I Finally Read “A Court of Thorns and Roses”

I’m a sucker for any kind of fairytale retelling. For example, I was obsessed with Gail Carson Levine’s delightful and tragically underrated series “The Princess Tales,” which were sly, witty retellings of lesser-known fairytales. Her first book, “The Fairy’s Mistake,” is based on the fairytale “Diamonds and Toads,” and carefully described the unintended consequences of giving a crappy, confident person the power to vomit snakes.

Since that age, I’ve been hooked on these kinds of stories, and when I first learned about “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” (otherwise known as ACOTAR) I figured it was time to add it to my list. I had heard it was a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” one of my all-time favorites, and I knew I’d love it.

Then I started reading it. And then I stopped after the first 50 pages. That was in 2019.

I stopped reading for a few reasons. Mainly, I felt like I was rereading an inferior version of “The Hunger Games,” only with all the brutality and starvation and none of the impressive world-building or stimulating ethical conundrums. And to anyone reading this feeling the beginning stirrings of rage and righteous indignation, please remember that I only read a tiny section of the book, and didn’t know anything yet about the various Courts and characters. All I saw was a fairytale-inspired fanfiction about Katniss Everdeen (and obviously, Peeta Mellark was going to be the fearsome yet gentle beast who brings her to his castle).

I could not find the right kind of fan art for this post, so I was forced to make my own

If you think, “Wow, what a crappy take,” then I would kindly remind you that this is not the first time I’ve had a terrible take on a book, and also that I am trying to be honest about my initial reaction to the story. Frankly, I didn’t find the mystery behind Tamlin’s mask all that interesting, and I was especially underwhelmed by Feyre’s character. At my first reading, she struck me as the kind of person who would do a favor for you and then resent you for it. She held her family in such contempt, yet when Tamlin swept her away to the Spring Court, her entire motivation was to return to her family, whom she still didn’t like but had sworn to care for. It was certainly complicated, but not in a way I appreciated.

Also, I have a low threshold for characters who seem intent on martyring themselves for those who don’t appreciate them. It feels like a cheap trick on the writer’s end to try and get me to sympathize with a character and their Cinderella-esque circumstances. Except they forget that Cinderella wasn’t a martyr so much as a victim of abuse who needed help escaping her wicked family. And I’ve met enough martyrs in real life who think that sacrificing their happiness over and over again will score them points on the Galactic Scale of Karmic Happiness. One day, the Universe will pay them a hundredfold for their years of suffering.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t exactly work like that, and my philosophy is if you’re going to do a favor for someone, you should do it because it’s the nice thing to do, not because you’ll receive a Cosmic reward for it.

So anyway, back to Feyre and Tamlin. I was initially intrigued by their relationship, but I ruined it for myself by searching Pinterest for fanart and opinions on the series. Within five minutes, I knew that Feyre would not marry Tamlin, but rather some other dude with bat wings, and the series was way longer and more complex than I had originally thought.

I also watched some of the reviews by “Read with Cindy” on this series and figured it wasn’t for me.

I apologize if my blatant spoiling of the series has further enraged anyone, but what can I say? I’m like those toddlers in the marshmallow test. You may tell me that greater rewards await me if I can refrain from snacking on that lone marshmallow, but why would I wait when there’s a marshmallow right there?

I’m not a big fan of avoiding spoilers, but rather the opposite. I’m an “it’s about the journey, not the destination” kind of reader. It’s the same reason I’ve read so many different versions of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” even though I know the main characters will end up together in the end. Some people like to power walk through a forest, and I get that, but I want to stop and look at the trees along the way.

I could spend hours discussing the cultural importance of retelling stories and the comfort audiences find in exploring the familiar. I’ve touched on it briefly in my post about romance novels and empathy. However, this post is about Sarah J. Maas’ “A Court of Thorns and Roses.”

It’s been four years since I put down the book, and yet I know more about the series than a regular reader. It’s because of this little phenomenon some people call “Nerd Osmosis.” For those unfamiliar, nerd osmosis is when you spend so much time engaged in nerd culture and communities that you inevitably become intimately familiar with some kind of media, whether or not you are interested in it. It’s like how I had to block “The Umbrella Academy” on Tumblr because too many people I followed were constantly posting GIFs, analyses, and headcanons from a show I’d never watched. Yet, I knew far too much about it.

The same exact thing happened with “A Court of Thorns and Roses.” Almost every book account I followed on Instagram posted fanart, inside jokes, and random references to the plot that I eventually assembled a sort of Frankenstein’s monster story in my mind.

