A Court of Thorns and Roses, the new series from best-selling author, Sarah J. Maas, takes the familiar tale of Beauty and the Beast to a scarier, sexier, all-stakes-raised level. I have been a fan of Sarah’s writing, world-building, and character development since her debut Throne of Glass series, and while there was one issue in particular that I had with A Court of Thorns and Roses, overall, this new series promises to be just as popular as her first.
Feyre (Fay-ruh) is an admirable heroine. She knows how to hunt, how to strip game, how to barter, and most of all, how to survive. She has a keen mind, a stubborn independent streak, and most of all, a fierce sense of loyalty to her family and to doing what is right. When Tamlin, the man-beast, takes her away to the faerie lands in an act of retribution for the death of his friend, Feyre shows a more vulnerable side, as she wonders about the safety of her family and what her future holds. She gave up a life of ease and a passion for painting when her mother died, and accepted the role of sole bread-winner for her family. Now that she has no more responsibilities, no one who relies on her for their basic needs, who is Feyre, really, and what does she want to do with the life she chose?
Tamlin, our “beast,” is not simply a brute bent on retribution. He is careful in his dealings with Feyre, and simply asks that she stay within the bounds of his estate. Through his sarcastic (and often hilarious) comrade-in-arms, Lucien, she learns that that a curse was put on Tamlin, his land, and all of its inhabitants by Amarantha, an evil high-ruler is bent on cold-blooded vengeance. This curse, and other sinister happenings that Feyre doesn’t totally understand, has caused the boundaries between kingdoms and between the Fae and human worlds to weaken. Grotesque and terrifying creatures haunt the woods outside Tamlin’s estate, causing stubborn, independent Feyre to get into quite a few compromising situations. There were times I physically squirmed at the depictions of these creatures!
I enjoyed Feyre’s character development during her time at Tamlin’s estate. She had become so invested in her role as “bread-winner” for her family that she largely neglected her creative side, often ridiculing her own self when she saw beauty in her surroundings. Unlike Belle, Feyre is actually illiterate, but she is a talented artist. I appreciated the depiction of a character who is not necessarily "book smart," but who can still use her wit and "street smarts" to handle most situations. Feyre also gets to know Tamlin and Lucien better during this time, and it was nice to see her attitude toward them go from suspicious to admiring.
Things eventually start to sizzle and spark between Tamlin and Feyre. As she gets to know him better, she realizes that he is compassionate and polite, a kind ruler, and that he is a begrudging wearer of his crown, yet loyal to his people. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that Feyre might start developing feelings for Tamlin, especially given her circumstances. Things come to a head one night, during a
a barbaric ritual of the Fae. Ordered to stay inside, but unable to resist the mystery and frenzied sound of drums, Feyre ends up alone with a Tamlin she doesn't recognize. He is practically vibrating with primal sex appeal, and an achingly sexy scene unfolds between the two.
This particular scene has caused discomfort for some readers, as Feyre struggles with her instinct to resist Tamlin in this state, and her intense desire for him. "No means no." Tamlin should have stopped. He couldn't stop, because he was basically overcome by faerie lust -- or at least that's the excuse he has been given, which is what makes some of the readership squirm. Feyre is even assigned blame for what happened, because “she should have stayed inside as instructed.” I wish this scene had been handled better and that, at the least, either Feyre and/or Tamlin would have acknowledged later that it was an unacceptable situation.
If you can make it past this, the rest of the story is quite compelling. The action and suspense rise to greater heights, and the evil Amarantha makes her grand entrance. She is a true villain, reminiscent of Game of Throne’s Ramsay Bolton, with a knack for destruction and gleeful torture unrivaled by most villains in YA. When Feyre tries to bargain with Amarantha to lift the curse on Tamlin and his people, she finds herself in the middle of a perilous, play-for-keeps mind game with the evil faerie queen. Bullied, battered, and broken, Feyre must decide just how far she’s willing to go and how much she’s willing to risk, of her body and her heart, to save the man she believes she loves from total destruction.
The battle between Amarantha and Feyre was both exciting and cringe-worthy. I love a good villain and I love a good heroine. These are both strong women, in their own right; one, ruling by fear and clever machinations, and the other, fighting with wit and dignity. Feyre is not as strong as Amarantha, however, and more than once, the mysterious Rhysand, a palace courtier with a double motive, helps her heal from her injuries. The story culminates in a gory battle and a binding contract, leaving Feyre to wonder how she will ever recover from the decisions she’s made in her attempt to “do the right thing.”
Sarah J. Maas doesn’t leave us with a painful cliff-hanger, thank goodness. In fact, many of the loose ends are relatively tied up by the end, however, there are just enough threads to leave the reader itching for the next installment in the series. The impending battle between the various kingdoms and denizens of Fae is a dark, ominous cloud on the horizon, and so much more is at stake now. I can’t possibly do the entire story justice in a review, because this is one you’ll have to “read to believe,” especially with the potential for big spoilers.
A Court of Thorns and Roses was just the book I needed to get me out of a reading slump. It’s dark, unpredictable, sexy, perfectly-paced, and full of suspense and intrigue to keep you turning the pages long after “lights-out.” Sometimes, for the especially astute reader, certain types of series can follow a predictable line, but I have no clue what awaits me in A Court of Mist and Fury. I can’t wait to find out!