This review contains spoilers for ACOTAR and ACOMAF. If you haven’t read either of these, what are you doing, stop reading this and go read something that’ll actually change your life.
After rereading and writing a messy midnight review for A Court of Thorns and Roses, I jumped immediately into the sequel. This book shattered my heart, pieced it lovingly back together again, then annihilated it, and is slowly in the process of rebuilding. I am absolutely blown away, mystified beyond belief, and utterly at peace with how savagely perfect this masterpiece of a novel was to me. If I could give it a million stars, I would.
I honestly spent so much time thinking about how I wanted to write this review that after I devoured the 640 pages of the hardcover novel, I took three months off to read other books so I could cool off my brain and ended up breezing through the ebook version in October, and 3 weeks later I have just now finished the heart-ravishing audiobook version. I can’t stop thinking about it, talking about it, and crying a lot when I meet people who haven’t read it (which is most people, most of the time). I’ll most definitely be done rereading the book again by the time I can post this, but dear gods, what a book.
Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.
Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.
With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.
It became very clear to me, very fast when I started this book that not only was the ending to ACOTAR one of the most brutal things I’d ever read, but Feyre now has post-traumatic stress disorder and serious depression following the actions she was forced to do while Under the Mountain. The first handful of pages of the book are a horrible, sickening nightmare, followed by her rushing from bed and vomiting in the wash room until she can breathe again. She does this most nights; sprinting to the bathroom alone, hacking her guts up with the lingering images of the Fae she killed and the echo of Amarantha’s voice in her head. It’s been 3 months since she’s been back to Tamlin’s home, and still there are rooms she can’t go into without panicking, paintings she can’t look at for too long without feeling ill, and the part of her heart that saw color and life in everything is hollow and cold. She’s losing weight and doesn’t notice, doesn’t care. When she does show feeling, Tamlin and Lucien shove it back down almost immediately, and life goes on. Eternity in the Spring Court goes on. And I couldn’t stand it.
Part of why I was so mad is because Tamlin’s abuse is at the forefront now, and you’d have to be blind not to see what it’s doing to Feyre and Lucien. Listen, I didn’t like Tamlin in book one. I really didn’t. I thought he was grating at best, and an insult to Adam from the 1991 Beauty and the Beast at worst. In this book? He’s a goddamned entitled bastard. I was absolutely floored by how oblivious he seemed to be to how much Feyre was suffering: the nightmares, her weight loss, her triggers, and how all he could think of was putting her in a glass case where no one could reach her, bringing her worst fears to life for his own benefit. I discussed in my ACOTAR review about how SJM writes Tamlin as a manipulative and emotionally abusive love interest, and there is no greater example of his revolting personality than in the sequel.
The first time I read this book, I was angry and pissed. What happened to the fiery, imaginative Feyre that took no crap from anyone, preferred functional tunics and pants over stifling dresses, fought and died for Tamlin – and for herself, her own happiness? Why is she putting up with Tamlin’s sick, damaging control, instead of calling him out on it and showing him that she’s not the same human girl that she was before Under the Mountain? It pains me to say I truly put most of the blame on her, and it took me a while to realize that Tamlin spends most of ACOTAR and ACOMAF convincing Feyre, Lucien, and himself that his acts of rage and punishment aren’t his fault. It feels horrible, but it’s not surprising that this careful control of how people feel extends to the audience as well.
In this post from tumblr user highlordlucien, Lauren explains the deliberate way Tamlin manipulates Feyre and Lucien into believing he is not the one at fault, and one thing that stuck out to me was the distinct separation (that I didn’t even notice the first time through) between Tamlin and the High Lord of Spring:
“There are several times at the beginning of ACOMAF where she makes the distinction between her Tamlin and High Lord Tamlin. High Lord Tamlin is cruel and brutal and controlling and awful but her Tamlin is gentle and kind and compassionate.
“I don’t want to marry a High Lord. I just want to marry him.” Feyre, ACOMAF
She makes them out as two separate things which allows her to avoid giving Tamlin full responsibility for his actions and allows her to forgive him for what he’s doing. It wasn’t really him; it was the High Lord. But it’s all set up here: this is something that Tamlin taught her to do the moment he told her she was accountable and not him: it’s never him. Implicitly or not this is the message she repeats in ACOMAF and it keeps her trapped in her situation a lot longer than she could have/should have been.”
The way Sarah J. Maas wrote their toxic relationship was honestly one of the best representations of abuse I’ve ever seen in literature, and not just young adult lit either. It’s all in the way Feyre handles the situation, all of it: her initial fierce defense of Tamlin’s actions, her shame and self-hatred, the intense questioning, her internal monologue – traitor, traitor, traitor – and on top of it all, the way she realized the problems with her situation and, slowly but surely, broke the cycle and started her healing process of her own free will in the end.
“I’m thinking that I must have been a fool in love to allow myself to be shown so little of the Spring Court. I’m thinking there’s a great deal of that territory I was never allowed to see or hear about and maybe I would have lived in ignorance forever like some pet. I’m thinking . . . I’m thinking that I was a lonely, hopeless person, and I might have fallen in love with the first thing that showed me a hint of kindness and safety. And I’m thinking maybe he knew that – maybe not actively, but maybe he wanted to be that person for someone. And maybe that worked for who I was before. Maybe it doesn’t work for who – what I am now.”
