I had not intended for this review to be this long, but it seems like I had a lot to say about it.
The first segment will be general observations about the narrative. The following segments will mention character names and refer to specific incidents/quotes, and are thus in SPOILER territory.
If you have not read the book yet, please ensure you stop reading before the spoiler section (denoted with *****) begins.
A review is more often than not nothing more than an opinion, yet I feel that the issues I’m about to raise are not about personal taste. For example, some readers adore love-triangles, and others loathe them. If an author chooses to incorporate a love-triangle in their story, they must do it convincingly. If they choose to incorporate crude language, sexuality, and violence, they must do so with purpose and not just to grab a reader’s attention. Readers are intelligent. They can tell if a scene or an incident in a story is acting as filler, propels the plot in an inorganic manner, or serves as an element of shock.
The story is told in first-person perspective, through the eyes of a human girl named Feyre. The problem with first person narration is that the reader experiences exactly what the protagonist experiences. We see/hear/feel/taste as the protagonist does. So when the protagonist sees something dangerous (and fully acknowledges it as dangerous), she cannot then <i>act</i> as though it isn’t dangerous, because that would be implausible.
In third person perspective, we are not in the character’s head, so there is always a possibility that the character has misinterpreted the danger ahead. But when in first-perspective narration a character goes on and on about how lethal their enemy is, it is not believable for them to mouth off or say something snide. This doesn’t make the character brave. It makes them appear foolish; too foolish and devoid of common sense for a reader to be able to root for them.
A good character does not need to be ‘good’. They don’t need to have honor/integrity. They can be vicious and cruel. They can be weak and cowardly. What makes a character real and relatable is authenticity; that their character traits, motivations, desires, fears, and behaviours match. If they think cowardly thoughts, they must take cowardly actions. If they are arrogant, it should often translate into behavior/dialogue. But when characters are forced to say things out of character, or when they behave contrary to their inner thoughts/beliefs, they become intolerable plot-devices. Their speech and behavior becomes contrived and the reader loses interest in their fate.
That is what happened with the protagonist of this story. Changes in her thoughts and behavior were erratic, irrational, and uncalled for. She did not have a smooth arc that stemmed from personal growth, an incident, or an epiphany. She was hard-headed not out of principle, which didn’t make her a strong female character, but an aggravating one.
A major issue I had with this book was the fact that for the first ¾ of the book, virtually nothing happened. The protagonist is held captive in the lap of luxury and makes defiant small talk with her amiable captors. Any time she enquires about something, she is refused clarity in a passive manner, and so instead of suspense, the story quickly began to lose steam. It was boring at best, and irritating at worse.
What I found especially off-putting was how after two dozen chapters of a particular character uttering one or two short sentences at a time, keeping the protagonist in the dark and refusing to provide information, there is suddenly a 21-page info-dump; 21 pages of long, expositional paragraphs that read dryly, as though being regurgitated by a drone. It’s unfortunate because these 21 pages of backstory could have been sprinkled throughout the story in order to build suspense/anticipation. Instead the reader is simply waiting during the first 200 or so pages of the book as the protagonist eats lunch, takes walks, eats dinner, skips breakfast, rides on horses, avoids making conversation, drinks, eats, tries to steal a butter knife at breakfast, thinks about painting, remembers painting back at home, attempts painting, fails at painting, admires other paintings.
******************* FROM THIS POINT ON, SPOILERS MAY BE EMBEDDED IN THE STORY *******************
CONCERNS WITH THE PLOT:
A ‘life for a life’ is the same adage as ‘an eye for an eye’. But what makes this adage powerful is the notion that one ‘pays’ for their actions by enduring the same fate as the person they wronged. In this instance, since Feyre killed a wolf (a High Fae in disguise), her punishment should’ve been death, not captivity. Now, I can fully sympathize with the punisher’s choice to show mercy; to decide to lessen the punishment they are entitled to dole out. But what didn’t make sense is the high lord claiming there is no way around the ‘Treaty’ and that Feyre must pay for her crime, and then diminishing the value of the Treaty by not adhering to its stipulations.
Onto the notion of Feyre’s captivity as atonement: Had Feyre been confined to a dark cell, or had she been forced to work as a lowly maid, I would’ve found the High Fae Tamlin to be generous and merciful for sparing her life. But when Feyre, an allegedly lowly human is ‘sentenced’ to an eternally beautiful spring court and a lavish lifestyle at a palace, well-fed, treated with respect, and waited on by a personal maid, I have a hard time viewing her circumstances as punishment. Especially since the ‘wolf’ she killed wasn’t just any High Fae. He was a close friend of Tamlin’s. This scenario risks the possibility that the reader resents Feyre; she committed what is deemed to be an unforgivable crime, and she is in a way being rewarded for it. Conversely, this arrangement between the two makes Tamlin appear weak for not enforcing the Treaty as he was required to. It makes his actions questionable, making him an unbelievable character with no genuine motivations.
