Summary: (Overall 2/5 stars) This is a young adult epic fantasy series that I foolishly bought all at the same time. I don’t remember why it was recommended to me nor why I listened to that recommendation. I think I bought them all at once because they were relatively inexpensive and they seemed like good books to listen to while feeding the baby at 3am.
I read the three books that are currently available, so I called it a “trilogy,” but I think there are more books to come, heaven help us. These books follow the magical, romantic, and militaristic adventures of a young female fairy-former-human. In a positive light, I think these books well illustrate a number of the emotional conflicts that young people, perhaps women moreso, have in their lives. I also appreciate the recurring theme of consent that appears in the second book. The author also does a wonderful job of foreshadowing. And, generally, she does a reasonable job of deploying macguffins to move the characters around the world. But I hate most of her characters. The style of the language in the book is best described by a kind person as florid; an unkind person would say it’s stilted, inconsistent, and overblown. The sex scenes are too vulgar to be considered romantic and too basic to be considered erotic. (These scenes may leave some questioning whether these books are suitable for young adults.)
Bottom line: the first and third books are OK. The second one is awful. I would put these books right alongside the Shadowhunter series and the Twilight series in terms of quality. Utterly skippable, in my opinion, so I 100% expect my daughter to find them in my Kindle library when she reaches a suitable age and proclaim them as her favorites.
SPOILER WARNING: From this point forward, I’m going to discuss this book without any concern about spoilers. So, if you don’t like spoilers you should stop reading now.
Before I dive into this more extensive review of these books, I do want to acknowledge that I am a 40-year-old man who just read some YA fantasy books that were, by all appearances, written for young women of about the age 16. It is entirely possible that the depth of my distaste for these books stems from the fact that I don’t relate well to the main character’s conflicts. Many of the names and fantastic elements (Biblical references, mythological tie-ins, flower-related names, etc) of the books are things I would have loved when I was a young man of that age, but now regard as hackneyed.
So, although I hated these books — especially book #2 — I can imagine them being more of someone else’s taste. I will, therefore, do my best to speak to what I see as the strengths of these books and will only dwell on the weaknesses where I think it important.
Book 1 – Thorns and Roses (3/5 Stars)
A Court of Thorns and Roses introduces us to the main character and primary narrator of the books, Feyre. (Feyre is pronounced “Fay-ra.”) She’s a young, strong-willed woman who hunts in the woods to feed her recently impoverished family. While out hunting one day, she kills a wolf that turns out to have been a soldier for the fairy High Lord of Spring, Tamlin, who comes to claim her life in exchange for the slain wolf’s. But Feyre doesn’t have to die; she can also just go across the magical barrier separating the human world from fairy and live on his palatial estate with him.
The first part of the book turns out to be a twist on the story of Beauty and the Beast. You see, Tamlin and the other fairy high lords were cursed and lost a bunch of their power. And Tamlin was given 49 years to find a human girl who is an anti-fairy racist and get her to fall in love with him. Three days shy of the deadline, Tamlin says he loves her, but Feyre doesn’t say it back even though she believes she loves him. Tamlin says something bad is going to happen, so he sends her back to her family for what he says is a temporary visit. It turns out that it was probably a permanent thing because the evil fairy queen, Amarantha, was coming to get him for failing to break the curse.
Feyre has a crisis of conscience while home and decides to go back and save Tamlin. She confronts Amarantha who makes a bargain with her. Feyre can get through three trials to break the curse and liberate the fairy people and/or she can solve a riddle. She ends up getting through the trials AND solving the riddle, but it all costs her dearly in terms of her relationship with Tamlin and just through the sheer trauma of being tortured for three months. In fact, she dies.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! She is saved because all seven of the fairy lords give a little bit of magic and it saves her life by turning her into a high fairy as well. Now, she’s immortal and beautiful and is reunited with her handsome fairy lord, Tamlin, in the end.
Although this book contains several cliched applications of fantasy/fairytale tropes, I really liked how the first part of the book recast the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. I actually didn’t make that connection until it was all but explicitly revealed to the reader and thought it was a clever, modern way of telling that story.
The characterization in the book is mediocre with a few highlights. Feyre is often believably desperate and understandably confused by what’s going on. She has a number of strengths, but she also has her weaknesses with which she seems to genuinely struggle.
The other characters in the book are of a similar level of complexity. I was very impressed with the way Maas was able to use the characterizations in this book to foreshadow the conflict in the second book that leads to Feyre’s falling out with Tamlin. Although I raised eyebrows at some of Tamlin’s outbursts and assertions, I was taken in along with Feyre in the end and felt like he was her best match.
