow, isn’t Feyre a lucky girl? Look at how romantic he’s being! So we’ll just bypass the bit where it sounded an awful lot like rape was being presented as an “honour” then? Cool.
[…] I wanted his mouth and teeth and tongue on my bare skin, on my breasts, between my legs. Everywhere – I wanted him everywhere. I was drowning in need.
Conclusion: Everything is so conflicted and angsty! She wants him but she doesn’t! She’s his prisoner, basically, but he’d “take his time” and be “gentle” with her. Everything about this relationship makes me feel icky because Sarah J. Maas’ handling of this is so heavy-handed that it isn’t explored properly. And when we do get an “explanation” for why Tamlin did what he did, it’s too little too late, for me… just like Feyre’s slap. She slaps Tamlin after he orders her not to disobey him, which reads a little like Maas’ attempt to show Feyre isn’t cowed or at anyone’s mercy. But she is. It’s Stockholm Syndrome explored by someone who is more interested in depicting the “hardness of his body” than the deeper, psychological intricacies of such a phenomenon.
‘Is this necessary?’ I said, gesturing to the paint and clothing.
‘Of course,’ he said coolly. ‘How else would I know if anyone touches you?’
He had you dance for him for most of the night. And when you weren’t dancing, you were sitting in his lap.
Conclusion: I’ve highlighted this because I wouldn’t want you to think I hated Tamlin as a love interest because I just didn’t like him – actually, when he wasn’t busy rubbing up on Feyre, I didn’t really have as much of an issue with him or his characterisation. Which must come down to me not liking how the characters were handled by Maas’ writing once they were having sex, or trying to, with her lead character, Feyre. You see, this isn’t confined to Tamlin, it also happens with Rhysand in the quotes above, a character who I enjoyed, for the most part, but who was also kind of gross and proprietary whenever confronted with Feyre. Here’s the thing – at least some people (Lucien) kind of hinted Rhys could be gross, there was some kind of dissenting voice, or subtlety to the entire exchange, a hint that what was happening maybe wasn’t ok. That’s at least some level of depth… I would have liked more of that.
I recognise that my experience of reading A Court of Thorns and Roses is not that of a large majority of people’s. However, nowadays, this has become quite a polarising book series; more and more people are expressing dissent regarding ACOTAR and ACOMAF so I feel that, to some extent, my “review”/rant will not be met with completely surprised looks. People have said this before; in fact, much more eloquent reviewers have expressed their concerns over ACOTAR in succinct and thoughtful ways whilst this was essentially just a rant of all the things I didn’t like about the book.
My basic conclusion of A Court of Thorns and Roses is “ugh”. Perhaps I was just in a bad mood throughout, and that’s why it rubbed me up entirely the wrong way? Perhaps I was expecting so much more? Or, in a weirdly converse way, perhaps I’d decided I didn’t like the book before I had even read the first page?
So why on earth did I rate this two stars? Well, it picked up points for Rhysand and Lucien. I found the side characters intriguing and I would like to have read more about them. I hear Rhysand is basically the love interest of the second book? I’m not sure if I’m ready for that since as soon as Sarah J. Maas puts a bloke with
herself her main character, I kinda begin to dislike him. That’s harsh, I know, and it’s not Feyre’s fault, I just think that as soon as sex/romance enters the equation, the guys in this story become repulsive to me because it’s handled so… problematically? Not everything in this book is, in itself, Problematic with a capital P, it’s just that it isn’t handled brilliantly. And because it isn’t handled carefully it comes across as a little questionable… and then it makes me feel icky because it’s presented as oh so angsty and romantic!! No.
If I’m being completely honest, I actually loved the concept of this re-telling. In fact, I thought the concept was great, the execution just left a lot to be desired. I even liked the idea of why Tamlin did/didn’t do what he did to try to break the curse, I thought the reasoning was really interesting, if it had been explored a bit more subtly and intelligently than it was. To me, everything in this book was just handled in a much too slapdash manner. That, coupled with what felt like lazy writing and characterisation in favour of oh so dramatic romantic scenes (I can’t say erotic, I’ve read fanfics that were more erotic tbh), added together to produce an all-round disappointing take on Beauty and the Beast.