It went something like this: A girl named Feyre falls in love with a fairy named Tamlin but has to defeat an evil fairy named Amarantha. Things with Tamlin go south, and he turns into a bad guy, but she starts shacking up with this other guy named Rhysand, who has bat wings and is a better lay. Everyone is horny all the time. There’s a battle at some point? Feyre’s sisters turn into fairies, and even though she hated them at the beginning of the first book, they all become besties. Eventually, Feyre gives birth to a tiny bat baby. Nesta hooks up with a guy with bat wings, and they bang constantly. There are a lot of stupid jokes about “wing span,” which is a euphemism.

After reading “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” I finally have a better idea of what happens in the series, although I don’t think I was far off with my initial synopsis. I have one major criticism of the first book that I will stand by: It should not have taken 200+ pages of story for the plot to become interesting.

I would have found the book more interesting if Feyre’s relationship with her sisters had some semblance of warmth, like in “Beauty” by Robin McKinley. While I think it’s unfair to compare Feyre from ACOTAR to the main character from “Beauty,” I just didn’t find her initial characterization all that compelling. I didn’t see how the descriptions of her bleak mortal life enhanced her character or the story. If anything, I think if her mortal life had been a little bit better, and maybe if her reduced circumstances could be attributed to the fae rather than blind prejudice, then I would have liked the book more.

I’m just going to take a brief moment to plug this book because middle-school me was obsessed

But if you’re wondering why I read this book even though I don’t have the best opinion of it, then allow me to explain: all my friends in my new town have read it, and I didn’t want to be left out. Tada!

Yep, in “News That Is News To Literally No One Who’s Met This Person,” despite my protestations that “I think for myself” and “my opinions are so unique,” I am still a total Lemming of a person. I want to be like the cool kids and read cool books about fairy mating or whatever. All of my friends here have either read ACOTAR or are in the process of reading ACOTAR, so now it’s my turn. Yay.

I also realized that if everyone I knew liked something, I wasn’t necessarily special or interesting for disliking it. And if I’m going to form an opinion about some aspect of media, then I can’t rely on nerd osmosis. When my friends tell me about a book or movie they especially love, the least I can do is try to give it a fair shot and then respect the fact that it’s meaningful to them.

My fully-formed opinion is that while “A Court of Thorns and Roses” isn’t my favorite book ever, I liked a lot of it. The story picked up once I got about halfway through, and I learned about the complexities of this fairytale world and the curse on Tamlin and his court. From that point on, once the story ceased to be a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling, I was a lot more engaged. I wanted to know more about the different aspects of the curse and how Feyre could free Tamlin’s people.

I especially liked reading about Feyre’s trials under the mountain. Feyre is a heroic character with a conscience, and I was enthralled as I watched her navigate the psychological horrors of Amarantha’s court. I like how the three trials tested different aspects of Feyre’s character, from her ability to hunt to her willingness to sacrifice a few innocents for the greater good. Unfortunately, Feyre almost getting herself and her friend killed by her illiteracy in the second trial probably shouldn’t have amused me as much as it did, but I have to blame that on my brain being composed of 75% memes and stupid jokes from TikTok.

I also appreciated the ambiguity of the ending. Sarah J. Maas clearly had a lot more story to tell, and I think she set up the ending well enough so that if people want to stop reading, they could. There may be a few Tamlin/Feyre shippers living in a happy little bubble. I have no intention of bursting that bubble for them, though if any of them have read this far, I apologize for shattering your worldview. Might I instead suggest you read “Beauty” by Robin McKinley? That book is stand-alone and ends happily!

I’m curious enough that I will read “A Court of Mist and Fury.” Even though it’s heinously long, and I rarely have the patience for 500+ page books (something I learned after beasting through the overwritten “Matched” series), I want to give it a chance. I enjoyed the last few chapters of “A Court of Thorns and Roses.” And if people I respect and admire enjoy the book, then I want to give it a chance. If “A Court of Mist and Fury” can keep up the exciting pace it set with that first wyrm-hunting trial in the previous book, then I think I’ll like it.

Please enjoy this artistic rendering of my favorite scene from the first book

3 thoughts on “I Finally Read “A Court of Thorns and Roses”

  1. -Your fan art slays
    -“if you’re going to do a favor for someone, you should do it because it’s the nice thing to do, not because you’ll receive a Cosmic reward for it” damn straight


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