A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1) by Sarah J. Maas • contains 416 pages • published May 5, 2015 by Bloomsbury Children's Books, Bloomsbury Publishing • classified as Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult • obtained through purchase • read as paperback • shelve on Goodreads
Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price.
Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.
Thinking about A Court of Thorns and Roses evokes a whole range of emotions in me — all negative. Of the books I’ve read this year, only The Miniaturist received a lower rating from me. After accounting for all my variables (prose, characterisation, plot, depth, originality, impact & voice), my final rating is a measly 0.857 out of 5. Rounded up that means 1 star.
Originality Left Me Cold
A Court of Thorns and Roses lacked any semblance of originality. It supposedly is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Sales pitches didn’t mention Cinderella. They had a gross omission of Twilight too. With all the enthusiastic title comparisons on book covers that love to invoke the name of popular books, you would’ve thought they’d care to mention something along the lines of, “The next Twilight…” That would’ve aptly warned me to stay away.
The originality for retellings lies in how artfully fairytales are reimagined. A Court of Thorns and Roses was a very bland version of stitched together stories. The fae were basically Twilight vampires 2.0 and the beast had a ridiculous mask melded to his face. Feyre’s name made my eyes roll. She was human and for all the fear that all the mortals had of the fae, her name was almost fairy?
Glimpses of Cinderella emerged as Feyre’s sister and father relied on her to do everything. She took care of their household, fed them and found ways to make ends meet. Later on in the courts of Amarantha she was made to clean an impossibly dirty floor and to sort lentils by a fireplace. Beauty and the Beast fell flat as Tamlin was a generally tame beast (besides the “romantic” abuse I will get to later) and his lackey Lucien had more fire in him.
Furthermore, when Amarantha told Feyre the riddle, I knew immediately that the answer would be Love. It’s such a cliché, I hardly even mulled over the meaning of each line. It was a big fat duh but Feyre couldn’t read, so she probably didn’t know much of romance tropes either. Such a shame. Part of what made Belle in Beauty and the Beast so endearing to me was her love for books.
In the beginning, I thought A Court of Thorns and Roses would have a lot to offer. Feyre was a huntress, for crying out loud! What did she hunt? A wolf who was about to attack a deer she wanted. Scary stuff! Except, it was too easy and she didn’t even question it. After that she was swept away as punishment for killing a disguised fae and gained an easy life. It was lavish and comfortable, she had the best food she’d ever tasted and her family was suddenly taken care of. Oh, such punishment!
With the initial conflict out of the way, I suppose the aim was to develop Feyre’s romantic feelings for Lucien, nay Tamlin! See, Feyre developing feelings for Lucien would’ve made a slight bit more sense. There were some sparks. Between Tamlin and Feyre was little besides the author’s force. Authors have power over their characters but with some imagination, they become independent as the author writes. In this case, the characters didn’t get to live out their feelings on the pages of A Court of Thorns and Roses. They were marionettes caught up in tangled strings.
Most of the time, the High Fae Lord, Tamlin, was this brooding creature that had such forced conversations with Feyre, I wondered if he even wanted to talk to her. His emissary who only tolerated Feyre had more engaging exchanges with Feyre. At least Lucien existed. Had it been just Tamlin and Feyre, I can’t imagine how much more boredom the story would’ve elicited in me.
Two-thirds of A Court of Thorns and Roses was spent lying in wait, Feyre half-heartedly plotting her escape, and mysterious talks about the blight. The blight that wasn’t. The blight that was a misnomer and thus wasn’t a disease. The blight that actually was the curse.
Amarantha’s appearance to claim Tamlin and his court injected some conflict into A Court of Thorns and Roses again. The sequence of events involving her were so densely packed into the closing chapters, it made the plot teeter over. The balance wasn’t there. There need to be significant plot points in books to keep me interested. In the case of A Court of Thorns and Roses, these plot points were left near the exit, neglecting most of the book.
Abuse Isn’t Sexy
Apparently the High Fae Lord is this super sexy and irresistible love interest who was mysterious in his brooding yet oh so shy and therefore desirable. Not to mention that behind his mask, he was perfectly hot. I’m rarely swept off my feet by romance but that description is all well and dandy and I can accept that this draws a lot of readers. What I can’t accept is when it’s a veneer for an otherwise abusive character.
