Trying Something New · YA Book Reviews

Midnight Musings: To Review or Not to Review A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

I’ve been sitting on whether or not to review this book for a long time. Instead of doing a proper review of this book, I’m settling for a half word-vomit / half serious discussion about the problems I have with this book, mainly the characters and what they symbolize that rubs me the wrong way. Thanks to diehard ACOTAR/ACOMAF fan violeteyesrhys for posting a thought that wriggled its way into my brain and wouldn’t leave until I started listening to the audiobook for this until I finished it all over again. There will be some spoilers for A Court of Thorns and Roses in this psuedo-review, but none for A Court of Mist and Fury – all were carefully edited out for those who haven’t read the sequel yet.

As some of you know, I am decidedly not a fan of Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses, even though I adored the sequel and it makes my list of favorites for 2016. I found (and still find) Feyre to be a noncommittal, indecisive, and flaky protagonist, traits that ruin her potential to be one of the greatest protagonists in YA in spite of her self-described ‘shortcomings’ or what I like to call meaningful character flaws. At the same time, Tamlin is the absolute worst kind of gorgeous, brooding hunk, and that’s an emotionally abusive brooding hunkwho takes everything I love about the Beauty & the Beast story and twists it into something uncomfortable at best, borderline cruel at worst.

Honestly, I’ll read anything marketed as a Beauty & the Beast retelling, whether it’s young adult, new adult, urban fantasy, or fairytale erotica (not kidding, this is a thing, it’s real and I unironically love it to pieces) as long as it stays true to the story I love. I’m sure many of you have seen the movie, so I’ll reference back to that instead of the original fairy tale. I get that a lot of people find the Beast/Adam to be less than kind (he yells a lot, forbids her from going into the west wing, etc.) but there are several things that make this okay for me: one, he doesn’t flip his actions to try and cast them as a misguided attempt to protect her. Two, he never, ever takes advantage of her. Three, even though he is a yelling, angry ass for a reason, and Belle makes it clear after she runs away that she’s not going to put up with his BS for any longer and he’s like “You’re right. I’m sorry,” and then actually tries to make up for how poorly he treated her because of his own blinding selfishness. Four, he does not keep her locked away like a caged bird; as soon as she’s like “you know, I’d love to see my father again,” he not only gives her his magic mirror, but is also like “I’m literally not going to stop you from going home even though I really want you to stay because there’s a curse on me and my whole castle that only you can break.” Literally none of this is her fault, and he respects that. They have a pretty decent relationship built on mutual respect, and feel free to cry Stockholm Syndrome from your windows and balconies, but I know what a healthy and meaningful courtship is when I see it.

Feyre and Tamlin do not have this kind of relationship. There are some themes from the main tale that are a huge part of this book: she willingly sacrifices herself and her own safety for her family, there’s a curse on the Beast who takes her away that only she can break with true love, she screws it up accidentally, et cetera. However, Tamlin does not do any of the things that movie Adam does beyond the library/gallery parallel. Firstly, he constantly goes out of his way to make things seem like her fault, like she got into trouble on her own because she didn’t listen to his orders and he’s just trying to protect her if she’d only stop being so curious all the time. After she holds her own against several freaky creatures, he’s still like “I’d yell at you if today wasn’t punishment enough.” He says several things like this that get right under my skin. He also, multiple times, absolutely takes advantage of her. The hickey on her neck is not okay, no matter how into it she was, or how he searched her face for regret and found none – it’s still not okay. She chews him out the barest minimum for cornering her in the hallway, but even while he was cornering her, he says it’s all her fault that he’s a total mess and can’t help himself. EXCUSE ME? I don’t think so. He also orders her around so much, it’s like he’s a puppetmaster pulling her strings until she does exactly what she wants just right. Y’all, I’m not even done with the book yet, and he’s in a steamy pile of poo and sTILL DOING THIS and it just drives me right up a wall. I really, really don’t like him.

A later example of their incredibly problematic relationship is when Tamlin gives Feyre a gold ring with a large emerald inside. Tumblr user violeteyesrhys digs into the meaning of the gemstone itself to show why this seemingly insignificant symbol is actually a massive undercurrent for the entire foundation of their romance:

Emerald is known as the “Stone of Successful Love” because it promotes friendship and balance between partners. The problem is stones are not a cure-all, it builds off of and sways the emotions that already exist.

“He worshipped my body with his hands, his tongue, his teeth. But that wasn’t the hard part. We just got tripped up with the rest.”