In spite of tremendous wealth and comfort, Feyre attempts to escape on multiple occasions. I had a difficult time tolerating this behaviour because her reasoning for wanting to escape made little sense. She thinks very low of her father because he has done virtually nothing to support Feyre and her sisters. Her sisters are selfish, shallow, and blatantly cruel to her. The author makes it very clear through Feyre’s interactions with her sister Nesta (and her inner thoughts) that she wishes she didn’t have to support her family. Furthermore, the author never displays any redeeming quality in Feyre’s family for the readers to believe Feyre cares about them to any extent. In fact, Feyre’s thoughts repeatedly mention that had it not been for her promise to her cold-hearted mother, she’d want to leave and be elsewhere. Because of the hostile conditions of Feyre’s status quo, risking escape through the lethal forest lining the immortal land of Prythian (to get back to her shack of a home and a family she obviously resents) was quite unbelievable, and frankly, frustrating.
The entire first act of the novel, Feyre dismisses beauty as something useless that cannot aid her in survival. Yet from the moment she arrives at the court, every other page she mentions how she’d like to paint. Her preoccupation with art became rather irritating when under life-threatening circumstances, she’d have a random thought concerning painting. For example, she is thrown at the feet of evil Queen Amarantha who could kill her at a moment’s notice, and Feyre’s thought over the Queen’s evilness is: “to paint her would have driven me to madness.” Painting should be the last thing that comes to someone’s mind when their life is hanging in the balance. Too many instances Feyre’s inner monologue interrupts the flow of the story with truly insignificant thoughts.
In all fairness, Feyre’s obsession with painting was likely meant to be a replacement for reading. As a twist to the classic ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tale where Belle is different from other girls due to her intelligence, Feyre is illiterate. Now, I believe it’s the author’s prerogative to retell this story any way they want. But if painting is to be a crucial part of Feyre’s identity, it needs to be more than a shallow depiction of “so much light, so much color.” Without any deep meaning behind painting, the concept becomes vague, and the activity turns into a cheap distraction for the protagonist. If Feyre’s preoccupation with painting stemmed from her need to capture moments of her fleeting mortality, or the need to remember the face of a deceased loved one, or to remember the beauty of a home she’s lost, the readers would deeply empathize with her character. Painting would become an incredibly powerful plot device, symbolizing emotional turmoil, grief, hope, and solitude. Instead, painting remains a simple excuse for Feyre to open up to Tamlin when he offers her brushes and canvases; in a way, he ‘buys’ her affection. This is especially problematic since Feyre thus far had been completely blind to Tamlin’s mercy, generosity, kindness and integrity, and it is only when he facilitates a ‘hobby’ of hers that the ‘attraction/flirting’ between the two commences; attraction which comes far too suddenly, far too strongly, and deepens in the absence of any meaningful conversation/interaction.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and ACOTAR COMPARISON:
Like I’ve mentioned, I believe any author is free to make any changes to a classic tale as they wish. What I find a cause for concern, however, is when the story is ‘sold’ as a ‘retelling’ when the premise strays too far from deep attributes that made the original a classic:
Belle is smart and well-read, whereas Feyre is illiterate.
Belle selflessly loves her father (who is a brilliant inventor and loves his daughter in return). Feyre resents he father who sits around and does nothing, and is always at odds with her sister, Nesta.
Belle is unimpressed by Gaston’s beauty. Feyre is incessantly talking about Tamlin’s perfect jaw, his tanned skin, green eyes, golden hair and muscular body. Whatever shade of green there is in the world it seems Feyre has compared Tamlin’s eyes to.
Belle risks her life to find her father, then sacrifices her freedom for him. Feyre kills a wolf Faery out of blind hate and ignorance, and her punishment for this is being captive at a luxurious spring court, waited on by magical folk and her family being more than provided for.
Belle escapes because the beast becomes violent and terrifies her. Feyre plots and tries to escape for no plausible reasons beyond ‘keeping a promise’.
Belle gives the beast an even trade: ‘a captive for a captive’, and he accepts her request begrudgingly. Tamlin claims ‘a life for a life’, but instead of killing Feyre, he brings her to the court and hopes she will fall in love with him so that he can be free of his curse, which plays as dishonest, and borders on manipulation.
The beast is an actual beast, inside and out. He is arrogant, short-tempered, cruel, ugly, and immature. Tamlin’s curse is a mask covering the top half of his face (and slightly diminished powers). He is impossibly attractive in spite of it as we are repeatedly reminded, the only beastly thing about him being his claws. He is generous, forgiving, kind, polite, mature, and well-dressed; and he rarely (ever, actually) transforms into his beast form after his first encounter with Feyre.
Belle, despite the beast’s dominating personality, stands up for herself with grace and dignity. She teaches him to be well-mannered, patient, and kind. Feyre, instead of being grateful for everything Tamlin has done for her, repeatedly insults him. She antagonizes him despite her running inner dialogue of how dangerous he is and how quickly he could “shred her to ribbons.”
