Book Love,  Magpie Reviews

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

A Court of Thorns and Roses is not a book I expected to like. Honestly, I had been avoiding the series almost purposefully after falling into the Throne of Glass series last year (reviews on the last two books there are still pending!). Now, why would I do that? I like the Throne of Glass series, and I generally have fun with Maas’ stories, so why would I be so skeptical about this? Well, because despite the constant feedback from everywhere telling me, “If you like Throne of Glass you’ll love this!” everything I had picked up about the series seemed to me like it just took the parts of Throne of Glass that I disliked the most (the animalistic fae romance parts) and spun them into a series of their own.

Initial Skepticism

As a reader, there are two things that tend to be deal-breakers for me. I’m not a fan of possessive relationship dynamics, and I also don’t generally do flat-out romance (as you may recall on both counts from my Outlander review). Both things just really don’t interest me, with the possessive thing going so far as to be a personal squick of mine. And from the outside looking in, those two things kind of seemed to be the whole shebang here. What I gathered A Court of Thorns and Roses to be was just re-write of Beauty and the Beast dressed up in the exact possessive animalistic trappings that I found so distasteful in Throne of Glass. But with more smut.

So I just didn’t. For a long time.

But eventually, I broke. As I have a tendency to do with stuff like this. The hype was just so big, and so unavoidable. Eventually I buckled and walked out of the bookstore with it on a trip where I just didn’t find anything else. I expected to spend a lot of time rolling my eyes and honestly went in expecting to feel like DNFing – again something that I really generally try not to do.

And guys? This was actually generally pretty fun.

A Slightly Different Interpretation

Warning: Spoilers Ahead – Scroll Down To Summary To Avoid.

One of the things that made A Court of Thorns and Roses really interesting to me is that I apparently read Feyre and Tamlin’s relationship very differently from the rest of the fandom on my first read-through. The general experience with this book seems to be that everyone was all-in on the Feyre/Tamlin ship by the end of this book. But that’s not what I got out of it. In fact, throughout the whole narrative I felt like Feyre and Tamlin’s relationship was being purposefully portrayed as Stockholm Syndromey, and honestly, I kind of liked that? It was different, and interesting.

Like, Tamlin is presented to the reader with the sort of glowy-sheen of someone who is too good to be true, because you’re seeing him through Feyre’s eyes. But yet there are still these constant hints and sometimes flat out statements (Calanmai? The rage issues?) that something’s just… off. That what she’s currently interpreting as caring and sweet – because of the whole stockholm thing – is actually pretty controlling and icky, bordering on abusive. Or at least that’s how I felt. For me, it all read as set-up for some big game-changer to come, and that made the fluffy-but-squicky-romance-with-little-plot-movement parts that a lot of others found boring (and that I normally would) read as a lot more interesting.

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Fast Paced Action

Because I was seeing this relationship differently, it also meant that once the plot starts to get beyond establishing Feyre and Tamlin’s dynamic, the shift to the fast-paced action of the last third of the book wasn’t as jarring for me as it seems to have been for others. If anything, the shift to Under the Mountain was narrative the pay-off for me. Finally, we get to the real meat of the situation. Finally, we’re going to see how this relationship ACTUALLY plays out when push comes to shove, and Tamlin’s actions – or lack thereof – are very telling.

I also very much enjoyed the addition of Rhysand as an interesting sort of anti-hero. The role he plays through the saga Under the Mountain is a fascinating one to me, because he’s really a massive, cruel dick the whole time – but a dick whose interests just happen to align with getting Feyre free, and whose cruelties and Machiavellian tendencies seem to be hiding some massive, deep hurt. He’s at once a well developed character and a mystery, and that keeps the reader (or at least kept me) FAR more interested than anything about Tamlin. And then the cliffhanger it leaves off on with regards to how the relationships are going to play out in the context of the politics of the world rebuilding actually left me pleasantly surprised and looking forward in a big way to the next book.

Not Without Its Issues

All this said, if you’ve been following along with my Throne of Glass series reviews, you’ll know I do tend to have a slightly fraught relationship with some of Maas’ writing habits, and A Court of Thorns and Roses is certainly not an exception to the rule. I’ve rehashed a couple times now that I just am really not on board with the whole animalistic possessive stuff, and that language is still thrown around ALL. THE. TIME. So that’s still a negative for me – but like with her other books, generally I can deal with it thanks to plotting.

I also have noticed that while her overall plots have these massive, world-changing epic kind of arcs in the long term? Short term, sometimes her villains come off as really one-dimentional, because she waits until much later in series to reveal the relevance of them. It happened in Throne of Glass. We didn’t find out that the King – the main villain for first two books, was just a pawn in a much bigger plot until book three, or really even book four, and I kind of feel like that’s a repeat problem in this series as well.

As I read, there were hints that Amarantha was sort of serving the same function in this series – but none that were substantial enough to keep the reader feeling like she has any motivation other than… well, being an evil asshole. And while I appreciated that she probably was just one part of this massive, tightly woven plot (spoilers: I was right) – when I first finished A Court of Thorns and Roses and before I started A Court of Mist and Fury, I was basically only assuming that because of my familiarity with how Maas writes. If I hadn’t worked though the entirety of the already published Throne of Glass series before starting this, I’d have simply wrote Amarantha off as a lame, cut-out kind of villain, because simply being an evil asshole for the sake of just being an evil asshole is, well, kind of boring.

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Additionally, WOW are there some SERIOUS consent issues and abuse triggers throughout, with both Tamlin, and with Rhys during the Under the Mountain section. I’m not going to get too into it, basically because there’s already a REALLY GREAT breakdown of them online thanks to paperbackdreams on YouTube . Her A Court Of Thorns and Roses review is really well thought out – and while I see some of the things that she dislikes a little differently, her reviews are always really impeccably done, with much more care, insight, and attention to detail than any other booktuber I’ve come across so far. Her breakdowns of the consent issues start around 12:50, but honestly the whole video is really worth the watch.

And all this stuff, all the problematic relationship dynamics and language, and the unhealthiness of a lot of those relationships brings me to my next point…

Maas Just Really Isn’t YA Anymore, and IDK Why People Keep Shelving Her There

YA as a designation includes the whole age range of 12-18, and the bottom line is that I would not generally recommend this book to young or even middling teens unless I knew them well enough to have a good gauge of their emotional maturity. There’s just too much unhealthy relationship stuff in here. Stuff that I, as a crusty old 31 year old, can read and recognize like, “this is unhealthy and gross even if I’m having fun reading it,” but that 14 year old me might not have been able to. Because that ability to recognize that just because I’m having fun reading it doesn’t mean it’s healthy or good takes a certain amount of awareness and experience that not all young teens might have yet. And I do worry that this might send some unhealthy messages about what a good relationship is to those who are still figuring themselves and their own wants and needs out.

So for me, most of Maas’ books aren’t YA – they’re NA, and I don’t know why the publishing business as a whole hasn’t gotten on board with recognizing those differences. Because there is a difference, and labeling it as such would seem to me to be super helpful for both young readers and parents alike. And let me be clear – me coming down hard on these dynamics isn’t about my personal squick for them, or to kink-shame or whatever. If these dynamics are what float your boat as a consenting adult, then good for you. But my point is the readership of these books AREN’T all consenting adults. And that should matter.

Wrap-Up: A Court of Thorns and Roses

In Summary: Pretty fun – if flawed – retelling of Beauty and the Beast with an interesting twist. If I had a choice, I’d probably add trigger warnings for abuse and categorize it as NA.

Overall Rating: 3.75/5

Would I Recommend It? Depends. I had fun with it, but this is definitely the kind of book that could go either way.

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