Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses, Book 1
Genres: YA, Fantasy, Romance, New Adult, Retelling (?), Fae
“You never figured out my riddle, did you?” I didn’t respond, and she smiled. “Pity. The answer is so lovely.” (p 388).
In all transparency, I’ve read this trilogy once before and wasn’t a fan of it. However, it’s been years since then and I decided I’d give ACOTAR another chance, to see if it really wasn’t my taste or if my memory had twisted the story into something worse than it was. Also, it’s been about three years since I read ACOTAR the first time and my taste in books has changed (at least a little bit) since then. Maybe current me would find something to like that past me wasn’t interested in at the time.
What I remembered from the story was very minimal. I remembered disliking – okay, hating – Feyre because I thought she was dumb. Now, I’m not saying she wasn’t smart. I’m just saying I remembered her to be oblivious to everything around her and unwilling to try. I remembered that this story was (very) loosely based on the story of Beauty and the Beast and even though I love retellings I didn’t enjoy this interpretation of the story. Though, I did remember enjoying the way that Maas wrote the story (it’s only saving grace, as I remembered it).
I’m writing this with the assumption that anyone who is reading this knows the general premise of the Beauty and the Beast story. Whether you’ve seen either Disney adaptation of the story, a different movie/TV adaptation, or have read the original story or a retelling of the story, I believe that the basics of the plot are understood to most people. The Beast was a shallow jerk and got a spell cast on him and he needed to get a girl to fall in love with him – and mean it – regardless of his appearance in order to break the spell.
After rereading this book, I found that my dislike for the story was founded but not in the way I remembered. Maybe I made Feyre seem more stupid in my head than she appeared in the book or maybe I was remembering how she acts in the other two books. Either way, while she remained oblivious I didn’t find myself hating her nearly as much as I expected to. Granted, I still didn’t enjoy her character. But I’m officially able to say that she’s been downgraded from a hated character to merely a disliked one.
Instead, my dislike of the book comes from the overall flow, or lack thereof, of the book. I believe that ACOTAR was originally supposed to be a standalone novel and I’ve always read it as such. I know that it’s the first book in a trilogy, but the rest of the trilogy is so unrelated to the plot of the first book that I feel like the ending of ACOTAR was created as a way to leave the world open should Maas want to continue exploring it, not because it was written with a series in mind. Thinking of ACOTAR as a standalone, the pacing of the book doesn’t make any sense to me. Heck, even knowing there’s two books after the events in this one, the pacing in ACOTAR doesn’t make sense to me.
While I take notes while I read (and shove stickies in my book to remember my feelings about things), I didn’t really take any notes on the first 3/4 of the book. That’s because, to me, Maas hadn’t really written anything of note that pertains to the main story of that book. While I understand it takes a while to build the world, and she did make it apparent to the reader that there was a “blight” effecting the “Beast” and his people, there wasn’t really any substance to this part of the book. Sure as readers we get to witness the romance aspect between the “Beauty” and the “Beast”, but nothing else that’s meaningful happens. I’m sitting here trying to think of an example and even though I finished the book only like 18 hours ago, I can’t think of anything worth note before I started taking notes.
I’m not trying to be mean, but there wasn’t really anything that drew my attention. I thought it was cute that Feyre was worried about her family even after she agrees to go with Tamlin, but this worry didn’t add anything to the story. Yes, the reader gets an insight into the way the fae world runs, and clues about the “blight” are given throughout the story, but I really didn’t see the need for so many dinner scenes. Or random strolls through the garden.
With the slow pacing of the first 3/4 of the story, the final 1/4, the climax, felt rushed. So much is shoved into the last 1/4 that the reader is given more than double the pertinent information than they’re given in the rest of the story. While I think there’s some fluff that could have been taken out of the earlier parts of the story, what I feel this book needs most is to be a little longer to better explain how things went down in the finale of the book. I understand wanting to write an action packed sequence of events, but the pacing of the last 1/4 of the book doesn’t match the other 3/4.
While I wouldn’t recommend this book to others to read, simply because I can list a million better Beauty and the Beast adaptations either in written or visual form (I really do have a thing for retellings of my favourite stories), I wouldn’t say stay away from Maas’ writing. I think she has a way with words and is able to make even a story I’m not enjoying palatable.
If anything, I would recommend checking out Maas’ Catwoman: Soulstealer if you’d like a taste of Maas’ writing style. If you’re looking for a little bit more of a commitment than a standalone novel, I’d suggest checking out her Throne of Glass series. In my opinion, these other works of Maas’ are leagues above the ACOTAR trilogy.
I don’t think that this is actually a spoiler, but I’m placing it here just in case. It’s nothing about the story itself, but rather the medium through which I got through the story. When at work, I listened to the audiobook and when I got home I switched back to reading the physical copy I have of ACOTAR. During this switch, there was a point where I was following the story with my eyes (physical copy) and listening (audiobook) so that I could line the two up and not miss part of the story. On page 379 of the book it reads “Tamlin removed my hands from his body and stepped out of my embrace” whereas the audiobook says “Tamlin removed his hands from my body and stepped out of my embrace”. This might be due to a correction made after the first print run of the book, but I found it entertaining nonetheless.
I do wish that there was more Nesta in this story. I love a good strong headed character and Nesta fulfills that archetype quite well. I understand that the story wasn’t about her, but I think it would’ve been made much more interesting to see her butt heads with the rest of the cast. Her character appeared to be one of the most fleshed out, and she was barely in the story.