The beast grows from Belle’s behavior and shows her vulnerability. Over the course of months, they slowly get to know one another. They slowly fall in love with each other’s souls, not appearance. Feyre is completely oblivious to everything, rude and crude, and the moment Tamlin offers her a place to paint, she begins to fall in love with him. Their dynamic which was stiff and underdeveloped for roughly 100 pages is suddenly romantic, flirty, and lustful, and from then on, Feyre is repeatedly objectified.
Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful story about growth, honor, integrity, self-sacrifice, and ultimately, love. A Court of Thorns and Roses has similar plot elements, but with respect to growth, intelligence, and integrity, I’ve had a difficult time drawing correlations.
THE AUTHOR’S WRITING STYLE:
Maas’s descriptions are beautiful. Stunning even. And the faeries themselves were creatively described. I thoroughly enjoyed the way she conjures imagery in the reader’s mind. There were however some notable issues, mostly having to do with era-appropriate dialogue and descriptions:
For example: In a world where we speak of high lords and high ladies, where people live in shacks, villages, and palaces, hunt for a living and speak old English, the following stand out as glaringly modern and unbecoming:
“Having the balls to even ask…”
Referring to the coachman directing a horse-carriage as the “driver.”
“My father was throwing a ball at our home.”
In addition to the aforementioned words that belong to modern dialogue, there were many contemporary slang phrases that did not fit the ‘world’ of ACOTAR. Replacing words of an idiom with classic synonyms is ineffectual. What we deem as sarcasm is a modern phenomenon, and when characters in an old-era fantasy speak these ‘adapted’ idioms, the dialogue sounds synthetic, or worse yet, the characters sound like urban teenagers.
The author too often breaks a sentence and repeats the words surrounding the ellipses/dashes, like:
“All this—all this he had done for me.”
“He said he would come… come to the festivities.”
“And he knew—he knew I’d say no.”
“I—I don’t know.”
Too often Feyre impulsively blurts out something outrageously inappropriate, then immediately thinks, “I surely will be killed for that.” And yet she continues to behave in this ludicrous manner over and over again. This can be quite frustrating for the reader to put up with. The author best avoid giving graphic descriptions of just how dangerous the High Fae can be through the protagonist’s own voice, and then have that same protagonist behave in a completely contradictory manner to their own thoughts and beliefs. She “barks” insults at Tamlin and Rhysand, calling them names, but takes offence to absolutely everything, even when their statements are completely innocent.
She insists on not believing/appreciating Tamlin taking care of her family and providing for him. She insists on putting her life in danger in order to escape, even though Tamlin has done nothing to instill doubt in her mind regarding his intentions.
Feyre has known her entire life, an further warned by the maid in the palace not to enter the forest for it is filled with dangerous faeries that would kill her in a blink. And yet she does this multiple times in order to get ‘answers’. Answers she (for some reason) refuses to ask of good-mannered Tamlin who is clearly eager to please her. It’s implausible for a character to repeatedly raise the same question in her head as if it’s of vital importance, and refuse to obtain the answer from the easiest imaginable source because of her pride.
It is never established why either Tamlin or Rhysand fall for Feyre. She isn’t described as a great beauty. She is illiterate and ill-mannered. Her personality is often repulsive (the sort only fiction tolerates as acceptable for a person).
Amarantha, the villain in this story is evil for the sake of being evil. No depth or layers to her. She wants Tamlin, only Tamlin and no one else, and tortures Feyre and other women out of spite. She appears far too late in the narrative and despite the hype around her powers (and half a century of domination over thousands of powerful faeries and High Lords) she is easily defeated at the end of the story by her minions. This was problematic because she is introduced far too late into the story for her crippling grip on Prythian to feel like a real threat.
WHAT I ENJOYED:
The beginning of the book was the most enchanting to me. Maas’s descriptions of snow, of the cold, of the cold and barren forest and the dangers lurking in the niveous labyrinth were eloquent, beautiful, spellbinding.
The conversation between Rhysand and Feyre in the cell. Rhysand isn’t that complex of a character, but there was more dimension (a duality) to him than most characters.
The trials: they were imaginative, fast-paced, and the way Feyre completed them was witty (Rhysand’s involvement was plausible and clever).
Maas’s descriptions of settings. Very vivid and beautiful.
SOME OF MY PERSONAL DISLIKES:
Feyre’s importance to Tamlin and Rhysand never felt authentic. Both men’s attraction to her felt contrived.
The author’s repeated references to one soiling themselves, vomiting (far too many variations of it), and ineloquent statements like “my bowls turned watery.”
Writing a book is a tremendous task. It requires immense dedication, and I have the utmost respect for anyone who attempts it. Mrs. Maas is clearly gifted, and the amount of work she has put into this work is by no means lost on her readers. My opinions on her novel are simply a reflection of my thoughts and feelings, and in no way a reflection of the quality of her work. What I might have difficultly resonating with might be the very thing another reader develops a deep connection with, and that is who the author writes for. Those who <i>do</i> connect with a story. I sure hope my opinions of this story do not deter anyone from experiencing its wonders for themselves, for there is a lot to enjoy, appreciate, and be in awe of.