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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses (Book #1 in the A Court of Thorns and Roses Saga) by Sarah J. Maas


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Right off the bat, I’d like to start off this review by mentioning that A Court of Thorns and Roses is the first book by Sarah J. Maas that I’ve ever read, and Maas definitely made a phenomenal first impression with this book. It has been a goal of mine to read at least one of Sarah J. Maas’ books for about a year now, since I’ve heard a lot of great things about her books from people on BookTube. The reason I chose to start with A Court of Thorns and Roses, instead of her book, Throne of Glass, is due the fact that A Court of Thorns and Roses is very loosely based on the story of Beauty and the Beast, and I’m a HUGE fan of fairytale retellings. Once Upon a Time and Grimm are two of my favorite TV shows, I love the movie Into the Woods, and I’m also a huge fan of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series. As for A Court of Thorns and Roses being somewhat of a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I thought that this book was a very clever take on the story.

The overall pacing of the plot of the book was definitely handled very well, in my opinion. The book starts on a very interesting note, and I thought that Maas did a great job of not taking forever for the plot of the book to really get moving after Feyre kills what she thought was a wolf, but was actually a faerie in disguise, and unwittingly breaking the treaty that exists between the humans and the faeries by doing so. When a wolf faerie shows up at her family’s home, demanding retribution for Feyre killing the wolf faerie, she chooses to willingly go live with Tamlin, who’s the High Lord of the Spring Court, at his manor for the rest of her life, as payment for breaking the treaty.

Now that I’m an adult, when it comes to the story of Beauty and the Beast, there’s always been a part of me that has felt compelled to make jokes about the relationship between Belle and the Beast, and her falling in love with him being a case of Stockholm syndrome. That being said, I honestly can’t say the same thing about Maas’ writing for the relationship between Feyre and Tamlin. There’s definitely quite a bit of tension between the two of them when Feyre first comes to live with Tamlin, but I still feel like he acted fairly civil and accommodating towards her. I really like the fact that at the beginning of the book, when Feyre is first getting to know Tamlin, it’s clear that she has come to believe a lot of lies and misconceptions about faeries that she was probably raised to believe. I found that initial tension between the two of them rather interesting, and I felt like Maas handled the progression and evolution of their relationship throughout the book very well. Feyre and Tamlin’s relationship definitely isn’t a case of insta-love. Personally, I think that’s great to see, because a lot of YA and New Adult books seem to be plagued with cases of insta-love, which is pretty much always beyond frustrating. In my opinion, the relationship between Bella and Edward from the Twilight series is one of the worst cases of insta-love that I’ve ever encountered, but I digress.


One thing that really surprised me about A Court of Thorns and Roses is how steamy it was at times, particularly when it comes to the sex scenes between Feyre and Tamlin that are featured in the book. While the sex scenes in this book never get to the point where they come across as being full-on erotica, the writing for the sex scenes in this book is pretty steamy. I honestly found myself thinking that the sex scenes in A Court of Thorns and Roses were much steamier than the sex scenes that are featured in Fifty Shades of Grey are. However, I’m saying that as someone who thinks that the writing for the sex scenes in Fifty Shades of Grey is actually pretty tame for a book that’s considered erotica. I should also probably mention that unless I’m mistaken, there are only two sex scenes in this book, so this book doesn’t actually have a lot of sex in it. Plus, I definitely don’t consider Maas’ writing for A Court of Thorns and Roses to be truly vulgar, and the quality of her writing in general is vastly superior to the quality of E.L. James’ writing.

While I thought that Maas did a great job of handling the progression and evolution of Feyre and Tamlin’s relationship throughout the book, and I thought the overall pacing of the plot was handled very well for the most part, one of the few complaints that I have about A Court of Thorns and Roses is that once Feyre and Tamlin have genuinely fallen for each other; there was a small portion of the book where I felt like the pacing of the overall plot started to stall a little bit. I was briefly left wondering what exactly Maas was building up to in terms of the direction of the book’s plot, aside from the relationship between Feyre and Tamlin. Thankfully, I didn’t feel that way for very long, and the plot picked up again when Rhysand, who’s the High Lord of the Night Court, shows up at Tamlin’s manor and discovers that Feyre is there with Tamlin. Even though Tamlin tells Rhysand not to tell Amarantha, the self proclaimed queen of Prythian, about Feyre; this prompts Tamlin to send Feyre back home to be with her family, out of fear that Rhysand will tell Amarantha about Feyre anyway, since Rhysand is apparently close to her.