One might argue that in terms of violence towards Feyre, Rhysand was much worse than Tamlin. Some couples might even be into biting each others’ necks. If Feyre fantasised over Tamlin’s less than gentle touch and yearned for him to do so much more to her, then that’s her deal. The difference between Rhysand and Tamlin is that Rhysand was clearly painted as the villain, though he had vested interests in protecting her. Tamlin was the good guy who wanted Feyre to be safe and sent her away in the face of danger.
In light of such a comparison, Tamlin does come across as the good guy. However, what didn’t sit well with me was the threat of rape with the excuse of magic. This was one of the reasons I complained to Maraia about A Court of Thorns and Roses. As she rightly pointed out, how is that any different than [being] under the influence of alcohol? Alcohol and drugs aren’t an excuse. Yet magic here supposedly made everything okay. That’s downright repulsive.
“‘Tonight, Tam will allow… great and terrible magic to enter his body,’ Lucien said, staring at the distant fires. ‘The magic will seize control of his mind, his body, his soul, and turn him into the Hunter. It will fail him with his sole purpose: to find the Maiden. From their coupling, […]'” (p.193)
To make matters worse, Feyre was so willing to give herself to Tamlin. She didn’t care that she knew better, that she should hate Tamlin. All that didn’t matter because she found him so attractive. After finding a Maiden who was a faery, he went on to search for Feyre. When he found her, he claimed he was mad with desire for her.
“‘She asked me not to be gentle with her, either,’ he snarled, his teeth bright in the moonlight. He brought his lips to my ear. ‘I would’ve been gentle with you, though.” I shuddered as I closed my eyes. Every inch of my body went taut as his words echoed through me. ‘I would have had you moaning my name throughout it all. And I would have taken a very, very long time, Feyre.’ He said my name like a caress, and his hot breath tickled my ear. My back arched slightly.” (p.196)
This was followed by Tamlin pinning Feyre down even though she initially pushed him away. Her disagreement, “Why I should I want someone’s leftovers?” didn’t matter. That’s a prime example of a woman denying a man’s sexual advances and him taking liberties with her anyway. That isn’t right and yet in this case I got the sense that the reader too was supposed to be taken in by this sexy beast. This made me exceedingly angry. So much for the hot romance set against the realm of fantasy in A Court of Thorns and Roses; it was abuse!
Linguistically A Court of Thorns and Roses also left a lot to be desired. There were awkward sentence structures that didn’t make sense. I reread a few of those repeatedly but couldn’t make heads or tails of them and moved on. I wasn’t all that invested in A Court of Thorns and Roses anyway. It was a chore dragging myself through it. Still, I was determined to give it a chance because it’s been praised to the heavens. Plus, it was my July Epic Recs book.
As I read on, one particular word stood out me: purr. First Feyre thought, “something in his soft tone made me want to purr.” (p.282) That phrase got to me so much, I updated on Goodreads, Something about this phrase made me want to shred the page. Then Lucien purred so often when he spoke, I couldn’t wrap my head around him not being the love interest. Alas, his purrs weren’t laced with desire as Feyre’s were. His purrs were meant to be angry. I couldn’t picture that. Unless that’s the new word for growl.
What I’m also curious about is how often the term whore appeared in A Court of Thorns and Roses. I read the paperback edition, so I couldn’t do a quick search to find out. If someone reading this owns the ebook, could you please check for me? I’d really like to know.
I Wish Feyre Had Died
When it came down to the three tasks, I actively wished for Feyre to die. However, I knew that A Court of Thorns and Roses was a fairytale retelling and so would have to be resolved with some form of a happy ending. Nonetheless, the tasks were the most entertaining parts of the entire book. Tension finally emerged. Sadly, the rest of A Court of Thorns and Roses had hardly any at all.
I’m sure you can imagine my delight when Feyre did die. That would’ve been such a plot twist. Unfortunately, Feyre was resurrected. In regaining her life, she became a High Fae. At that point I was beyond done with A Court of Thorns and Roses. Turning the protagonist into the creature that her lover was had Twilight written all over it and that irked me. At least the transformation was hardly wrought in pain. Though I must concede, the out of body experience did add a nice touch.
All in all, I do have to say that my disdain towards A Court of Thorns and Roses was also coloured by personal dislikes. I have little tolerance for romance between humans and mythical creatures, particularly if these creatures are centuries old and immortal.
I don’t care for stories in which women fall in love with their captors. The Stockholm syndrome might be the core of Beauty and the Beast but in a retelling, I’d much rather not have to read about such plights. What made it worse was that in A Court of Thorns and Roses this was completely romanticised. Needless to say, I will not read the sequels. I have no interest in reading what might turn out to be an annoying love triangle anyway.