Book Series Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

By Soyeenka Mishra

A (very) shorter version of this article has been published in The Ruskin Journal!

“To the stars that listen– and dreams that are answered.”

I’ll be reviewing the entire series instead of the individual books one by one because once I get into a series enough the plots of the individual books often blur into one for me. I am biased in my own opinions when it comes to the literary characters I love, and I’m unapologetic about that! It’s been four or five days since I finished it, so my words might be a tad bit less lively than how they’d have been had I written this immediately after. Those who are familiar with this series will notice I have not written any relevant stuff about a certain pair of sisters. I don’t share any particular fondness for them and if I get started on the ‘why’, I am afraid my rambling will span more pages than I’m willing to spare them, as if this isn’t long enough. I am well aware I have not written about many other significant characters as well (e.g., our gossip gal Suri, the Bone Carver, Stryga aka the Weaver, Cassian’s soul mate Bryaxis, five other High Lords and their families, among others) but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them (as evident above, I make my distaste well known). It’s just I loved Feysand more than anything so my mind is filled with them whenever I look back at this series. Perhaps I’ll write something (even) more comprehensive when I reread this series yet again in the future (which is inevitable).

I first read this series sometime around September 2018 and immediately fell in love with it. I’d bought it just for the hype and picked it up to read because the covers were pretty (hey, I like to judge books by their covers sometimes!), and the titles were intriguing. That being said, I have absolutely no regrets about it. What instantly roped me in was the rich vocabulary used by Maas, evident from the very first paragraph of the first book. It got progressively better as the plot proceeded forward. The world-building was done very efficiently with no major loopholes and the character descriptions were amazing.

It started off as a Beauty and the Beast retelling and bloomed into a vast world of exhilarating adventures. It has the perfect blend of fantasy, action, adventure, comedy, and romance.  As someone who devours fantasy novels and loves to be introduced to new worlds, this series was like a jackpot. It used some existing fantastic creatures and gave new attributes to them; for example, Faeries can lie, and iron doesn’t have any effect on them whatsoever, but it also introduces a whole lot of new creatures as well. Add that to the various mysteries that need to be unravelled, the need to break ancient curses, and save the world; lo and behold, you’ve got my complete attention, and more!

I recently reread the entire series to get over a reading slump, and boi did it work! Always trust an SJM series to solve all your problems, I say. Though as much as I enjoyed it the first time round, I must say, the joy of reading it was amplified numerous  times the second time. Now, if it was due to the fact that I already knew what was going to happen next or that my level of comprehension had increased over the last two years, I don’t know. But it was an awesome feeling to finally note all the subtle foreshadowing hundreds of pages before the events took place, and just the sheer pleasure of sinking into a familiar world I already loved, but one that I could now appreciate on a whole new level.

In the first book, Tamlin shows Feyre kindness and gives her a sense of safety– a protection that she never had. Under his care, she grows healthier and at some point of time, she starts to love him. As a masochistic reader who loves to torture herself by actively seeking out spoilers, let me tell something to all the readers who ship Feylin: I’ve got a Feylin y’all are gonna be sorely disappointed in the second book. Because, hello, do you even know the author? It’s your mistake in the first place to assume the first love interest is gonna be the endgame. Choosing your OTP from the very first (sometimes even second or third) book of an SJM series is a bad, bad idea for your heart; always remember that.

I saw something in this series that I hadn’t noticed in a lot of other works: the protagonist falls out of love with the initial love interest after a traumatic event, and it’s actually depicted in a great manner– the small things that changed, everyday habits that started to differ, things she wasn’t allowed to do anymore. The transition was very smoothly done, all the while Feyre sunk into depression. Those lively words had such an intense impact on me that I was depressed for a third of the time (four days) it took me to complete the series, and I only felt better when things started to look up in the books.

The best book in the series is A Court of Mist and Fury, according to me of course. I’ll even say the first book was one of the longest prequels ever, since the actual story begins here.  Albeit Rhysand is already introduced as the sassy, arrogant, evil High Lord of the Night Court who can turn you into red mist with half a thought, towards the latter half of the first book, he’s the one for Feyre, yanno, her mate. Here we’re also introduced to Rhys’s Inner Circle, his family not by blood, but friendship (Remember, kids, blood of the covenant is thicker than water of the womb). Rhys, the half-Illyrian, half-High Fae, who is the most powerful High Lord in the history of Prythian; Cassian and Azriel, two social rejects with abusive and traumatic pasts, who are the strongest Illyrian warriors ever, Morrigan the Truth Speaker, the only pure-blooded Royal in the squad; and Amren, the Tiny Ancient One, the Angry Snowball, an ancient otherworldly creature of nightmares trapped in a tiny body: their bond is so close and tight that anyone will feel envious, and rightly so. But the best part is Rhys himself, of course. This book will make you fall in love with Rhys, no matter how many walls you’ve set up religiously around your heart to guard that poor muscle.

While diverse representation is decent in this series, I wish to linger upon the strong female characters. Apart from two supposedly main characters (totally throwing shade to Nesta and Elain here, because I will hate them for eternity, and you can fight me), I absolutely love all of them. They’re so brave and courageous; they’ve been through hell and back yet they refuse to let those unfortunate incidents of the past affect their lives negatively in any manner. We have got so much to learn from them, and on knowing their inner demons you’ll learn to see them in a whole new light. Their attitude towards life, towards the demons of their past, it’s just so well-handled, yanno? It’s complicated but not in a messy way. But let’s not let the ladies steal the entire spotlight, shall we? We don’t discriminate here. All the boys are important here as well, especially the winged ones (wink).