Once Feyre returns home, she saw that her family was indeed doing well, and that they were being taken care of like Tamlin had told her earlier in the book. Although, I should probably mention that it had been established earlier in the book that Tamlin had compelled her family to believe that Feyre had left to take care of a long last aunt. That being said, Feyre discovered that Tamlin’s attempt to compel her family hadn’t been completely effective with her sister, Nesta, and Nesta had started to figure out that something strange was going on, before Feyre even returned home. However, Feyre was horrified when she discovered that Clare Beddor, which is what she had told Rhysand her name was when he visited Tamlin’s manor and had found her there, had been killed. Personally, while Feyre does come across as feeling bad about Clare being killed, because she had told Rhysand that her name was Clare Beddor; I found her reaction to Clare’s death rather underwhelming. I really felt like she should have expressed more remorse for her role in Clare’s death than she did. It was as if she found out about Clare being killed, was momentarily upset about it, and then she just moved on with her life. That just seemed rather cold and self-absorbed on Feyre’s part, if you ask me.

I was really glad to see that Feyre didn’t stay with her family for very long, before she decided that she needed to return to the Spring Court. That being said, while I was relieved that Maas didn’t drag the whole thing with Feyre being back with her family and inevitably deciding to go back to the Spring Court, I still thought it was slightly contrived that Feyre figured out how to enter the faerie realm so quickly. Earlier in the book, the characters made it seem like it was very difficult, if not almost impossible, for humans to find their way into the faerie realm. While it was established that it apparently took Feyre a while to find a way into the faerie realm, I still felt like Feyre finding a way back into the faerie realm happened much more quickly than I think it should have. If Maas really wanted to sell the idea that it was very hard, if not impossible, for humans to find a way into the faerie realm, I think that she should have dragged the whole thing with Feyre actually being able to find a way into the faerie realm out just a little bit more than she did.

I have to admit that for most of A Court of Thorns and Roses, I thought that the book’s connection to the story of Beauty and the Beast felt very vague for the most part. While this book is described as being somewhat of a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, the extent to which the book is based on the story feels very, very, very loose to me. Honestly, I actually like that while A Court of Thorns and Roses is based somewhat on Beauty and the Beast to a certain degree, it really seems to be its own story for the most part. Maas definitely did a great job of taking the basic story of Beauty and the Beast, and really putting her own unique spin on the story; rather than write A Court of Thorns and Roses in such a way that the book’s connection to Beauty and the Beast repeatedly felt rather obvious throughout the entire book, which definitely wouldn’t have been a good thing, if that had been the case.

It honestly wasn’t until Feyre returns to Tamlin’s manor, discovers that it has been ransacked, and only finds Alis there, who gives her the backstory about Queen Amarantha and what she did to Tamlin and the other faeries, that the book’s connection to Beauty and the Beast was more apparent. Once Alis takes Feyre to Amarantha so she can rescue Tamlin, Feyre makes a deal with Amarantha. Basically, Feyre has to complete three tasks, one per month, and if she successfully completes each of the three tasks, Tamlin and all of the Fae Courts will be freed. Feyre is also given the option of solving a riddle at any time, and if she solves it, they’ll be freed immediately.

Feyre goes on to complete each of the three tasks, suffering from injuries and facing various obstacles along the way. Personally, I felt like the tasks that Maas came up with for Feyre to complete in the book were all pretty clever, and I enjoyed the interactions that Feyre had with Lucien throughout the entire process. The whole thing with Feyre having to complete three tasks as part of her deal with Amarantha honestly reminded me a lot of Harry having to compete in the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but I digress. Not only was Feyre ultimately able to complete the three tasks, she also managed to finally solve Amarantha’s riddle, freeing all of the Spring Court from the curse. Personally, I was really surprised that Tamlin was the one who ultimately killed Amarantha. I figured that Feyre would be the one to defeat her. That being said, I really liked that Maas went the route that she did with Tamlin being the one to kill Amarantha, because it wasn’t predictable in my opinion.

One thing that I really liked about this book is that it didn’t consist of too many characters that were around for the entire book. Throughout the book, Feyre, Tamlin and Lucien were the characters that were focused on the most, with various other characters being briefly featured throughout the book; long enough to serve a purpose to the story and help progress the plot, but they weren’t featured in the book more than they needed to be. However, Amarantha is one character that I really think should have had more of a presence in A Court of Thorns and Roses to help build her up as a legitimate antagonist in the book.

The characters mention Amarantha several times throughout the book, but Amarantha isn’t actually physically introduced in the story until after Feyre returns to Tamlin’s manor and discovers that not only is Tamlin not there, his manor has also been ransacked, prompting her to go and seek out Amarantha. The fact that Amarantha wasn’t actually introduced “on screen” until it was pretty far into the book made it so that I personally had a hard time viewing her as being a character that was truly important to the overall plot of the book. To me, aside from being the person who cast the curse on Tamlin and the other faeries, the purpose Amarantha ultimately serves in A Court of Thorns and Roses is that she’s a part of the book, simply because the book needed to have a villain in it.

