When I started A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, I thought it was a trilogy and committed to the first three. I’ve since learned the series does not stop with A Court of Wings and Ruin, but I don’t know that I’ll continue with the subsequent installments. I say that partly because of criticism I’ve seen regarding the latest in the series, but also because I don’t know how much further Maas can propel this Beauty & the Beast retelling such that it keeps my interest, and there are just so many books calling to me; maybe I’ll change my mind after reading A Court of Wings and Ruin (whenever that happens), but I’m not adding them to my TBR yet.
Now that the unnecessary intro is out of the way, let’s move on to the review of A Court of Mist and Fury (Bloomsbury, 2016). Despite being a little on the chonky side, the paperback comes in at 624 pages, she’s a wicked quick read and an excellent follow-up to ACOTAR. Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, having survived her trials in Under the Mountain. As a newly minted High Fae, she finds herself struggling to not only remember who she was before her neck was snapped, but also to reconcile that with who she’s been forced to become. As her marriage to Tamlin approaches, she finds herself in a state of panic. Then Rhysand appears to ferry her off to the Night Court, the bargain previously made not forgotten. But much like in ACOTAR, things are not always what they seem. And there’s a war just on the horizon. Feyre has already saved the fae once. Can she do it again?
I wondered in my review of ACOTAR how far Rhysand’s redemption arc would take him, and now I know. And I get why people adore him. He’s layered and complex. Beautiful and brilliant. Cunning and creative. And he sees Feyre for what she is. Loves her for what she is. Wants her for what she is. In a battle between the fighter and the dreamer, the dreamer will almost always win the heart of the beauty.
But what about Tamlin, the fighter. He was clearly presented as the beast that the beauty would come to love in book one. In book two, he becomes even more of a beast – his aggression, anger, and desire to control and possess Feyre even more apparent. As intended, the reader hates him. But is it fair that we discard him as abusive?
Hear me out. Tamlin is a beast. He is supposed to be. But so is Rhysand, and his relationship with Feyre is just as toxic in its own way. He lies to her. He manipulates her. He puts her in situations where he knows she will be in danger without revealing to her his intentions or the hazards. He uses her. He tests her. And I’m only referring to incidences after she chooses to leave Tamlin. It’s not the same toxicity, but it’s still toxic. It’s painted with a softer brush because Feyre can get in his head to have it explained after the fact. She doesn’t get in Tamlin’s head – she’s not privy to those private emotions. If she were, it wouldn’t change his actions, but it would change how the reader perceives them.
This is a Beauty and the Beast retelling. As I said in my ACOTAR review, it pulls from various versions of the fairytale – many, actually most, of which were dark. Tamlin is a monster, but so is Rhys.
And so is Feyre.
And that’s not only okay, it’s what will make me read the third book. Maas has created a world where, without apologies, the heroes are also the villains, and the beauties are also the beasts.