Our aforementioned Illyrian warriors– while we don’t get to learn extensively about their past, enough is implied to place the most horrible images in your mind. Now, to say Rhys’s nightmarish experience moved me to tears would be an understatement. All the things he had had to go through… reading those will make your heart bleed. It will make you rage endlessly for all the sacrifices he made, all the masks he had to don, all the injustices he had to do and had had done to him. You’ll feel proud that he still hasn’t lost all hope in this world, and that he still has so much love to give yet. Even someone with a heart of stone like a certain disgusting Tool will melt, not that said Tool did much of the melting (you can’t empathise with someone when you don’t have the intellect to do that, can you?).

The major part of ACoMaF focuses on the Feysand relationship– how it starts off as them being strangers, growing into a dear friendship, and how that gradually blossoms into love so deep and powerful that even death itself failed to sunder. It is such an endearing journey that you will curse yourself to damnation for not being a part of the world you’re living in in your imagination. I remember the night I finished this book, my heart was just so full of love it felt like it was gonna burst out of happiness. And this is not due to all the arrogant remarks, deliciously good looks, infuriating smirks, sassy retorts, and splendid displays of powers (although, yes please!), but all the ways he let Feyre live. The sharp contrast between him and Tamlin were painstakingly blatant, and even though he wishes she didn’t compare them half the time, it’s hard not to. All the space, the freedom, the choices, the healthy environment– he allows her to heal from the horrors she had to face, hell, he plays an important role in said healing process. That’s who we stan– a majestic, confident (in all matters except when it comes to Feyre), arrogant, graceful (in a regally feline manner), endlessly amused, and sarcastic cinnamon roll with the most beautiful heart and soul (who loves to purr all the time). He taught Feyre how to read, for eff’s sake!

Ah, enough gushing about Li’l Rhysie, if I don’t stop now I probably won’t, ever. Let’s move to the third book now. It’s A Court of Wings and Ruin. ACoWaR– it’s got war in its title, whaddaya expect? It was the most stressful book in the series, and when I say stressful, gosh I mean it. While I often say this about good books in general, this specific book was a good example of what I call ‘a rollercoaster of emotions’.  Apart from the hundred-plus pages of war which had me strung up so tight I thought I’d shatter into pieces if someone so much as blew some air my way, it had a careful combination of diplomatic manipulation, taking the bulls by the horns at times, and well-thought out plans to trick the enemy at some points. The sheer cunning and monkey business that went on… Cauldron, I must give props to Sarah for thinking it all out!

While I applaud the fact that Maas has created a world where unpredictability is the only thing you can count on, with curve balls thrown at you left and right, what impressed me was how cunning the actual villain was. The King of Hybern always had a new trick up his sleeve and never used the same trick twice. How efficient is that? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do believe his entire existence is an abomination and he deserves to be skinned and roasted alive while still retaining consciousness (Don’t forget the seasoning, please! I’ve got my knife and fork ready). All the extensive planning that he did for so many years? That takes real brains and ambition. That said, I wish his death were a little more gruesome, a little gorier, if that were possible.

Ugh, too much serious stuff. Time for the light-hearted parts. I’ve got to tip my hat at Feyre. She has to have some serious titanium balls to pull that trick. Who else would dare to throw their slipper at the most powerful High Lord, Death Incarnate, who rescued you from your wedding you didn’t wanna go through, and also toss the other slipper after that? Yep, that’s my girl Feyre. She’s got a filthy mouth and is known to blurt the most shocking things at the oddest of times provided she’s provoked enough, and that is why we stan her too! But Rhys has got his comedy gold moments too. All the times he ignored and/or brushed away Tamlin (and Lucien once) like a piece of furniture? Lit. That time he stripped Tamlin of his ability to speak? Legendary. Three deadly Illyrian warriors engaging in an annual snowball fight? Yes, more of that please. Getting kicked out of birchin for being at attention? I died laughing, thanks to Feyre. She’s got one helluva diabolical mind, not unlike yours truly.

This series had me roaring with laughter, cackling like a witch, shrieking like a banshee, crying like my world had just ended, among others in random moments; to a point my parents were genuinely concerned about my sanity. Now I am known to break into a fit of giggles at certain funny moments but this series roped me into its world so thoroughly, I became no more than a slave at the books’ hands. I am not going into any details about book #3.5 since it’s just the companion novel that tethers the Feysand novels to the (soon-to-come) Nessian novels. If I can ever convince myself to forgive and feel positively (hell, I’ll even take neutrally) about Nesta by the time those novels are released, perhaps I’ll include my thoughts about her and A Court of Frost and Starlight in a detailed manner.

There are some very important (and well, what some might consider inappropriate) bits I’ve purposefully left out, but I don’t think they need proper praises; they speak for themselves. The best parts need to be left unsaid for you to properly enjoy (insert sly smirk here). Let’s just say I’ve got new respect for chatting through the mating bond, painting, tiny attics in rundown inns, tables, walls, soup, bathtubs, and wings. Needless to say, Chapter 55 of ACoMaF is our sacred chapter and soup our sacred sustenance. And yes, honourary shout-out to in-flight cathartics and almost-accidents during said flight (angelic smile).

So basically, what I’ve been trying to convey from the very beginning is that you should stop whatever it is you’re doing stat and get started on this series (if you haven’t already) which I’m more than positive will completely change your life. At the end you will be a new person with a crapload of trauma due to the deaths and wars, who will spend the rest of their lives longing for a Rhysand of their own, but I promise it is all worth it.

Image Courtesy: Soyeenka Mishra

Location: Bhubaneswar, India

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