Before we get into the actual review, I do have an important caveat that needs mentioning.
This is the third time I have read this book, and I have also read the second book in the series three times. I loved that one (A Court of Mist and Fury, or ACOMAF) so much that I re-read it the day after my first reading. I had very little choice in the matter, that book ruined my entire life for weeks, and I refused to re-enter the real world. I wanted to remain in Velaris. I still do. Reality simply can’t compare to any creation of Sarah J. Maas.
I have only read the third book in the series once. For now. That may very well change soon enough, as I haven’t been able to focus on reading since I finished A Court of Wings and Ruin (ACOWAR).
Sarah J. Maas is one of those authors who simultaneously inspires me to write, and makes me believe I should never write again. Her work is so beautiful, descriptive, creative, moving, and emotionally destructive. It makes me wonder how I could ever think that own work could compare to her genius. Yet at the same time, it makes me want to try and create something beautiful.
But, this is a review. Not a gushing, adoring post, detailing all the reasons why I both love and loathe Sarah J. Maas. Or about how she continuously toys with my emotions.
Really the gist of what I am saying is, I now see this story in a completely different light than I did the first time. And I believe that most fans of the series feel the same. As much as I would love to write this review as though I had just finished ACOTAR, I can’t. It is not possible for me to recall how I felt back then, in those dark, ignorant days. My ACOMAF/ACOWAR biases are too strong. So I will be writing this as a fan, who is well acquainted with the series.
Now that that is out of the way, let us begin.
Do not keep reading if you have not read ACOTAR, ACOMAF, or ACOWAR. Especially if you do not wish to know what happens.
Spoilers are coming people. You have been warned.
As I have now, hopefully, eliminated those who are unfamiliar with the series, there is no real need to detail the plot. Though I will give the very briefest of rundowns, for those of you who may enjoy a good spoiler.
Basically, what we have here is Beauty and the Beast re-imagined. But with a fae twist. Though the story does veer off from both the original tale and the Disney version, the parallels are too obvious to really warrant mentioning. I won’t go into the original tale, as most will be more familiar with the Disney adaptation. But, I will say, that Tamlin’s (ugh) beast form does strongly resemble The Beast (also known as Prince Adam, despite the fact that no-one in either movies felt the need to mention that fact) from the Disney movie, in my mind.
This other form of our heroine’s (current) love interest is described as being as large as a horse, with a bear-like body, a lupine face, and curled horns. Though these are elk-like, rather than the short ram-like horns sported by the Disney version. But, other than that, the descriptions are almost matching.
Back to the plot.
Feyre kills a faerie. A beast (Tamlin, uuugh) arrives at her house and demands payment. A life for a life, and all that. Feyre can either die, or live out the rest of her days in Prythian (the faerie realm) on the beast’s lands. She agrees. Because really, who wouldn’t?
As it turns out, the beast is a beautiful, blond High Lord, much like Prince Adam. And like the Prince, his servants are all cursed. Though, Adam wasn’t lucky enough to have a wonderfully bitter, but charming, and sassy red-haired best friend.
Then, times goes on. Feyre falls for beast, beast falls for Feyre. But his over-protective, misogynistic tendencies get the better of him, and he sends her home, before some horrible, nasty, but unnamed thing can happen. She returns, set on saving her true love, only to find out the truth of said horrible, nasty thing. Then she ends up held captive and forced to endure three soul-destroying tests in order to win her love’s freedom (oh, and the freedom of all his court). She wins. Bad guy dies, everyone is set free. Yay Feyre.
Now, obviously I have left a lot out.
Most importantly, I have completely glossed over the existence of Rhysand, the High Lord of the Night Court.
Honestly, I could write a whole post dedicated solely to marvelling over his wondrous existence. He is everything that is good and beautiful in this world. But, I do believe that Tumblr and Instagram already have that covered.
What I will say is, I liked Rhys from the moment his character was introduced. Despite the fact that in my head Rhysand was pronounced “Rye-sand“, while Rhys was “Reese“. I was always going to prefer Rhys to Tamlin. He’s everything I want from a male love interest. Dark hair, gorgeous, mysterious, and a little bit dangerous. The blond golden boy was never going to compare. And I will take violet eyes and a starry night sky over burnished hair and sunshine any day.
Rhysand is actually the main reason why I prefer ACOTAR to Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series (Sorry Dorian and Rowan, I love you both. As much as I hate Chaol).
Re-reading this book, following the sequel, is such a different experience when it comes to the men in Feyre’s life. Over time, my initial like for Rhys became love, and my love for Tamlin became hatred. While I can still appreciate Tamlin as he was in this book, before the extent of his true character came to light, I simply cannot like him the way I originally did. Though even the first time round, I began to dislike his character the moment they went Under the Mountain.
However, as I said, I do appreciate him for what he was to Feyre in this book. A saviour of sorts. He pulled her out of poverty, and gave her a safe space in which to re-learn how to live.
My favourite Tamlin and Feyre scene occurred during the Summer Solstice, when the pair share their first kiss. Reading it the first time, was lovely. The second and third, nauseating. But it is a very good scene. Feyre gets drunk on faerie wine and Tamlin plays his fiddle while she dances.
“He grinned at me, and I didn’t break my dancing as he rose from his seat and knelt before me in the grass, offering up a solo on his fiddle to me.” – page 226
Truly, a great scene. In fact, they had quite a number of good moments together. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20, and his possessive, controlling nature is revealed more than once as their relationship progresses.
“Don’t ever disobey me again.” – page 197
As does his tendency to keep Feyre prisoner, to stifle her personality and will, and distract her from that with comfort and luxury.
