4.5 out of 5 stars
As my first Sarah J. Maas book, let me say I had no idea what I was getting into with A Court of Thorns and Roses. (Insert whistle of a cannonball here.) I listened to the audiobook, read smoothly by Jennifer Ikeda.
The introduction into Maas’ world of Prythian and human realm is quick and seamless. I was instantly connected to the heroine, Feyre, and her struggle to keep her starving family alive. Their overall demeanor is effectively dark. So often, sister characters are throwaway copies of Cinderella’s stepsisters – nasty, jealous, conniving. Here they are clearer and less cliched – one sister is poison, broken into its individual ingredients; the other is sweet but also purposeful. The father is a surprise here, both loved and hated, both good and bad. Sympathetic, yes, but also maddening. It put me, as the reader, right into the heart of Feyre’s family conflict.
Prythian, the magical realm of the fae, comes into the story in a realistic way. The conflict is realistic: Feyre’s humankind is intensely prejudiced against their mysterious, mythic neighbors. But as worlds are wont to collide in fiction, the impact here starts small and personal at first, both to Feyre and the reader, setting it up to be very satisfying when the story expands to envelope Maas’ whole universe.
That’s when the fun starts. Feyre ends up in the Spring Court, captive for life to High Lord Tamlin – who looks, in my mind, like Chris Hemsworth at a Renaissance Faire. His courtier Lucien (in my mind, it’s Domhnall Gleeson circa Bill Weasley) and maid Alis, are the only other figures in Feyre’s new life. She resists at first, but Tamlin wears her down with his Hemsworthiness and, eventually, they’re all dining and riding horses and presumably twirling in fields alive with the sound of music. Feyre, a fledgling painter who never had coin for supplies, is fitted out with endless canvas and color by Tamlin, who knows the way to a woman’s heart is just to give her whatever she wants. It works. Swooning ensues.
Then comes Calanmai, the Fire Night festival, during which three things happen:
- Feyre goes where she shouldn’t
- Feyre meets someone she shouldn’t
- Tamlin gets half naked and smeared with paint
From here on, there are a few scenes that will make you blush big time- or, in my case, have a very awkward moment with the drive-thru lady at McDonald’s who can clearly hear the heavy breathing and uncensored dialogue coming from your car stereo while you shout over it, trying to order ice tea. This is young adult?! This is red-band material, what we call a “hard R” rating! And both of those phrases sound like exactly the sexytime adult content they represent.
Short version of the book’s conflict: Bad magic is about. It’s coming for Tamlin. He releases Feyre from captivity and returns her to the human world in a dress, with wagonloads of money. But she lurrrrrrves him, so she puts her pants back on and returns. Only to be captured by evil fae general Amarantha, who has stolen the power of the fae lords and keeps them, and many of their courts, like prisoners in her palace under a mountain. I’m picturing the Lonely Mountain from The Lord of the Rings, with Amarantha as a kind of Smaug.
But Amarantha is not a dragon, nor is she blind. She has wanted Tamlin forever – that’s what you get for looking like Thor – and finally has him in her clutches, if not her bed. Then leverage is dragged in the door: Feyre.
I’ll leave the rest to the reading, except Rhysand. The High Lord of the Night Court, Rhysand is Amarantha’s evil, violent and extremely powerful High Fae lapdog and lover… or is he? He joins in Feyre’s torment… or does he?
This is where Maas’ story and character development go from good to great. Rhysand is all nuance and reading between the lines. His intentions, always two-faced, are mistaken by Feyre and cloudy to the reader, but they are deep, curious and, ultimately, cunning as all hell. He leaps off the page. While Feyre’s heart is devoted to Tamlin as she rages, against all odds, to free both herself and the entire land of Prythian from a foe she cannot possibly defeat, Rhys is the most interesting character here. He is Maas’ masterpiece, and by the time I was done breathlessly speed-reading A Court of Thorns and Roses, I was thanking God the second book in this series, A Court of Mist and Fury, was already downloaded to Audible and ready to go.