Sunday, 7 May 2017

A Review of Thorns and Roses: A Review of the ACOTAR Series

The "A Court of Thorns and Roses" series is a trilogy by Sarah J Maas, who is also known for the Throne of Glass series. The three books are A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury and A Court of Wings and Ruin. Feyre Archeron lives in the lower section of her island of Prythian, the Mortal Lands. The top part of Prythian is divided up into various 'courts' and is where Fae live. There are the Night, Day, Dawn, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter Courts, each ruled by a High Fae. The full review is under a cut for minor spoilers. It's hard to review this series without spoiling the earlier books! And also because it's a long review.

So, this series. I wanted to take my time with this review - I even reread the series, so I could feel like I was making a fair judgement. The reason is that I didn't seem to love this series as others did. And I feel honestly sorry that I didn't, since many others seem to like it so much. I don't know if it became overhyped for me, or if it just wasn't what I was looking for, but I didn't like it. However, on a second read - and I don't know what happened - I ended up loving it. I have never done such an about-turn on my feelings about a series before. Well, I don't often reread things I dislike, either.

I have to give Feyre credit as the protagonist. She has a hobby, painting, and takes an active role in keeping her family alive. She's quick-thinking, in fact she seems to think better under pressure, snarky but too serious. I strongly dislike Tamlin - I don't even think he ever loved Feyre. He had an idealised picture of her in his mind, and loved that instead. Rhysand's inner circle all have interesting backstories, and are well-developed characters in their own right.

So let me get one thing out the way - I hated A Court of Thorns and Roses. I was expecting an epic fantasy, but it really does fall closer to a romance. It follows the plot of Beauty and the Beast so closely that if someone has seen the Disney version, they can probably guess the plot twists. Just replace reading with painting. "But Fiona, you love fairy-tale retellings!" Yes, but I think my issue here was that it wasn't marketed as such. I found much of this book in general very predictable. Feyre is trying to keep her sisters alive by (what else) hunting, and accidentally kills a Fae. This leads to her being taken across into the Spring Court, to live with the High Lord, Tamlin. Tamlin, I noticed, while being kind in some aspects, is also controlling, condescending and has anger-management issues. Guess what happens between the two of them? I also didn't like what I thought was a burgeoning love triangle between Tamlin and Rhysand, High Lord of the Night Court. On a second reread, I hated it more. Things like Tamlin's behaviour and Calanmai seemed even worse then on a first read. Also, can we all agree that the concept of Calanmai is awful?

So, after reading the first book, and not enjoying it, I went into the next book. I was resenting it, I felt like I was forcing myself to do it. I didn't like Tamlin. I still disliked Rhysand. I didn't respond to any of the new characters, because I just couldn't bring myself to care. After rereading ACOTAR and reminding myself exactly why I didn't like it, I was sure I was going to still hate this one. Guess what, huh? On a second reread, I started to love the new characters. I loved that it gave Feyre more female friendships. In the first book, her only female friendships she really had was with her sisters and they weren't always on the best of terms. I don't mean that in a "sisters fight" sort of way, but they felt less like a family and more like people who were forced to share a house. And I loved seeing Feyre starting to grow into a strong, independent and badass young lady. You also see much more of the world. I thought Velaris was cool, even on the first read-through. The descriptions used makes you feel like you are actually there.

And so we come to A Court of Wings and Ruin. We start in the Spring Court, which after the interesting characters and stunning places of the Night Court, can seem like somewhat of a letdown. Luckily, we're not there long. We also get to see much more of the world, again. I still wish we got to see of it then what we did. It's nice to see Feyre's sisters getting the development and page-time they deserve. There is also one fantastic scene where the High Lords - along with the one High Lady, and an entourage - meet to discuss the war. And Tamlin, to my surprise, manages to redeem himself slightly in my eyes over the course of this book.

However, I had a lot of complaints:
The treatment of LGBTA characters in this book.
Cassian's wings were so badly damaged at the end of ACOMAF that I was wondering how he would fly again. I thought it would be interesting to see the warrior having to learn to fight without his wings. But this is completely glossed over.
I thought Feyre would be in the Spring Court for much of the book, visiting other courts and having to forge alliances for Rhysand under the eye of Tamlin.
Subplots have been left completely unfinished, particularly romantic ones.
The sex scenes. I tend to skip over them in books in general, so take my view here with a grain of salt.
Also, no-one dies. I was sure that not all of the inner circle would survive. Even at the point where it looks like they might, she pulls some awful DEM's to get them all out alive.

There's no tension between Feyre and Rhysand anymore? Their love story got resolved beyond all reasonable doubt in ACOMAF.

There are still things that bother me overall in this series. There is an element of possessiveness in Feyre and Rhysand's relationship - "you're mine" - which doesn't sit right with me with both their histories on the matter. I feel like the second book could have easily been 200 pages shorter. I also hate the concept of mates - someone you are destined to be with, with no choice in the matter. I also wish we could have seen much more of the world than we got to see. I will also point out that some of Maas's turns of phrase do get repetitive.

I have to mention while I have seen this book mostly in the Young Adult section of stores, most people agree that it is a New Adult series. It does contain several explicit scenes of a sexual nature. While I am not of the opinion that teenagers should be completely sheltered from all things sexual, I understand that is not a view shared by all. Most scenes are consensual, and what sort of world is it where we thing violence is okay but sex is not? All I'm saying is use your own judgement on whether you or someone you know should read this series.

I recommend this one for people who like a romance/fantasy mix. Actually, if you're not too into romance, I might suggest the crime of skipping the first book and starting with the second.

EDIT: I haven't edited a review to this extent before, only some minor grammar/spelling fixes. The more I think about it, the more I'm not okay with Feyre and Rhysand's relationship developing after his behaviour in the first book. He drugs her, forces her to wear revealing clothing, makes her dance for him, and actually hurts her to make her agree to his bargain.

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