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 hunk, who 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!