Book Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
So when I first read A Court of Mist and Fury, I actually really loved it. I sped through it in about a day, and just ate the story up. It was signifigantly better than its predecessor, A Court of Thorns and Roses – and despite its flaws, I had enjoyed that as a pretty fun read. ACOMAF just upped the ante.
However, the more distance I get from it – the more times I revisited parts of it to refresh my memory as I worked through A Court of Wings and Ruin and A Court of Frost and Starlight… the more problems I started to have. And so ultimately, like its predecessor, A Court of Mist and Fury is a heavily flawed book – but one that I can’t pretend I didn’t have a ton of fun reading.
Disclaimer: This review will contain spoilers
Slow Burn With Unsatisfying Resolution
My favorite part of the book by far was the gradual development of a slow burn between Feyre and Rhys. It’s exactly what Aelin and Rowan were missing in Queen of Shadows, and provided a really interesting way to try to redeem Rhys from his dicketry Under the Mountain. He reforms gradually – still secret keeping, still sort of being dickish sometimes but getting less and less so as they gradually warm up to each other. The effect is really engaging.
But even with the nicely done slow-burn leading up to it, ultimately the final “okay we’re together” sort of ruined everything. Again, with the squicky bodice-ripperesque magicy sex scenes, and again, with the sort of rectonny “they’re fated to be together and one of them knew all along!” Honestly, it would have been nice if it had just been a slow-burn with the mating bond snapping into place as the ultimate climax. Falling for each other in real time as the story progresses and as Feyre heals and Rhys redeems himself instead of, “oh yea, actually you’ve been mates and fated for like, years now, before you two even met because DREAM MAGIC and RHYS KNEW.”
Like, look – I know it’s fantasy. And I am generally perfectly happy to suspend disbelief for weird stuff like dream magic. I’m cool with the whole mating bond thing with the connection and the telepathy because of that. It’s a magic world, and I’ll take it. But like, it’s really okay for a deep, true love to not be “fated by the gods” or whatever. Maas has this tendency to make every couple THE PUREST FATED LOVE EVER, and it gets a little tiring, particularly when the relationship dynamics themselves are a little squicky to me.
And for me, this particular move took a really interesting character who started off as a massive prick with a decently interesting redemption arc and then just ruins it. In retrospect, it actually really sort of made Rhys a lot MORE distasteful to me in the end than he even was in ACOTAR – because if he knew they were connected all along, then wtf was with the abusive stuff he did to Feyre Under the Mountain? Him knowing that she’s his mate or connected to him or whatever makes all that Machiavellian shit like, eighty-thousand times worse. And so now, instead of the development of their relationship and Rhys’ subsequent character development arc serving to redeem him from his prior evil actions, it instead magnifies how shitty they were. And that’s really very out of tune with Rhys’ portrayal in a lot of this installment. It took a really interesting, multifaceted character and turned him into a sort of flat, idealized cardboard cut out of “perfect” within the narrative that doesn’t actually jive with his behavior.
Villains are Still Very One-Dementional
And Rhys is not the only character who, by the end, is lacking depth. While we finally get introduced to the larger stakes in the world conflict in this book, quite frankly the people who are perpetrating the evils in the world still largely lack any sort of development or motivation. The King of Hybern is this big baddy – but why? Why is he doing this? Why is he going down this road? Is there history there? Why would any of this matter to him? There’s not really any care or time explaining anything about him beyond that basically he’s a power-hungry asshole. And so like with ACOTAR, with this book as well, the villain falls flat. He’s just kind of this mostly faceless representation of evil, and that kind of very simple dichotomy of HEROES GOOD – VILLAIN BAD without much else tends to bore me. And there’s not much else here. Which brings me to my next issue…
Everything Is Either Too Bad or Too Good
Because here’s the thing. In ACOTAR, both Tamlin and Rhys provided a certain amount of interest as characters because there’s a moral ambiguity to them, Rhys especially (I did also see it in Tamlin, even if a lot of others didn’t – see my ACOTAR review for details on my stockholm syndrome interpretation). But all that interesting grey area just sort of evaporates throughout ACOMAF as everyone kind of settles fully on one side or the other. Rhys loses his ambiguity a little more gradually than Tamlin thanks to the development of he and Feyre’s slow burn, but by the end he’s basically lost all the interesting grey areas and become not just solidly “good” – but he’s presented as if the reader should see him as downright perfect. Despite his troubling prior actions.
And so pretty much everyone and everything finds itself sorted into this nice dual system. Either you’re with the good guys or the bad guys and there’s not really any other position. And to be honest – that’s kind of boring. The few characters left with any sort of ambiguity in terms of morality or motivation (Nesta, Amren, mayyybbeee Lucien if you squint hard enough) are given precious little page time to keep things interesting.
Magic Gets Muddled
I kind of don’t know how to segue into my last little point, as it’s not usually the kind of thing I notice, or care about, or really comment on – but lastly, this book sort of confuses the already established world-building in ways that even I couldn’t ignore. I know that the whole point of Feyre’s new Fae existence is that she’s got a little bit of all the courts in her, and therefore has access to all their powers, but a lot of the magic system in ACOMAF started to get really kind of muddled for me the more it was used. I’m not usually someone who gets super picky about magic systems and the nitty gritty of how they work. Generally I’m happy to suspend disbelief and just accept it because, MAGIC! But, this seemed messy to the point of sometimes confusing the world-building, and it left me with a LOT of questions.
It was established pretty solidly that the magic of the Fae world was very specialized by the high courts, and yet… it seemed like magic became a simple answer to a lot of things, and what skills belonged to whom became confusing – particularly as the Inner Circle was introduced. Like, what powers exactly do those siphons on Azriel and Cassian control? What exactly is Morrigan’s Deal? Something about truth? How are any of those powers related to the court magic? What about all the little practical powers that everyone seems to have – wasn’t all magic supposed to be specialized by court? Or are there basic magic skills that every High Fae has, but then the elemental ones are the further specialized skills? And yet, despite the fact that there seems to be a base level of practical magic there’s still… mechanical flush toilets? I don’t know. There’s just something that doesn’t seem to jive for me. The waters of who can do what, and why have been seriously muddled in this book and it sort of makes the world building feel a little… unpolished and random.
Wrap Up: A Court of Mist and Fury
So overall, like it’s predecessor, this is certainly not a book without issues. But I really did enjoy the experience of reading of it. It’s campy, it’s pretty problematic, its a little predictable in some ways – but I can’t pretend like it wasn’t very very fun. I’d go so far as to call it a guilty pleasure, if it wasn’t for the fact that I’ve reached the age where I just really don’t care enough to feel guilty about it anymore.
And here’s the thing. I know a lot of fandom culture tends to look at things in black and white. Either it’s the BEST BOOK SERIES EVER or the WORST BOOK SERIES EVER, and there’s no in between. But I just don’t see things that way. I am perfectly content to look at stuff like this, recognize its issues and flaws for what they are, and still enjoy consuming it anyway. And so that’s what I’m gonna keep doing.
In Summary: Flawed, but fun.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Would I Recommend It? Like ACOTAR, depends. I enjoyed the ride despite the issues, but I can definitely see how others disagree.
Read my review of the first book in this series, A Court of Thorns and Roses here.
I’m looking forward to reading this.