A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas is book blogger and BookTube royalty. First published in 2015, ACOTAR as it’s affectionately known, must surely be one of the most talked about, reviewed and either loved or hated books in the young adult book community. Sarah has rocketed to stardom through the ACOTAR series, along with her other series, Throne of Glass, which has made her a regular at conventions and YA book events all over the world. These books seem to have triggered a resurgence of a sub-genre within the YA world: faeries.
ACOTAR, as the first book of the series, has been reviewed to death on blogs, Goodreads and YouTube, so I’m not going to bother adding another review to the thousands that already exist. Some people love this book, some even name their kids after the characters, but others hate this book with a passion, citing it as being un-inclusive, romanticising abusive relationships, and being downright sexist. I want to go through a few of those things and share my thoughts because when I picked up this book I was ready to hate it, unfortunately (or fortunately) when I go to the the final page, I had a stupid smile on my face and a few butterflies in my belly. Yep, ACOTAR got me!
Overall I’m giving ACOTAR 3 stars, which is a culmination of the first two thirds of the book which were dead boring, and the final third which was exciting and suspenseful, and just a little bit sexy. I almost didn’t get to the good bit, which is this book’s major downfall: the pacing is way off. Thankfully I did persist and I’m hoping that people are right in saying that the next two books are plotted and paced better, and will hold my attention all the way through.
Now, onto my thoughts and questions.
As I said before, the pacing is off and the first two thirds of this book are unbearably slow and boring. However, I found the writing to be very easy to read and the style that I like. I don’t like writing that is too flowery and to me this had the perfect amount of dreamy metaphors, not too many that it became cringey, but enough that it felt like being in the fantasy world. My daughter Isabel has marked a few of the metaphors she found to be silly, such as, ‘hair like liquid night,’ but I found these to be good descriptors even though sometimes they were a bit naff.
Perhaps the one thing that really frustrated me was the overuse, and sometimes incorrect use of the word loosed. To describe breathing out as loosing a breath is just weird, although I guess technically correct.
Tamlin must have realised it, too, for he loosed a long, controlled breath before moving to the next painting.
This just seems plain wrong. I associate loosing with shooting arrows mainly. I’ve never heard it used in another way, so to loose something controlled and slow sounds really jarring to my ear. Along with the word feral, which is used to describe the faeries many times including feral grace, and Feyre’s bowels turning watery it’s the strange terms and phrases that I picked up on more than the repetition.
Sarah also has a distinctive writing style which includes an awful lot of em dashes and ellipses, that I am sure some people may find distracting. However, as a fan of the comma myself – to indicate pauses in speech or thought – I read through these no problem. (See what I did there?!) Others may find the stilted, yet constant beat of the writing to become monotonous, but I only picked up on it due to the formatting of my eBook, which made some of punctuation appear in weird places on the page.
Beauty and the Beast
ACOTAR is a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast and I wonder if that is the downfall of the first half of the book? There are many signposts and if you go into the story knowing this detail you will easily be able to pick up on the parallels between the two. Tamlin grants Feyre access to the gallery for example, as her thing in painting, as opposed to reading. However, having now almost finished the second book in the series, I can safely say that the good bits are where Sarah creates her own story, away from Beauty and the Beast. I’m going to assume that the whole series was at least partly planned from the beginning, as there seems to be a lot of threads weaving together in the second book, and so I’m not sure that basing this on the fairytale was really necessary. Taking inspiration from it, fine, but trying to replicate the whole sequence of Belle slowing falling in love with the beast while building the faerie world around them was tedious.
Because faeries are such a big thing in the YA fantasy genre now, I have read a few books featuring them lately and I’m quite confused by the various faerie laws that is supposed to be common knowledge. Either it’s poor world building, or I’ve somehow missed out on a whole education in faeries that other people have had. I had no idea what a High Fey was, or how they compared to a lesser faerie. I’ve never heard that faeries can’t lie and that you shouldn’t eat or drink the food and wine while in their world. ACOTAR says every mortal knows these things, but I didn’t and it confused me, making me think that these laws were based on some other works that I hadn’t read. What confuses me even more is that now other books (The Cruel Prince for example) are now taking these laws as gospel. It makes me think they did come from somewhere more legitimate, but I have no idea where. Is Sarah J. Mass the Faerie Godmother? I don’t know.