“Tamlin providing for them or no, glamouring their memories or no, I’d been… erased from their lives. Forgotten. I’d let him erase me. He’d offered me paints and the space and time to practice; he’d shown me pools of starlight; he’d saved my life like some kind of feral knight in a legend, and I’d gulped it down like faerie wine.”
Though, it is not just Tamlin’s nature that is foreshadowed in ACOTAR, but Feyre’s connection to Rhysand as well. Yes, the connections between the music she hears in her cell Under the Mountain, and the stars she painted in her room are outlined for us in ACOMAF. But, if you look, you can find even more hints at the big mate twist (which, by the way, I guessed the moment I read the final Feyre-Rhys scene in ACOTAR, as I’m sure many others did).
“A starry, unclouded night sky, peaceful and glittering and endless.” – page 90
This is what Feyre thinks of, to ease her fear, and distract her mind when faced with the Bogge. She tries to think of the most pleasant things she can. Hot bread and full bellies, of course, are the first that come to mind. The girl had been starving, food and fullness were at the forefront of her mind for years. But right after that, it is the very essence of Rhys that she looks to for comfort.
Feyre even swims in a pool made of starlight with Tamlin. Which, during the first reading was wonderful. During the two subsequent re-readings, it was both aggravating and heart-warming. It brings to mind the night of Starfall in ACOMAF, and Tamlin simply has no right to be associated with that.
But now, we should move on from the men, and onto the sex.
To me, all sexy scenes with Tamlin were slightly cringey. I’m talking foreplay, sexual tension, and the act itself. I found it less so the first time I read the book, though some of the descriptions during their first night together did get a little nose wrinkle from me. After reading ACOMAF though, I couldn’t stand to read about Feyre and Tamlin being intimate.
Even so, I wouldn’t have wanted SJM to leave any of that out.
Feyre, as an artist, is a very sensual person. As a woman, she is strong, independent, and sexual. And she certainly doesn’t apologise for it, even when her sister Nesta tries to shame her for sleeping with Isaac Hale at the beginning of the book.
That is one of the things I love most about this series, sex isn’t made to seem shameful. At least not on Feyre’s part. She sleeps with a boy from her village because she needs comfort, and distraction from her bleak existence. She is regularly with this boy, without feeling guilty, dirty, or like she had somehow lost a vital part of her just because she was no longer a virgin.
I see it as an embrace of female sexuality. And for that I would put up with as many intense, and slightly cringe-worthy sex scenes. Though thankfully, all of that gets much better with Rhysand. The flirting is especially compelling.
Even if the men and the sex had been omitted, this book would still be one of my favourites.
Because, I could detail characters and plot points all night. But what makes this book, and all of Sarah J. Maas’ books amazing, is the way the make you feel. And really, isn’t that the most important thing? Books are meant to make you feel. Whether you are laughing, crying, fawning over characters and relationships, or throwing the book in rage, you are emotionally invested. You need to care about the story, about the characters, or what is the point?
This is something that Sarah J. Maas excels at, and it’s the reason her books are bestsellers. Like her protagonist, she is an artist. She uses words to paint beautiful pictures inside the minds of her readers. You can’t help but become immersed in the world. You want to see, hear, smell, and taste the wonder that she shows you, because her descriptions are flawless.
When I read her books, I feel as though I am reading something far beyond the extent of human imagination. It feels like real magic.
Though her descriptions of the Night Court, and Velaris, far outshine anything else, the Spring Court still sounded amazing. Especially when I first read ACOTAR, before I knew just how good it could be.
“It was veiled in roses and ivy, with patios and balconies and staircases sprouting from its alabaster sides. The grounds were encased by woods, but stretched so far that I could barely see the distant line of the forest. So much color, so much sunlight and movement and texture… I could hardly drink it in fast enough.
“Above the array of amethyst irises and pale snowdrops and butter-yellow daffodils swaying in the balmy breeze, the faint stench of metal ticked my nostrils.”
– page 47
Even when she is describing something awful, you feel it. You can’t help but feel as though you are right there, living the moment alongside Feyre.
“I stood in the puddle of blood until it grew cold, holding the faerie’s spindly hand and stoking his hair, wondering if he knew I’d like when I’d sworn he would get his wings back, wondering if, wherever he had now gone, he had gotten them back.” – page 152
“I was going to be skewered by burning-hot spikes and then crushed into the ground like a grape.” – page 363
Now, this is the point where I would normally detail the things I didn’t like. I have already discussed my dislike of Tamlin. And other than that, I can’t think of anything that I disliked. Except the riddle.
I hate riddles.
I hated the riddles that Gollum traded with Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. I will honestly admit that I skipped most of them. As I mostly skipped over the riddle all three times that I read ACOTAR. Because it doesn’t matter how many times I read a riddle, I will never understand it. NEVER. Not once during those three trials did I ever actually guess what the riddle meant. I couldn’t even make a random guess, because I had no idea.
So the first time (and second, and third) I read this book, when it got to the riddle I glossed over it. But then later went back and re-read it multiple times. Even when I knew the answer, I couldn’t connect it with the riddle. I liked seeing Feyre beat the riddle in the end. Though, to this day I still don’t understand how the answer connects to the question.
But, that is the only real negative I can think of. Besides Tamlin’s whole existence.
So if someone were to ask me whether they should read this book, my answer would always be yes. A thousand times, YES. Though only if adult fantasy, written in a YA style, appeals to you.
And while my opinion may be slightly biased, I would definitely suggest that any fantasy/urban fantasy fan read this book, and the sequels.