A lot of people I’ve seen discuss Feyre’s relationship with Rhysand talk about how he got her through the abuse and he was the light at the end of the bond, and he did play a massive, crucial role in her freedom, but at her side instead of leading her there or pushing her towards the right answers. She has always been his equal, in every aspect. He is not her rock for her to depend on – he steps back when he needs to, and encourages her to take control of her own future and make her own choices. I believe this was especially evident during her tasks with the Weaver and the Bone-Carver. Both of these were necessary for figuring out exactly what to do about the situation in Hybern, and how Feyre would be a part of it, and the impact both tasks had on Feyre herself proved she is more than her past, and the box Tamlin put her in. It was pretty obvious from the conversation her and Rhys had after going to the Weaver that not only was she in there to see if she can connect with the High Lords enough to locate the book, but to teach herself to fight against the panic. Going to see the Bone Carver was another stepping stone that made one of the biggest dents in the shell she felt trapped in by giving her the chance to voice the horrible things she kept under careful lock and key, never admitting to anyone. And both of these were her choice, her chance to be a part of something useful, to be needed and wanted, and never alone.
Of course I’m gonna talk about Rhysand though. I actually want to edit my original statement here, because I definitely didn’t do him justice by saying his actions in ACOMAF are a redemption arc when they’re really a confirmation of what lengths Rhys will go to in order to protect the people he loves. He suffered and committed unspeakable acts under Amarantha’s watchful gaze to protect all of the people in Velaris and his Inner Circle, and when Feyre arrived, he drugged her and publicly humiliated her to protect her from whatever crueler torture Amarantha had imagined. No one, not a single person in Velaris or Under the Mountain, will ever forget what he did in order to keep them all alive. By the time he sits down with Feyre to talk about how they got up to this point, every single interaction with him from their very first meeting is explained, and the relationship he forges with Feyre over all this time is one of mutual trust and respect as well as genuine affection and friendship. He gets it: the PTSD, the unrelenting nightmares, the guilt and the fear…but also the need to do something, to be useful, to have a place in the world and not feel so alone. This is a huge part of the reason I am firmly behind Rhys & Feyre being together: he understands, and does whatever he can to make sure she doesn’t sink to the depths he did to survive. He helps her thrive, and notices when she is struggling, even when she’s not explicitly saying it. And Feyre sees this, and not only starts to grow into herself again when she’s with him, but also starts to notice when he is feeling the same way and makes an effort to return the warmth and kindness he has shown her to help him, too. They have a healthy, meaningful relationship, and the time they spend growing together provides a backbone to the book as a whole that’s as strong as the bond between them.
“He had stayed. And fought for me.
Week after week, he’d fought for me, even when I had no reaction, even when I had barely been able to speak or bring myself to care if I lived or died or ate or starved. I couldn’t leave him to his own dark thoughts, his own guilt. He’d shouldered them alone long enough.”
Rhys and the Inner Circle in Velaris were my favorite moments in this book. I’ve never had a place come alive in my mind like Velaris did, and it’s a testament to SJM’s writing that I kept coming back to these scenes again and again. In addition to a beautiful atmosphere and writing that blew me away, there are very few secondary characters in this book; almost everyone, especially Mor, Amren, Cassian, and Azriel, are given the time they deserve to flesh them out as individuals, and you grow to care for them as deeply as Rhys does before you’re even halfway through the book. I am greatly looking forward to seeing how Nesta and Elain’s stories develop now that they are (unwittingly) a part of the squad, and the introduction to new characters from different courts (more Tarquin!) in A Court of Wings and Ruin. And, of course, a return to my heart of hearts.
“We are lucky to have him, Feyre.” I turned from the door. “I have known many High Lords,” Amren continued, studying her paper. “Cruel ones, cunning ones, weak ones, powerful ones. But never one that dreamed. Not as he does.”
“Dreams of what?”
“Of peace. Of freedom. Of a world united, a world thriving. Of something better – for all of us.”
“He thinks he’ll be remembered as the villain in the story.” Amren snorted. “But I forgot to tell him,” I said quietly, opening the door, “that the villain is usually the person who locks up the maiden and throws away the key…He was the one who let me out.”
To summarize: This is one of my favorite books, ever. After the 3rd time through, I can honestly and truthfully say that it’s not just one of my favorite book of 2016, but in my top five all-time favorite novels. It hits me in all the same places, at the exact same time, every time I read it. I cried, genuinely cried, all three times. I laughed so hard that I cried some more. And it’s not just the laughter, or the tears, or the flawless character development or spectacularly crafted plotline or the glorious writing that brings out the best and worst in me…
…these characters, these people, are real to me. Sarah is an excellent writer because she can bring characters to life with simple sentences, but in my opinion, she went a step beyond with this novel. The reason this is my favorite book is because reading this makes me feel alive. I feel with Feyre: her unending emptiness, her desperation, her fiery passion, her mortal heart. I feel with Rhys: his own unyielding despair, his dramatic cunning, his roaring delight, and his pure, unparalleled love and understanding. I feel with Mor, and Cassian, and Azriel, and Amren – the strong ties that bring them together, a family with a bond that runs deeper than blood. I even feel with Nesta and Elain, with Tarquin, with Lucien and even Tamlin. Their stories give them a unique light, as if the soul of the book is within them. And through them, it is within me. And within everyone who has a chance to pick this up, and be free.
“To the people who look at the stars and wish, Rhys.”
Rhys clinked his glass against mine. “To the stars who listen— and the dreams that are answered.”
What did you all think of this book? Who was your favorite character? What are you most looking forward to in ACOWAR? Let me know in the comments below!