Would he know if I lied? Faeries couldn’t lie – all mortals knew that – but could they smell the lies on human tongues?
Relationships and Sexism
This is such a hard one because it really does come down to personal experiences and whether or not reading about certain situations and interactions is acceptable to you or not. Let me start by saying the way you feel about things is the way you feel, and not right or wrong. Just as the way someone else feels is right for them.
I have read and watched a lot of reviews that talk about the relationships in Sarah’s books (and worlds) as being unhealthy, abusive and misogynistic. For me, I accept this as being part of the fantasy world she has the right to create. As for relationships being unhealthy, if everyone was well-adjusted and respectful to each other at all times, it’d be hard to write a compelling story. I don’t mind that there are sex rites, that males rule the land, and that Tamlin is both protective and possessive in an uncomfortable way at times. Authors need to give their readers enough credit to be able to draw a line between fantasy and reality, and it’s when books shove the right way down your throat that I feel like writers are questioning my intelligence.
I actually put a sticky note in the book at the point where Rhysand makes the bargain with Feyre and now owns her for one week a month, but it’s a plot device that fits in the with the world, so although I might not want to be owned by a gorgeous, powerful faerie (or maybe I do) I sure want to read about it.
A particular pet peeve of mine is references to things that are very definitely Earthly, which is a hard thing to get away from, I know. I can accept things like seasons, and even time such as days and months (although weeks, hours and minutes is a stretch) but one thing that really annoys me is referring to religious things, in this case: Hell. It irks me a lot in this book as Sarah has gone out of her way not to refer to God, but instead use The Cauldron, and later The Mother, and yet still there is a Hell. There is no mention of Heaven or an afterlife (that I can recall, I could be wrong) so seeing Hell referred to a lot really stood out as out of place.
Her life in that hovel was Hell enough.
Another thing is colloquialisms and slang terms. It pulls me out of the story.
I admire your balls, Feyre – I really do.
Ok, so this may be just me, but I have marked a few pages throughout the book where it refers to sinks, baths and drains, and I can tell you in the second book, we get mentions of flushing toilets. What is up with the plumbing? There is no electricity, and I’m assuming no running water as the village has a well (also in the second book) so where is the water coming from? I know there is magic but why have a well and light candles all over the place when you have hot running water! Feyre is also stuck in a cell toward the end of the book where she vomits in the corner but no mention of her relieving herself. Maybe I am weird, but there are the things I wonder about.
Feyre and the Ending
Ok, we all know that Feyre is an idiot, doing things she’s not meant to be doing. But does anyone stop to think that there would be no story if she just went back home and stayed there living her miserable life with her sisters? If I woke up starving in the middle of the night and the sounds of the crazy sex party had stopped I’d probably get up for a snack too. I definitely didn’t think it went against who she was. She made questionable decisions, but she made them throughout the book, it wasn’t a change in her personality to suit the plot.
I have to admit that I did roll my eyes just a little when Feyre got turned into a High Fey at the end. I would have been interested to see what happened as the story continued with her remaining human, but as the protagonist, it would have been pretty boring to see her being protected all the time by those around her. Feyre needs to be able to hold her own and this does seem to be the most obvious way to make sure there is enough story for two more books. It’s a fantasy after all, and I can’t have it both ways. I have to take my turning into a High Fey along with my midnight sex rituals.
So there you have it. I have finally found out what all the fuss was about, and given that I went straight to Book Depository and ordered the boxed set, even a boring first half couldn’t stop me from being captivated by this series. I know I’m late but I made it in the end! All hail Sarah J. Maas.