Taken from Goodreads:
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.
This was a book that I kept seeing on Bookstagrams and Goodreads that people couldn’t seem to stop drooling over. Sarah J. Mass is slowly becoming more and more prominent in YA. Her Throne of Glass series is on nearly everyone’s feed no matter what bookish tags you’re in. So, when I found A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACTR) on sale on Amazon I figured it was time to finally give some of her work a go.
I have not been so annoyed in a long time.
I can see from the Goodreads rating that I am in the minority, but honestly it seems I always end up that way when it comes to bestsellers. My first mistake with ACTR was that I didn’t read the synopsis. I knew it was a beauty and the beast retelling, but I went in pretty blind, following the obvious hype of the book that I had seen. I don’t have a lot of nice things to say about this book, so my following critiques may not be as polite as other reviews.
First of all I’ll say that Mass’ plot for this book was poorly developed. She follows an almost stock story, keeping with many of the same plot twists and events that are grossly common in all simplistic tellings of the original folktale. If you’ve seen the Disney version you can basically guess what is going to happen page by page in this book. I will bend a little and acknowledge that Mass has a decently original premise. Fairies have been noticeably absent from YA since the earlier 2000’s (2001-2009), so I respect her effort to revitalize them, especially with fairytale retellings being on the rise. However, this creative enterprise did not receive the plot it deserves. The main character Feyre and her fairy love interest Tamlin (dubbed “faebae” by my roommate) are products of this poor storytelling. I’m not much for a straight love story, and maybe if I was I would have found this tale more enjoyable. I doubt it, but there is a possibility.
The entire 416 pages of this novel consisted of forcing the hapless reader of watching the two main character fall inexplicably and unrealistically in love. I believe my main problem with this plot choice was the two main characters, a generous title for the bland expanse of printed space that their names took up. Ferye is the snarky/stupid, scrappy, skinny™ character while Tamlin is the basic white prince/soldier/boy that seems to dominate the consciousness of all above mentioned ™characters. There was no part of me that at any part of this book sympathized with Feyre. When a reader can’t at least understand your protagonist’s motivation there is a serious issue. If I had to explain why I could not see Feyre’s motivation and understand her reasonings I suppose I would have to say that I don’t think she had any. I spent the first 200 pages of this novel wondering what the fucking point was. Nothing she did seemed to make sense. At first she wants to return to take care of her family, but once she learns they are being provided for she still looks to escape. Why? It’s never actually explained. Feyre is an uncurious and narrow-minded protagonist who jumps on the first act of decency Tamlin shows her and immediately decides that he’s got the dick she wants to ride.
Normally I don’t have a problem with love story arcs in the novels I read. I draw the line when I feel they aren’t realistic. Feyre went from hating varies and Tamlin with every inch of her annoying little body to suddenly wanting nothing more than to wax poetic about Tamlin’s physical attributes for several pages. Nothing about their relationship was realistic. I have never once heard “true love” or any kind of lasting relationships described the way Mass chose to describe Tamlin’s and Feyre’s amorous exploits. Some specific quotes that earned numerous eye rolls would be “I was as unburdened as a piece of dandelion fluff, and he was the wind that stirred me about the world” (228), “I became aware of every pore in my body when his tongue entered my mouth.” (245), and “I ground against his hand, yielding completely to the writhing wildness that had roared alive inside of me, and breathed his name onto his skin” (246). Not quoted would be the multiple times Mass refers to their encounters as fiery, furnace like, enflaming, all consuming, ect. The novel went from mildly annoying to badly written soft core erotica suitable for Harlequin Teen.
As far as characters go the majority of my annoyances will be voiced on Feyre; this is because there isn’t enough substance in the other characters to relegate much space on a page to talk about them. Tamlin can be summarized in a single word: basic. he is the unfolded male character that exists only so that readers can project their own ideas of perfection onto him. A perfect stock character. The other members of the supporting cast, such as Rhysand and Lucien, exist only as convenient helpers and comic relief for moments where the main couple gets to be a little too obnoxious.
As far as story construction goes I was even more disappointed. Mass keeps her readers completely in the dark except for one info dump until we reach the 300’s page wise. Anyone who has managed to stick it out that far will then be privy to two enormous info dumps from the other two prevalent female characters, Alis and Amarantha, that clears up all of the obvious information that Feyre never knew and is then shamed for not being clever enough to figure out. These info dumps apparently served as an okay for having the rest of the story be bland and unlaced, leaving the reader struggling through chapter after chapter of stupidity on Feyre’s part and bland existence on Tamlin’s.
Another issue I had with the storytelling would have been the fact that I feel like I have read two books. The first half of the novel, which focuses on Feyre and Tamlin developing unspoken feelings and going on strange dates while the curse Tamlin and his house are under (shoutout to Disney) keeps them from telling Feyre about anything that’s happening in their world, dragged. The second half which has Feyre rushing in to save Tamlin and the rest of his fairy court from Amarantha, an evil queen with a pitiful background and motivation of her own. The second half of the novel was disjointed from the rest, and was amazingly just as slow and ridiculous as the rest of the novel. I hazard to say that the 340 odd pages spent on useless interaction could have been filled so much petter with court intrigue and well thought out mind games, making the 160 pages of actual action so much more enjoyable.
To conclude, ACTR was a wasted opportunity. Mass set the novel up with the possibilities of being something along the lines of The Other Boleyn Girl or Cruel Beauty with a well earned love story and plenty of court drama to keep in interesting. Unfortunately, she did not deliver that. The most disappointing for me however is the fact that this novel is the first of a six book series.