Themes Explored: fairy tales, fantasy, fairie mythology, folklore, beauty, morality, evil, wickedness, death, magic, enchantment, court politics, enslavement, familial relationships, sibling love, fate, destiny, illiteracy, curses, love, romance, hunting, survival, self-preservation, self-reliance, perseverance, art
Synopsis: When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Review: Fairy tale retellings are either brilliant or lackluster. Sometimes authors strive so ardently for originality that they forget to add in the one element all fairy tales require: magic. Now magic can refer to either the mystical powers bestowed upon certain characters or just a feeling of other-worldliness with tinges of the supernatural. A Court of Thorns and Roses is the first book in Sarah J Maas’ new series based upon the Tale of Tam Lin and Beauty and the Beast. Maas rose to prominence with her excellent Throne of Glass Series and her newest venture is just as fantastic. She is quickly becoming one of the few authors whose books I will buy before reading them at the library. If you enjoy fairy tale retellings of Maas’ previous works, then I believe A Court of Thorns and Roses will appeal to you.
A Court of Thorns and Roses is about Feyre, a young mortal woman who lives in poverty with her older sisters and maimed father. Once upon a time her family was quite well off, but a bad debt caused them to lose everything. Instead of a mansion, they now inhabit a desolate cabin in the woods, not too far from the border separating mortal lands from the dangerous fairie realms. One day during a hunting trip, Feyre kills a wolf for food. Unbeknownst to her, this action results in her violating an ancient treaty and sets off a chain reaction of events that will forever change Feyre’s life. She is soon whisked off to the fairie realm and has to learn how to survive in this magical land where nothing is as it seems. And then there are the confounding fairies themselves, mainly the mysterious Tamlin and Lucien.
This is a completely new fantasy world, quite different from the land created in Throne of Glass. The only similarities are the strong heroines with hunting abilities and magic. Feyre lives on a giant island that is slightly reminiscient of Great Britain. It is divided between the mortal and immortal realms. Humans are constantly afraid that the Fae will invade once again and the Fae are terrified of the creeping blight that is slowly leeching away their magic. Both realms are overshadowed by a feeling of constant dread. The world building is fantastic. Maas excels at creating unique and enchanting worlds. However, the Fae realm is definitely more developed than the mortal realm, which makes sense since the majority of the action occurs in the Fae world. The mortal realm is used more as comparison to show how the world works and functions without magic. And is it an incredibly bleak and colorless existence. There is a nice contrast between the two realms and they never feel similar. Maas utilizes different words and turns of phrase when describing the two places.
Maas fleshes out the tale with some unique concepts and back history. For instance, the Fae used to enslave the humans. As such, there is a deep seated animosity between the two species. Over 500 years ago, after a devastating battle, a peace treaty was enacted to keep the fae and mortal realms separated. However, the Blight on the Fae magic is slowly eroding the border wall and tension is brewing amongst the various High Fae courts. One great background feature is the different Fae species. Not all of them are high nobility with striking good looks. Some have wings and pointy teeth. Others have bark for skin. Or blue skin. Some are short and rotund. Then there are the corrupted Fae, the creatures of legend that inspire fear and terror in the hearts off all who see them. Maas weaves some fairy lore into the narrative and adds her own spin. The result is a diverse Fae kingdom that is incredibly alien yet beautiful to behold.
I prefer novels with multi-dimensional characters and was delighted with the development of Feyre over the course of the narrative. Feyre is the daughter of a well-to-do merchant but has spent most of her life in poverty. As a result she never learned the social graces and is illiterate. But she did teach herself how to hunt in order to survive. She is prickly and reserved, especially of the fairies. Also, she can be both hard hearted and cold when she feels slighted or ignored. Feyre lives a hard existence, she is her family’s only source of income and food. While she has basically sacrificed her youth and freedom to save her family from starvation, it has caused her to become bitter and slightly resentful. Especially since her sisters seem to neither appreciate all her sacrifice or show any willingness to help. Instead they just wait around for Feyre to come home with money for them to spend. Her father is a broken, depressed man who wallows in his misery.
Feyre is also quite prideful and incredibly independent. When she is taken into the Fairie realm, she is slow to trust her captures. And understandably so. She is treated quite sell by Tamlin, even though she murdered his friend. There are a lot of parallels between this story and Beauty and the Beast. Except in this version Feyre is excited to use Tamlin’s art gallery instead of a library. Tamlin and Lucien, the two main fairies, are rather underdeveloped. There is some depth to both of them, but they are not quite fully developed either. Hopefully this will change in future installments. However, my main gripe is the romance between Feyre and Tamlin. The “romance” in Beauty and the Beast always seemed slightly akin to Stockholm Syndrome. The female is imprisoned and then slowly falls in love with her captor. Though, in this novel, Feyre is free to leave is she wishes. So it is a little different.
In the Tale of Tam Lin, the female protagonist has to rescue her love from the Queen of the Fairies. Maas borrows heavily from this tale, though she puts a malevonent twist on it. The narrative contains many twists and turns and is quite unpredictable in parts. However, I am worried that a love triangle is going to develop. Rhysand, another fairie, is introduced late in the narrative. And he clearly exists to be the sexy bad boy love foil to Tamlin’s lightness. I despise love triangles and desperately hope Maas avoids that over used trope. Also, the bad boy lover with a streak of compassion is incredibly overused in literature. Overall, A Court of Thorns and Roses is a magically twisted fairy tale retelling that will leave you craving more. I am excited to see where Maas takes the narrative next.
A Court of Thorns & Roses, Bloomsbury Children’s, 2015,9781619634442