Feyre and Tamlin have a strong physical connection but lack everything else. They don’t communicate what they feel. When they had a minute alone before Feyre faced her last trial, and almost certain death, they made out. There were no heartfelt speeches, or potential goodbyes, just a hardcore make out session. The night after Feyre killed those two Fae and defeated Amarantha they had sex. There was no sweet words of comfort, no emotional breakdown…just sex. My point is, there was no friendship for the stones energy to build off of. There also was never any balance between them. Feyre was the Prisoner, Tamlin the Jailor. Feyre was the mortal, Tamlin’s Fae, Feyre was his Subject & Consort, Tamlin’s the High Lord. Once again giving the stone nothing to accentuate. – user violeteyesrhys

The reason I’m rereading this story again even though I didn’t like it the first time is because of Rhysand. Not because he’s incredible and amazing and delicious and I always imagine him as Pitch from Rise of the Guardians (complete with Jude Law’s dark, sexy voice), but because of this post from Tumblr user violeteyesrhys (the same person highlighted above) about a single sentence from A Court of Thorns and Roses that summarizes why I have so much respect and admiration for Rhysand as a character:

The first time Feyre was painted and dressed up by the shadow sisters, so Rhysand could take her to the midsummer party, I noticed this sentence:  “My hair was coiled around a small golden diadem imbedded with lapis lazuli.”

Let me over analyse and explain why this sentence is significant. When Rhysand brings Feyre into the throne room all she can think about is how debased she looks with her sheer gown. In her mind Amarantha looks better because she’s dressed modestly. But lets forget about the dresses for a moment and look at what’s on Feyre’s head and not on Amaranthas, a diadem. What is that exactly? Well a diadem is a type of crown usually worn by monarchs, an emblem for regal power and dignity. Not only did Rhysand give Feyre a CROWN but a crown with a lapis lazuli. What’s the big deal about lapis lazuli, you ask?

Well, Lapis Lazuli is historically one of the most sought after stones. It has always symbolized the starry night (so basically the night court). Also, if you believe in crystals having some sort of “powers” lapis lazuli is often used for its strong emotional components, known for helping people overcome abuse, trauma, depression and grief (Which clearly Feyre needs help with).

Let’s also not forget the discussion between Rhysand and Amarantha when they stroll into the throne room.  “What have you done with my captive?” she said but her smile doesn’t reach her eyes.  “We made a bargain… one week with me at the night court every month in exchange for my healing services…for the rest of her life.”  This was Rhysand telling Amarantha that Feyre is his and not hers. Not only did Rhysand save the life of the human that Amarantha wants dead, he waltzed right up to the foot of her throne, and in front of all the courts, announced not so subtly that he thinks Feyre is going to beat Amarantha and he’s going to support her through it all. Feyre was so wrapped up in her concern over Tamlin that she believed this whole thing was just a way for Rhysand to torment him, when in reality it had nothing to do with Tam. It was Rhysands way to say to Amarantha that her reign won’t last forever.  This was Rhysand rebelling against his abuser. – user violeteyesrhys

Obviously Rhys is just as flawed as Feyre is, but he is filled to the brim with that potential that Feyre is not – every sentence that leaves his mouth is carefully calculated and precisely planned, and every action means something that is crucial to defining the kind of person he is at heart and soul. I adore his character for how meticulously crafted he is, and how efficient yet considerate he is when executing his goals for the larger purpose. I have talked to a number of people who dislike the 180 that he did to become this sympathetic narrative when he has done unspeakable evil for almost the entirety of this novel. I wholeheartedly believe that digging deeper into this symbolism and the motives behind each of his actions reveals the truth in an unexpected and enlightening way that makes ACOMAF that much more enjoyable in light of these cleverly conspicuous ideas for the future of the series.

Long story short, I don’t think I’ll ever truly love this book, and will always remain a bit disheartened at how some of these characters turned out in the end. However, I have to admit that Sarah J. Maas really knows what she’s doing and has a plan that isn’t obvious at first glance, yet absolutely worth looking into more to uncover the mystery of what she has planned next for some of my favorite players.

What did you think of ACOTAR? Do you agree with these points, or have some arguments in support of Tamlin and/or Feyre that you firmly stand by? Comment your thoughts below! Discussions rule! 


15 thoughts on “Midnight Musings: To Review or Not to Review A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

  1. I really enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses when I first read it. Like you I love fairy tale retellings (Beauty and the Beast is one of my favourite along with Alice in Wonderland) and will read any I can get my hands on. However the more reviews I see for this book, and the more I think back on it myself, the more I started to see problems with it as well. I still think it’s a good story, but A Court of Mist and Fury is 100 times better and god I really do not like Tamlin now at all. I didn’t like who Tamlin became in ACOMAF at all, but honestly reading your review I’m kind of starting to see how those traits were there in the first book and I just didn’t pick up on them.
    Great review, I really loved reading your thoughts on this and I enjoyed the quotes you used from violeteyesrhys as well. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved it at first! Though it took me a little while to get into it, and I hated how Tamlin acted under the mountain. I ended up just kind of writing it off. After reading ACOMAF though, I really started to see all the problems and what a tool he was. I loved your discussion, and it all makes a lot of sense! I think all of the general shittiness of the first book was set up to make ACOMAF so much better, and show the contrast between Rhys and Tamlin. I think we will see a lot character development in Feyre much like we did with Celaena/Aelin in ToG.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love every word of this post.

