Book Review: “A Court of Thorns and Roses” (2015) by Sarah J. Maas

I almost cried when I found out we were nearly done with summer (mainly because, as a New Englander, I just survived a horrific winter). But this realization was made all the more bearable with a great summer read by one of my favorite authors, Sarah J. Maas. If you don’t know her, you need to go and read her Thrones of Glass fantasy series because it’s got a bad-ass female protagonist named Celaena (aka, how you pronounce my name) who is an assassin who also loves wearing pretty dresses and looking hot AF. She’s like Arya Stark just a bit older, bolder, and, I’ll put the argument forward, more brutal.

A Court of Thorns and Roses is a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast (and I’d argue, with a spot or two of Cinderella thrown into it). Now, I love retellings of the mythological and fairy tale persuasion but I have to say, as of late, I have been unimpressed by the current lit. For example, Cinder by Marissa Meyer promised us a completely fresh retelling of Cinderella (with cyborgs and aliens and a futuristic setting in China) but it failed to deliver as it focused too much on an unbelievable romance and a far-fetched, poorly developed conflict that didn’t seem to be a dire enough concern of the protagonist. Also, I have no alliance to weak main POV characters with shaky voices.

A Court of Thrones and Roses was exactly what I needed to restore my faith in retellings, because, really, it isn’t a love story at all (or maybe not in the traditional sense). The entire novel is based on the premise that Feyre (pronounced Fair-uh), youngest daughter of a disabled merchant, murders a Faerie in cold blood. Her action sets into motion events that change her family’s fortunes as well as her own attitude toward the world around her. I have to say this is one of the few books where I can legitimately say the main character truly developed and grew through her journey. Honestly, I didn’t like the version of her we were introduced to in the beginning of the novel. She was full of hatred and bitterness toward the world around her and, while this didn’t qualify her as a bad character in herself, it was a bit off-putting. By the end of the novel, she grew exponentially in strength, confidence in herself and overcame/recognized the fault in her hatred of the Faerie race. So props to her.

As part of a treaty created between Faeries and Men after a series of brutal wars, Feyre must journey with the High Fae and live with them as a hostage for the rest of her mortal life on the other side of the wall that separates the human and faerie world. Due to her hatred of magical creatures and her duty to her impoverished family, her kidnapping doesn’t go very well. That being said, she is no match for Tamlin and Lucien, the High Fae that transport her to the Spring Court. They keep her as a prisoner, but do not mistreat her. Their only real requirement is that she is never allowed to return to the lands of Men.

Feyre gets herself into quite a bit of trouble as she traipses around the grounds of Prythien. As she explores the world of the fae, she discovers that a “blight” on magic has overtaken the land. Both Tamlin and Lucien are required to wear elaborate metal masks at all times to prevent the blight from spreading to the rest of their bodies. As such, Feyre never sees their true faces. The masks make her curious as she tries to come to terms with the fact that the pair are not the monsters she believed all faeries to be.

Now, I won’t give anything away but I have to say, Sarah Maas is a genius when it comes to plotting. The twist that she offers at the end of the novel isn’t one I saw coming. Dear reader, you’re definitely in for a treat of games, of the mind, heart, and physique if you open these pages.

While Feyre is definitely a badass when it comes to female leads in fantasies, she is easily differentiable from Celaena of Thrones of Glass. It’s always nice to see authors able to write beyond their own prescriptions. Feyre is definitely her own woman and the pain she suffers from broken hearts (and perhaps even broken limbs) is tangible. Maas is a fabulous writer and I think we all need to steal a little bit from her.