When Alexandra described Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses to me as Beauty and the Beast with fae courts, the premise hooked me. As if retelling the story that inspired one of my favorite Disney movies wasn’t enough, A Court of Thorns and Roses fills a gap in the YA/NA supernatural books that I feel has been sorely lacking. In areas of literature where sparkly vampires and shirtless werewolves dominate, A Court of Thorns and Roses explores the deep mythology of the fae.
And for those readers who go into A Court of Thorns and Roses expecting a Disney princess tale, you’re in for a deadly ride through the otherworldly realm of Prythian. And a wild, steamy romance between a beautiful, sarcastic young woman and an unearthly attractive immortal fae. Because come on, guys. What’s a YA/NA novel without some immortal-on-mortal action?
But before we get to the romance, let’s talk about where A Court of Thorns and Roses shines: character and world building. The premise might have been what originally hooked me, but Maas’ characters and world building glued my eyes to the page.
A Court of Thorns and Roses follows the story of Feyre, a human girl of eighteen forced to provide for her family after her father’s merchant business falls apart. Is the name Feyre a little on the nose in a book about the fae? Yeah, but it works. Anyway, while hunting to make sure her father and two sisters didn’t starve, she kills a fey wolf near the wall that separates the human realm from the fey realms. As a later result, Tamlin, High Lord of the Spring Court, bursts through the door to their cottage and claims she broke the terms of the treaty signed after the war between humans and fae. In punishment, he must take her back to the fae realm of Prythian to live out the rest of her life.
The start to Feyre and Tamlin’s relationship sets the tone for the rest of the book. A Court of Thorns and Roses is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but this is not a children’s tell. Feyre murders a fey to defend her family, and accepts the punishment for her crime even though she knows her family will probably die without her. Feyre is a compelling character because, instead of living for her dreams, she lives her life based on the promise she made to her dying mother that she would hold the family together. However, she believes she has failed in her duty to her mother, even though all her wildest daydreams might come true in Prythian. Feyre’s arc in A Court of Thorns and Roses (and the sequels) is a work of art.
Prythian is a wondrous, and dangerous, place for Feyre, full of monstrous fae and political intrigue. I loved the details I got of the fae courts in A Court of Thorns and Roses. I wanted more details about the courts outside the Spring Court, but the reader is forced to figure out the world from the bits and pieces Feyre gathers from her interactions with Tamlin and Lucien, Tamlin’s right hand man.
The structure of Prythian society fascinated me. I loved the political aspects of the courts and the power levels of the different fae Feyre encounters. Each court is ruled by a High Lord and his court is made up of high fae. These are the kinds of fae who look humanoid. In the societal hierarchy, the high fae are above the lesser fae, who are more bestial. Side note: as a D&D player, I was constantly trying to figure out the power levels and stats of the High Lords, high fae, and lesser faeries. Yes, I’m a nerd. 😉
But enough world building and on to the mushy stuff! Maas handles the inevitable romance between Feyre and Tamlin with grace. These are two characters who are forced to deal with each other for a good portion of the book, but their romantic relationship never felt forced to me. There’s no spectre of Stockholm Syndrome because Feyre is not a prisoner. Tamlin tells her she is free to leave the Spring Court if she so chooses. As long as she stays in Prythian to fulfill her punishment, Feyre is free to go wherever she wants. They are both adults, and every part of the romance is treated as an adult relationship, including the sex scenes. Feyre and Tamlin also fall into romance naturally, not because the plot tells them they must, which is a welcome change in my view.
Of course, no book is perfect. Because A Court of Thorns and Roses is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast story, some of the story beats and characters will be familiar to those who have read the story or watched the Disney version. However, Maas brings enough originality to the tale that she makes it her own. For example, there is a character in the beginning of the novel who claims to have hunted fae. She is the Gaston-equivalent in A Court of Thorns and Roses, but she has her one scene in the beginning of the book and then is never heard from again. There are more than enough fresh story details to differentiate A Court of Thorns and Roses from other Beauty and the Beast stories (especially the Disney version with those steamy sex scenes)
Also, the final act of the act of the book feels rushed. All the sudden, the antagonist who has been in the background the entire book shows up and turns everything on its head. Part of this has story reasons for it, and it means the other two acts take their time developing the relationship between Feyre, Tamlin, and Lucien. This is a good thing, but it just makes the final act feel out of place. I just wish I had gotten more from Amorantha and her court under the mountain. Honestly, just that section of the book could have been an entire novel on its own. Which it probably will be if Hollywood ever makes a movie franchise of this series.
I devoured A Court of Thorns and Roses in a couple of days, and when I was done I clamored for more. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys smart, political fantasy with a strong female protagonist. Also, anyone who is tired of sexy vampires preying on teenagers.
Seriously though, A Court of Thorns and Roses is one of those books that blurs the line between YA and adult fantasy and it deserves any praise that it gets.
Do yourself a favor and read it!