    I’m aware that you intentionally didn’t highlight every single abusive and awful thing Tamlin did or said in ACoTaR (because we’d probably be here all day if you did), but there is one more example that I’d like to mention, if you don’t mind:

    The night before Feyre is sent back to the mortal realm (against her will), she and Tamlin engage in some heavy petting until Tamlin pulls back abruptly. Feyre says, “Don’t stop,” and he replies, “If we keep going, I won’t be able to stop at all.”

    To which I’d like to insert, “Dude, if she tells you to stop after you start having sex, you damn well better be able to stop. Because if you don’t, *that’s rape.*”

    Sure, on the one hand it can be sexy to know someone you’re attracted to is overwhelmed with need for you, and that’s how (after a moment of revulsion) I initially decided this sentence was supposed to be interpreted. But now I hope Maas intended it to set off readers’ alarm bells in the first place, because (let me repeat) Tamlin is literally telling Feyre that the sex they’re about to have will turn into rape if she decides she revokes her consent.

    This is, for me, one of the most disturbing examples of Tamlin’s general disregard for Feyre’s desires and autonomy.

    I haven’t come across violeteyesrhys before, but clearly I need to go through their old posts. Thanks for pointing them out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you SO much for mentioning this key scene! You’re right,there are an unfortunate amount of abusive and generally awful things Tamlin has done and it was honestly a bit of an effort to settle on the ones I did and not more. I’m glad you brought this up, because it is truly representative of their whole relationship, and every problematic bit of it, no matter how subtle.
      I was beyond impressed when instances like the one you highlighted were brought up in ACOMAF as examples of how problematic Tamlin is, and how blinded to it Feyre had been to what was happening. She remarks in Part 2 of the book, after Lucien finds her in the woods, “Fae males were territorial, dominant, arrogant—but the ones in the Spring Court … something had festered in their training. Because I knew—deep in my bones—that Cassian might push and test my limits, but the moment I said no, he’d back off. And I knew that if … that if I had been wasting away and Rhys had done nothing to stop it, Cassian or Azriel would have pulled me out. They would have taken me somewhere—wherever I needed to be—and dealt with Rhys later.
      But Rhys … Rhys would never have not seen what was happening to me; would never have been so misguided and arrogant and self-absorbed. He’d known what Ianthe was from the moment he met her. And he’d understood what it was like to be a prisoner, and helpless, and to struggle—every day—with the horrors of both.”
      My respect for SJM shot through the roof after reading this, because it perfectly illustrates the complicated, difficult, and insurmountable-feeling efforts it takes to break out of the cycle of abuse. Many people ask, ‘why don’t they just leave?’ and it’s because of how long it takes to even admit to yourself that something is wrong in the first place. I am so glad that Feyre had Rhys and the rest of the Inner Circle to help her work through all of these internal and external obstacles by her choice, on her terms, and at her own pace. I think I cried more at this book than any other because of how important it was to me to see that whole journey happen the way it did.
      TL;DR Tamlin sucks, and I can’t wait to see Feyre wreck him in book 3. Thanks again for your comment! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Honestly, reading the quote you pulled out of ACoMaF gave me chills all over again. (And I’m especially glad you did, because I’d already forgotten that scene–which is awful of me, because I still haven’t written my review for the book. Where has time gone?? Time to read through my notes and get busy reviewing.)

        “My respect for SJM shot through the roof after reading this, because it perfectly illustrates the complicated, difficult, and insurmountable-feeling efforts it takes to break out of the cycle of abuse.”

        This. I’m delighted and impressed by the improvement in her writing over time, and the care she’s taking to portray trauma as realistically as possible. The general rarity of realistically traumatized characters in YA fantasy is an endless source of surprise and disappointment for me; so many characters face genuine horrors, only to bounce back within minutes or days. I’m so grateful that Maas is tackling the topic, and doing it so well.

        “Tamlin sucks, and I can’t wait to see Feyre wreck him in book 3.”

        YEP. It’ll be glorious. =D

        Liked by 1 person

      2. P.S. Have you seen the trailer for Disney’s live-action Beauty and the Beast yet? I got full-body goosebumps as soon as the music started. (That said, I’m disappointed to see how closely it seems to mimic the animated version; I’d hoped it’d be a new, or at least slightly different, take on the fairy tale.)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I HAVE seen the new trailer, and I can happily tell you (as someone who is lowkey obsessed with Entertainment Weekly magazine) that there are some key differences from the animated movie that bring some realistic (and much-appreciated) context to Belle’s story. At heart it is the same story, but I am looking forward to changes like those that promise to give a greater depth to Belle than we’ve seen on screen so far.

        Liked by 2 people

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