When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.
A Beauty and the Beast retelling featuring faeries and romance and magic? Colour me intrigued. The synopsis ticked all of the right boxes for me, and coupled with (mainly) good reviews from many of my fellow bloggers, I had pretty high expectations for my first Maas.
Feyre is a mortal huntress, who is taken to live in the Faerie realm as punishment for killing a wolf who turns out to be a High Fae. The punishment for such a crime is usually death, but mysterious and handsome High Lord of the Spring Court, Tamlin, makes an exception and takes her to live on his estate for the rest of her life, never to return to the side of the wall on which the humans dwell. Despite his power, Tamlin is consumed with battling a terrible ‘blight’ which has left masks stuck to the faces of he and his Court, as well as encouraging increasingly dangerous breeds of faeries to breach his borders.
A Court of Thorns and Roses is a richly drawn fantasy, set in a world that sparkles with both magic and danger. As a newcomer to Maas’ books, I thought her writing was outstanding. I didn’t mind the slower pacing of the first half of the book because I was too busy absorbing lore and mythology and information like I hadn’t seen a book for years, let alone read one. The creation of seven different High Courts (e.g. Summer, Day, Night, Autumn) each ruled by different High Lords was an intriguing concept, and the story was so sumptuously detailed I found it impossible not to get lost in it.
Maas’ little nods here and there to Beauty and the Beast are subtle and well thought out, like when Tamlin opens up the Spring Court’s disused art gallery for Feyre to use a la Belle’s library in the original tale. If you’re looking for a straight up retelling, this probably isn’t it – instead of being a modernised fairy tale, the author has taken elements of the original story, twisted them and then cleverly woven them into the overarching plot.
Fierce yet vulnerable, loyal yet stubborn, Feyre is a likeable character. Driven by her desire to protect her sisters and provide for her family, she reminded me a little of a slightly softer Katniss. Unfortunately, she’s annoyingly inconsistent and privy to little growth for for the first half of the book. For a skilled huntress with honed survival instincts, Feyre makes a lot of reckless, silly decisions that put her into dangerous situations. I don’t necessarily mind this type of behaviour from a character if it is a catalyst for growth or transformation, but it’s annoying when it’s clearly just a plot device for the protagonist to be ‘saved’ by a handsome man, or in this case, a handsome faerie.
The first half of the book is heavily romance focused and the story reads much more like a love story with fantastical elements, as opposed to a fantasy with romantic elements. Initial hostility between Feyre and Tamlin eventually melts into flirting, before turning into love. The book is nudged into new adult territory with the appearance of some pretty steamy scenes which although dramatic in places, were pretty well written, despite the overuse of the word ‘growling’, which I found a bit distracting. It’s no secret that I have a fickle heart which yearns for a good fictional couple to ship, so whilst I didn’t have any problem with the romantic tone of the book, I did struggle to get on board with Feyre and Tamlin.
The beauty of the romance in Beauty and the Beast, or indeed in any love story, hangs on the triumph over adversity factor, and how many problems the leads have to face or overcome to be together. No one wants to read a book where the characters just get together and live happily ever after. It’s not compelling and it certainly isn’t interesting. For much of the book, Tamlin and Feyre’s relationship came way too easy. It left me emotionally distant until the second half, when Maas suddenly did give them something to fight for and against. Secondly, their chemistry gave me more Stockholm Syndrome induced shudders than chills, which only intensified every time I came across a quote like this:
“No, I don’t want you to live somewhere else. I want you here, where I can look after you – where I can come home and know you’re here, painting and safe.”
There are also a couple of problematic scenes in terms of the way that Feyre is treated by men in the book, and despite really enjoying the story as a whole, I do mostly agree with what other reviewers have said on this topic. Whilst it’s of utmost importance for fiction to have the freedom to explore flawed characters, taboos and abusive relationships, it’s also important to maintain a firm hold on what is right and what is wrong, and there are certain moments where that grip is relaxed, I think.
If the first half of the book is slow placed, the second half is anything but. Once the central mystery unfurls and the villain comes out to play, the action really kicks up a gear. The dark and gritty events that ensue in the wake of arriving Under The Mountain are compulsively readable, deepening the plot and putting Feyre’s character development centre. Forced to break out of her helpless maiden bubble and away from The Spring Court, Maas allows us to see the fire in her character as she becomes the master of her own future. We even get to see some of those fabled hunting skills finally put to good use! It was a total change of pace, but one which I found welcome and completely addictive.
The change of setting not only brought peril and complexity to the plot, but also the introduction of new characters like Amarantha and Rhysand, the cunning and devastatingly handsome (duh) High Lord of the Night Court. Amarantha is one of the nastiest villains I’ve had the pleasure of reading about recently, whilst Rhysand is one of the most intriguing. Neither wholly good or wholly bad; he’s a deeply flawed and compelling character who I’m desperate to see more of in A Court of Mist and Fury.
Despite a couple of problematic elements, I can’t deny how addictive a read this was. Maas’ has laid good foundations for the second book, and I think this was a strong start to what will be an intriguing and sensual series. I can’t wait to get my hands on book two.
- Author: Sarah J. Maas
- Publication Date: 5th May 2015
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens
- Pages: 416
- Rating: 4/5
- In short: Beasts, belles and a beguiling world to play in.