In this faerie tale retelling of Beauty and the Beast, we follow the journey of a young female protagonist, Feyre, as her simple human life becomes entangled in the lives of the immortal fae of Prythian. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas is definitely worth the read. It is a high fantasy novel, but the world-building isn’t daunting so I encourage you to pick it up even if you’re new to fantasy.
For me, it was a bit of an emotional roller coaster – but I tend to get rather invested in the lives of fictional characters. I loved the sassy dialogue, deeply empathized with the protagonist’s struggle, and had a fantastic time meeting one of my favorite fictional characters. It won’t make my top shelf but the story really spoke to me and I instantly picked up the next book in the series, A Court of Mist and Fury (ACOMAF).
What I learned
To fight and sacrifice for love is a noble cause – but not everyone is worthy of that sacrifice and we are more likely to destroy ourselves in the process than we are to force a relationship to work that was never meant to be.
We can’t confine the problems of the world to artificial boundaries.
Watch people’s actions closer than you listen to their words.
Who we need and can love changes as we grow.
We should constantly work to challenge our perceptions of others, the mask we wear for the world is not the whole story and we can come to see humanity and ourselves even in our enemy.
My spoiler-filled review is below.
To save her family from starvation, Feyre fells a wolf that is more than a simple beast and is forced to live in Prythian as payment for her mistake. While living at the Spring Court, Feyre comes to empathize and care deeply for the fae. No longer does she see them as monsters, but friends. Little time has passed before she falls deeply in love with the High Lord of the Spring Court, Tamlin, who is introduced as the beast who stole her from home. He later shows himself to be a protector for both her and her family.
When Feyre’s life is threatened, Tamlin sends her to the human realms for her saftey. She is the key to ending the curse on his land. The evil queen, Amarantha, then storms the Spring Court, destroys the estate, and drags Tamlin to her court under the mountain once she discovers he failed to break her curse.
We have all been enjoying the lovely romp through faerie land until Feyre decides to go under the mountain to find Tamlin and save him and his court from Amarantha. She too is swept up in the queen’s schemes and endures three horrific and deadly trials designed to break her mind, spirit, and body. As dark and as twisted as these trials become – this is where the book really came alive for me. The trials showcase her greatest strengths and her weaknesses nearly cost her life. Alone, Feyre would have perished from the trials under the mountain – broken both physically and mentally.
I waited and waited for the “great” fae male she fell in love with to step in – to help her and to fight back. However, Tamlin did not so much as lift a finger to help Feyre as she goes through hell to win back the love Amarantha stole. Our protagonist had a very unlikely savior – the Lord of Night Court himself.
Rhysand is believed to be evil incarnate at his introduction – dark power spills from him and he revels in pain and punishment. However, he alone aids Feyre in her time of greatest need, holds her together, keeps her from breaking, and stands to fight beside her to end Amarantha’s reign of cruelty. In the end, Feyre doesn’t see him as an enemy and questions the dark mask he dawns for the world to see.
The ending of this book left a very sour taste in my mouth – which I suppose was intentional.
Feyre walks off into the sunset with Tamlin to live her immortal life at the Spring Court with a stain on her soul from the horrors she endured under the mountain content to live happily with the male who watched as she destroyed herself for his love.
The Perception of the Other
Feyre grew up in the mortal world where she was taught that the fae were evil, cunning creatures who would end her life without a second thought. The shift in perspective as Feyre comes to see the fae as friends and family instead of enemies was really impactful for me. There is a scene where Feyre watches a faerie die and is utterly heartbroken by his pain and suffering. She mourns for him and gives him every comfort and tear she would have granted one of her own.
I thought a lot about how we label people after reading this passage. We mentally separate ourselves from the problems of our neighbors and society can teach us to think of the other and their strife as alien to our own. In 2015, Pope Francis gave a speech to congress reminiscent of this idea – reminding his audience to see the humanity in people we think are different and to know that we can’t ignore the problems of our neighbors in a global society.
Similarly, this is a theme is present throughout the Ender’s Saga. The protagonist here grows to see, understand, and love his enemy at the moment he is tricked into destroying them. Ender’s guilt and penance for the xenocide during the bugger wars is a cornerstone of the books following Ender’s Game. Orson Scott Card does an incredible job portraying humanity to the reader even in the most alien species and urges us to take time to understand others before we let our hate destroy.
Everything Rhysand Related
I think Sara J. Mass is the queen of characters. In all of her books I’ve read, I’m incredibly emotionally invested in the characters and will read tome after tome to spend more time with them. Feyre is not my favorite character in this book (or series) – Rhysand is the star of the show. Every scene he appears in the book is a highlight for me. If could pour liquid sass, power, and sacrifice into a cauldron I believe Rhysand would appear. We’ve only begun to see the true Rhysand when this book is over but I enjoyed every minute of the games he played as I tried to piece together his true motives. One thing was clear when this story ended, Rhysand was no enemy.
Self-sacrifice for love, especially the wrong love, was a story I needed to read. Feyre’s journey to hell and back is a clever mirror for relationships back in reality. I wanted to believe Tamlin would break from his helplessness and fight for Feyre. I was ready to rally behind her in the quest to free his court but instead found myself increasingly angry as she bent and broke herself to free someone who was painfully wrong for her and undeserving of her sacrifice. I held out hope for him until the end of the third trial but neatly threw my kindle across the room as he proceeded to beg for her life instead of fighting.
It took me reading through a second time to see Tamlin’s controlling behavior, apathy and helplessness. Initially, I saw the protector, but didn’t notice how he took away her agency and voice. This is a larger theme in the second book and I’ll talk about it more in a future review. In the context of ACOTAR, I thought it was important to move through Feyre’s point of view to understand that there was a time when our protagonist needed a protector. In turn, this helped me to terms with my relationships – knowing the love I felt was indeed real and my past partners may have been exactly what I needed when I fell for them. Even if I grew out of that need it doesn’t belittle my history.
I know Amarantha had her reasons for the curse, the riddle, and the trials, however, it all seemed fortuitous as I was reading. I wish Sarah J. Maas had taken more time to craft a believable villain (which I know she is very capable of after having read Throne of Glass). Amarantha’s actions felt arbitrary and even laughable at points – which made it difficult for me to take her seriously.
The Spin on a Classic
The enjoyment and meaning I got from this story are independent of the “Beauty and the Beast” rendition. Surprisingly, my favorite Disney movie as a kid was Beauty and the Beast, but it felt unnecessary considering the larger plot of the series. There is a multitude of more believable ways our protagonist could have entered Prythian, come to love her former enemy, free the land from evil, and bear the weight of self-sacrifice as a result. I wish the author had abandoned the effort to retell a classic as it didn’t add to my experience of the story and I actively missed parts of the original.
The Fantastic Realm
Although this book is first a fantasy story before anything else, I can’t give the author awards for worldbuilding, plot, or the magic system. I didn’t start this book thinking it would be comparable to The Lord of the Rings, but I don’t think the world of Prythian feels as real compared to other fantastic worlds Maas has created. I think a better understanding of the magic system at a minimum would have given the story more depth.