The first note I took on this book was on page 290, chapter 33 of the book. It reads “Why’d it take so long to get to the main conflict of the story?”. Now, up to this point Maas had given hints about the main plot but not much had happened in relation to it. This is right after the conversation Feyre had with Alis about what the “blight” was (Amarantha) and Feyre basically forces Alis to show her how to get to Amarantha’s court. The main conflict itself has not started yet, but at least the reader finally knows what’s going on.
In my opinion, it shouldn’t have taken this long in the story for the main character to become aware of the major conflict. Yes, Beauty and the Beast stories tend to keep the curse aspect of the story away from the “Beauty” for a big portion of the story, but the reader is usually given clues so that they can put two and two together – or told about it in a third party way apart from the heroine. In ACOTAR, there is very little information given about the conflict before Feyre confronts Alis.
We’re given clues like “she” is responsible (the enchantress/Amarantha) and that Tamlin has a stone heart, but we’re not given enough to piece this together until Amarantha being the source of the curse is explicitly told to us. If I didn’t know going into this book that it was (very) loosely based off of Beauty and the Beast, I would have been confused as to what the plot of the story was even supposed to be. If anything, I would have thought that Maas was setting Tamlin and Feyre up to fight a war against Amarantha’s court, not have Feyre complete three challenges and solve a riddle in order to free all of the fae.
Speaking of the riddle, I do think that it was well written. The first time I read it my first thought was “love” but that was mostly because I knew what the curse is always about in these sort of stories. Even then, I still questioned whether or not the answer would be that simple. In this, Maas’ writing continued to enchant me even when the story itself didn’t.
Personally, I don’t think that enough of the book was dedicated to Under the Mountain. More specifically, I think that more time should have been spent hyping up the three tasks and making them feel more real, more dangerous, with higher stakes. It is only the second task where I felt a sense of dread for Feyre and Lucien. Her not being able to read was a nice twist on the widely accepted version of Beauty and the Beast and Maas used it to her advantage here. If it wasn’t for Rhys (one of the few characters I liked in this book), things would’ve gone off the deep end.
As for the other two tasks, a sense of urgency was missing. In the first task, Feyre needs to prove her skills at survival. As she’s been in charge of keeping her family alive for years, I think it’s pretty easy to say that her survival instincts are pretty honed. Since she’d been a hunter for years, this challenged didn’t really pose a problem to her. In the third task, it was obvious that Feyre was going to be willing to sacrifice three strangers for Tamlin and his people. After all, she’s willing to do anything it takes to keep her loved ones alive and well. When Tamlin showed up as the third victim, I didn’t feel any sense or urgency because of how often is heart of stone came up. If it’d been mentioned once then it might’ve been something that worried me, but there was enough emphasis placed on this obscure choice of phrasing that I was confident that it wasn’t just a saying.
However, during the first task seemed (to me) to be the start of Feyre actually using her brain to figure things out instead of just coasting by through life, taking everything at face value. She quickly tries to make a plan to defeat the worm and rules out ideas that aren’t going to work instead of trying them and letting them fail. Up to this point, it really didn’t seem like Feyre was willing to think through her actions or the consequences they might have.
The final task was definitely Feyre’s breaking point and it was here that Tamlin became my most disliked character. Yes, he surpassed Feyre for that spot. After having read the other two books in the trilogy, it’s so glaringly obvious that Tamlin is willing to sacrifice what makes Feyre who she is by having her kill these innocents. Yes, Feyre is willing to do whatever it takes to protect the ones she loves no matter the price. But that’s just it: no matter the price. Tamlin shouldn’t have asked it of her if he really did love her with a pure love, not a sense of possessiveness. Sure he’s not willing to let her die, but he doesn’t seem to realize that Feyre is more than just a physical being, there’s a mental component that makes her who she really is. He’s willing to sacrifice Feyre’s very soul in order to save his people. That sounds pretty evil to me. Even more so because he doesn’t realize that what he’s doing is wrong.
The second innocent that Feyre kills nearly broke my heart (which is another reason why I love Maas’ writing so much – how easy it is for her to pull emotion out of me). She knew that Feyre didn’t have a choice if she hoped to free everyone and was willing to make the sacrifice of her own life. She made things as easy as possible for Feyre, letting her know that she didn’t blame her for killing her. She understood that she needed to be brave to give Feyre strength to do what needed to be done.
I found it cliche that moments of Feyre’s life flashes before her eyes as she’s about to die and this is how she’s finally able to see the answer to Amarantha’s riddle. Once again, it’s not Feyre using her brain to figure things out but rather things happening to her that gives her the answers she’s looking for. The only thing that I appreciated about this flashback was that it really homes in on the fact that Feyre is willing to sacrifice her own soul to protect the ones she loves. It makes her character stronger, which is much needed because although this happens on page 401, I found Feyre’s character to be really shallow and not fleshed out.
The scene where Tamlin is holding Feyre’s lifeless body and the High Lords give her the gift of life (fae immortality) gave me feels almost as strong as the second innocent’s sacrifice. Sure, I still don’t like Feyre as a character, which I’m sure you’re tired of hearing me say, but the fact that all of the High Lords were willing to make this offering to the one that saved them and their people was impactful. Feyre was human, they didn’t need to do this just because Tamlin loves her. She was dead, they could have let her stay dead.
Not to mention the fact that I’m sure Feyre would have rather remained dead than come back as an immortal High Fae. Yes, it means she gets to stay with her love, but her soul is so broken that even that isn’t going to be enough. Feyre sacrificed everything for the citizens of the Faerie Realms. I’m sure she would have appreciated not having to deal with the aftermath of losing her soul to do it.
Overall, I can’t say that I enjoyed this read through of the story even though I was really hoping my feelings on it would have changed over the last four(ish) years. If you enjoyed this book, please let me know why. What did you see that I didn’t? What parts of the story made you smile?