A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas
Rating: 3/5 stars
Synopsis: In this Beauty and the Beast retelling, huntress Feyre must pay the price for killing a fairy (she wasn’t sure if it was a wolf or a fairy, and she didn’t care). Her life is forfeit, but the high lord who comes for her offers her a deal: live at his court instead of being executed and her family, for which she is the sole breadwinner, will be taken care of. Feyre agrees, thinking she might find a way to escape and return to them. But the land of the fairies is dangerous even for a skilled hunter, and Feyre starts to realize the fairies aren’t all evil like she grew up believing. Particularly the high lord, Tamlin.
Even as Feyre comes to sympathize with the fairies and fall for Tamlin, she learns that there is a mysterious blight in the fairy realm that may soon have dire consequences for humans. And … she just sits there like a useless lump, painting and laying about in fields in an endless montage of romantic scenes with no conflict instead of learning to read and write to send a warning to her family. And then Tamlin sends her home to protect her and … she just goes along with it. Until she realizes (aka her badass sister, who was a much more interesting character, yells at her) that she made a huge mistake and goes back. Only to discover that there is a curse on Tamlin and only she can save him.
As a reader: This novel had such a promising opening. Feyre is a badass who learned how to hunt to keep her family from starving, and her hatred of the fairies that leads her to kill one is a wonderful dark side to the character. This is a young woman who is doing whatever it takes to survive a harsh life. It took me by surprise because the first few chapters didn’t sound like the back of the book and I wasn’t sure how she would get from here to there, but it was fantastic.
And then this beast shows up at her front door. I hadn’t known that this was a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but Tamlin’s beast form (he’s a shapeshifter) reads exactly like the Disney character and I figured it out as soon as he was introduced. Unfortunately the Disney character has more personality than this Fabio wannabe. I kept hoping she would fall for his best friend, who was a more interesting character and better matched to Feyre’s dark side. Eventually one of the villains does turn into a potential love interest and it made me so happy because I want her to drop Tamlin back into the starlight pool where he tried to seduce her in one of the stupidest scenes of the novel. But that’s not gonna happen in this book because the whole book is about her learning to love a fairy enough to risk her own life to save him.
As soon as Tamlin enters the story the fight goes out of Feyre. She is still ornery, naturally, because she hates fairies, but her half-hearted attempts to find a way to leave are cut in with scene after scene of her and Tamlin falling in love and it dragged on way too long. At one point she drinks fairy wine and does a psychedelic dance for him as he plays the fiddle and then they watch the sunrise. That was the scene that made me want to put the book down, but I wanted to see if she would ever get to the intriguing conflict described in the blurb so I kept slogging on. Shortly after, Tamlin makes Feyre leave and she barely protests and her sister has to convince her to go back. There she discovers that Tamlin had been lying to her and trying to seduce her to break a curse and she isn’t even mad. He was using her, and she’s like “whatever, I get why he was doing it.” This character has just given up all agency and human emotion.
Once she returns to the fairy realm and decides to save Tamlin she suddenly grows a spine again and the book redeems itself. I ended up giving this three stars: one for the awesome beginning, one for the awesome ending, and one for the fact that the ending left me wanting to read the sequel despite my frustration with the middle.
As a writer: This novel was a good lesson in the fact that plot and conflict aren’t the same thing, and every scene needs conflict.