Book 2 – Mist and Fury (1/5 Stars)
A Court of Mist and Fury picks up with Feyre living back with Tamlin on his estate and planning out their wedding. But she is feeling depressed because Tamlin won’t let her leave the estate and she’s constantly being guarded. He’s away a lot because he says he has to pick up the pieces from Amarantha’s dominion and prepare for whatever bad things might follow in the wake of her destruction — specifically a war with Hybern. So, Feyre is effectively a prisoner to this High Lord of Spring who turns out to be both an asshole and a tyrant, so she’s second-guessing the whole marriage thing.
Just as she’s about to get married, the High Lord of Night, Rhysand, turns up and takes her away to his house. See, in the first book, she was rotting away in a dungeon and on the verge of death when Rhysand — he was an unwilling bed warmer to Amarantha at the time — came and healed her in exchange for a promise that she would spend a week of every month with him. Rhys had left her alone for three months, but when she started freaking out at the wedding, he knew to turn up to help her through the psychic bond they created at the time of the bargain.
Well, it turns out that Rhysand is even more devastatingly handsome than Tamlin. Rhysand likes to treat people as equals and he also doesn’t believe in keeping people prisoner, so she realizes that Tamlin was not really right for her.
I forgot to mention: it turns out that when Feyre was made into a fairy, she gained the combined superpowers of all the fairy courts, so part of this book is about her learning to use some of those powers.
So, there’s a war with the old, nasty King Hybern looming. Turns out he has this powerful magical tool call the cauldron and he intends to come and make everyone slaves. So, Feyre, Rhysand, and their band of friends go off to find a way to fight against the cauldron’s power and get rid of Hybern.
Lots of stealing, lying, and intrigue happens, but it never really develops into a full-blown heist novel… but there are, like, eleventeen different heists throughout.
And in the end, Feyre is not able to disarm the cauldron and Hybern kindnaps her sisters and throws them into the cauldron, which turns them into Fae as well. This is bad because they’re racists, too, and think being immortal, beautiful, and powerful is a terrible thing for their lives.
I hate this book so much, so here are a few reasons why:
The use of antiquated sentence structures. I wish I had stopped to highlight some examples so I could give you direct quotes. But as flavor: “Friends, the cauldron we must find!” And just overall the descriptions and language are SO overblown. It’s ridiculous.
The constant references to “males” and “females” instead of “men” and “women.” I get that the fae are a different species from humans — even though converting humans into fae seems to happen a lot in the course of these books, but the words “male” and “female” reduce the characters to their mere sex, just as a zoologist might clinically refer to animals in their care. Rather than making the fae seem alien and strange to me as a human, it makes them seem like base, lower critters about which I, the reader, should not care for as much as I do the humans. More than anything, it’s distracting. Further people who share a deep romantic/spiritual bond are called “mates,” which also diminishes the value of those relationships as well. Oddly, young fae are still called “girls” and “boys” in this book rather than “juvenile females” and whatnot.
Most of the conflict and drama in this book comes from the fact that the characters either don’t talk to one another or aren’t honest with one another — even when honesty would really not cost them anything. I hate stories like this on television because I find myself screaming at the screen, “JUST TALK TO ONE ANOTHER LIKE ADULTS.” That’s how I felt throughout this book.
And because they won’t be adults about anything, the characters seems to immediately conclude that they have to steal things that would likely just be given to them if they would just ask. It’s not until Book 3 that Feyre and Rhysand reach the revolutionary conclusion that maybe they don’t have to pretend to be assholes to everyone all the time. So, in this book they spend their time trying to trick everyone and steal their things in order to fight a tyrant that everyone previously agreed is a tyrant.
In fact, I don’t understand at all why Tamlin deals with Hybern at all after suffering for 49 years at the hands of one of his generals. He says it was to trick Hybern, but why would Hybern believe him when Tamlin starts playing nice? It makes no sense. Most of the conflict in this novel makes no sense to me.
MACGUFFINS! MACGUFFINS EVERYWHERE!
By this point in the story, I have concluded that Feyre is actually a moron. She’s whiny and unlikable. She’s emotional and unreasoning. She a poseur. Remember how annoying Bella in Twilight was when she would go on about how shy and awkward she is while also being described as being sooooo beautiful? Feyre is like that. She constantly goes on about her weaknesses while seemingly being among the most powerful of the high fae. Her inner monologue is full of foolish worrying followed by sudden, inexplicable revelatory clarity. Like “Oh, I just don’t know if he loves me. I have so many doubts. How can I trust? I know. I LOVE HIM WITH MY ENTIRE SOUL AND BODY AND I KNOW HE LOVES ME. I AM A WINNER NOW.” She has no chill.
In these books, the humans have no religion or gods or mythology or anything. But Feyre IMMEDIATELY adopts a reverence for the fae religion. And, inexplicably, the fae religion contains the Judeo-Christian concept of hell because Feyre tells someone she’ll see them there.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the introduction of Judeo-Christian concepts, though, because the series starts getting heavy with references to demons and angels and whatnot.