Before Amarantha is physically introduced in the book, a summer court faerie is found at one point in the book, with his wings having been ripped off. He repeatedly tells Tamlin and Lucien that “she took them” (His wings) as he dies, but he doesn’t specifically say that he’s referring to Amarantha. Perhaps Maas was trying to build Amarantha up as someone who’s very mysterious and give the book as a whole a certain level of mystery by having things like that happen throughout the book. However, for most of the book, it was hard for me to get a sense of who and what those vague references throughout the book were referring to, and what exactly Maas was ultimately building up to in terms of the overall direction of the plot when she made those references to Amarantha. Personally, I think that A Court of Thorns and Roses could have really benefitted from Amarantha making her first appearance in the book earlier than she first appeared. Even if Amarantha’s first appearance in the book had been brief, I really would have liked to see her introduced “on screen” earlier in the book than she was.

Aside from that, the only other complaint that I have about A Court of Thorns and Roses is that there were a few times throughout the book where I felt like Feyre and Tamlin’s interactions with each other were being given the “Yada Yada” treatment; when I really felt like Maas shouldn’t have glossed over those particular conversations between the two of them. The one example of this that definitely bothered me the most was how the resolution for Tamlin’s behavior towards Feyre the night of the solstice, where he participated in a strange ritual with some other faeries that led to Feyre and Tamlin having a brief sexual encounter, during which he bit her, was handled. At one point in the book, Maas mentions in Feyre’s internal narrative that she and Tamlin did work things out, but she didn’t include any dialogue from that conversation. Maas pretty much just said in the narrative of the book that Feyre and Tamlin smoothed things over between them while they were having breakfast one morning. That’s a conversation that I really think Maas should have actually shown the reader by including some dialogue in the book from that conversation; rather than simply mentioning in Feyre’s internal narrative that she and Tamlin made up.

Personally, I love that Feyre isn’t a submissive doormat, who simply accepts her circumstances, lets people keep her in the dark when strange things start happening, and doesn’t stand up for herself. For example, when Tamlin and Lucien weren’t telling Feyre about what was going on with all of the faeries, she sought answers from a Suriel, a kind of low Fae, who has been compelled to tell the truth. The Suriel gave Feyre information regarding the questions that she had about what was going on with Tamlin and other faeries, and the problems that they were dealing with. After her sexual encounter with Tamlin, she intentionally dressed in a way that would show off the bruises that he left when he bit her, so he would see them. That was definitely pretty passive aggressive on Feyre’s part, but I love that she did that.

The ending of the book definitely left me feeling very excited to read A Court of Mist and Fury, because I felt like Maas did a great job of resolving things like the curse on the faeries being lifted and Amarantha being killed; while leaving certain things open-ended at the end of the book that can be developed further in future books. For example, Feyre made a deal with Rhysand after she was severely injured when she was completing the first of Amarantha’s three tasks, and he offered to heal her injuries. In exchange for Rhysand agreeing to heal her injuries, she has to spend one week with him every month for the rest of her life, and Rhysand put a tattoo on her to seal the deal. I’m not only really excited to see how Feyre’s deal with Rhysand will affect her relationship with Tamlin as the series continues, I’m also excited to see how the whole thing with Feyre making a deal with Rhysand will ultimately be resolved.

All things considered, as I said at the beginning of this review, I read A Court of Thorns and Roses because I had heard a lot of great things about both the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, and the Throne of Glass series; and I wanted to see what I thought about Sarah J. Maas’ writing. As far as I’m concerned, A Court of Thorns and Roses definitely lived up to the hype that seems to surround Maas’ books. Personally, I thought that this book was more addictive than cigarettes. It completely sucked me in whenever I was listening to A Court of Thorns and Roses on audiobook, and I often listened to large portions of the book at a time. When I wasn’t listening to A Court of Thorns and Roses on audiobook, I was constantly thinking about the book. Once I’ve read A Court of Mist and Fury, which will hopefully be pretty soon, I’m definitely going to check out the Throne of Glass series. A Court of Thorns and Roses is definitely a very interesting and clever retelling of the classic story of Beauty and the Beast. Feyre and Tamlin were both very well written characters, in my opinion.

As I discussed earlier, while I thought that Maas did a great job of handing the progression of Feyre and Tamlin’s relationship, one of the few complaints that I have about the book is that the plot of the book itself does briefly lose steam once Feyre and Tamlin seem to have really fallen for each other. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the pacing of the plot picked up again. That being said, I really think that A Court of Thorns and Roses could have benefited from Queen Amarantha having a little bit more of an actual presence in the plot. While it did bother me that there were a few conversations between Feyre and Tamlin that Maas pretty much glossed over, that thankfully didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment of the book too much.

When it comes to A Court of Thorns and Roses being the first book by Sarah J. Maas that I’ve ever read, Maas definitely made an excellent first impression with me. I’m really excited to read A Court of Mist and Fury, which will hopefully be very soon, and I’m also really looking forward to checking out Maas’ Throne of Glass series.

That being said, my final score for A Court of Thorns and Roses is 9 out of 10.

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