And, finally, the sex scenes. Gross. Just gross. They say “fuck” several times in this book. She says “cock” once. Female anatomy, however, is confined to breasts and “the apex between her thighs.” I get that this is YA, so you don’t want to get too explicit, but because it gets as explicit as it does, it rings hollow. It’s not romantic because it’s so gross. And it’s not erotic because it’s not explicit enough. It’s just gross and gratuitous.
There is one aspect to this book that I think is really very good for young men and women to get: the importance of consent.
Over and over, Rhysand emphasizes to Feyre that she is the agent of her own life and the owner of her own person. He is very careful not to violate this and vehemently encourages her to defend it. The characters confront the issue of consent in a number of different situations and circumstances and the “good guys” always reach the right conclusion about it.
My only complaint here is that no one ever says the word “rape” and I feel like Rhysand’s own trauma at the hands of Amarantha are underplayed. Sexual violence does not play a big role in these books. Again, I think that’s a function of the fact that these are intended for younger audiences. But Rhysand is effectively raped by Amarantha. He “consents” to having sex with her in order to operate more freely and plot against her, but it is very clearly a coercive relationship. All the other characters call him her “whore” because they seem to think he is trading sex for his freedom, but they fail to recognize the moments when she forces him to do various things including kill on her behalf. I know they don’t see his disobedience and they can’t read his mind, but more than once it is made clear in public that he is her servant and not a peer. Perhaps audiences are willing to overlook his rape for these reasons, but it seems to me that the main reason it is less apparent as sexual violence is because he’s a man suffering at the hands of a woman.
Book 3 – Wings and Ruin (2/5 Stars)
Finally, the end of the “trilogy.” As mentioned, I believe there are still books to come in this series even though I was under the impression that this was initially planned to be just a trilogy. I just looked it up and Wikipedia says that A Court of Frost and Starlight is slated for this year. I shan’t be reading that one, but after reading this book, it seems like Mist and Fury suffered from second book syndrome… even though it was not the second book Maas has written.
A Court of Wings and Ruin picks up in the wake of the disastrous attempt to disarm the uber powerful cauldron wielded by the evil King Hybern. Feyre, Rhysand, and their crew try to rally the other seven fairy Lords to unite and fight together. Thanks to all the lying and betraying that everyone has been doing, no one is very eager to jump into bed with one another… even though lots of them are jumping into bed with one another in the more literal sense of the phrase.
There’s lots of confrontation and jumping around into various adventures. Feyre’s tendency to treat even the scariest and most evil creatures with kindness pays off repeatedly. We saw this happen a few times in previous books and it becomes cliche in this installment in this series. We also get more allusions to angels and demons in this book and there’s lots of fighting. Rhysand dies and is brought back to life. Humans and Fae start negotiating a new treaty that will allow them to live more closely together in a post-racial, pre-modern society of magic and… whatever.
The only thing missing from this book is the kitchen sink and an announcement that Feyre is pregnant. That second part is a significant reason why after reading this I was convinced there would be a fourth book. There are so many allusions to pregnancy and Feyre’s future offspring — a death god or something even takes the form of her future son — that it is inevitable. So, if you read the fourth book, just pencil in “I told you so” where appropriate.
This book also sees the introduction of the first non-heterosexual characters. For as big a role as sex plays in the relationships of this world, and as sexually liberated — there’s no shame about pre-marital sex, some extramarital sex is condoned, and the sex they have clearly goes well beyond basic missionary positions — I was genuinely surprised that none of the main supporting cast turned out to be gay. So, in this book we briefly see a bisexual male and a lesbian. It’s like someone pulled the author aside after the last book and pointed out the very obvious void in her cast of characters. OK. Maybe it was obvious to me as a gay man, but still. I found it glaring. So, in this book a dude makes a pass at another dude and a lady tearfully confesses to being a lesbian. And the main character just rolls with it. Good for her.
Another issue I have with this book is that the characters repeatedly talking about how they need to be honest with one another only to turn around and lie or manipulate each other. They say they want to show their allies the truth of who they are and what they are doing, but then hold back and keep secrets. This is akin to the same problem in Book 2 where conflict results from people simply not talking or not being honest, but it is blessedly less common a problem in this book… probably because the primary driver of conflict is the war.
So, this one is a very straight-forward romp with lots of fighting and magic and gore. It has less sex than Book 2 and I didn’t miss it. It continues to trend of deus ex machina — where a sudden magical solution comes out of nowhere to save the day. And there’s a gun over every mantle, so readers should not be surprised by any sudden reversals nor even the reversals of previous reversals. It’s fine. Really.