I Hate Ianthe, But Not for the Reasons You May Think

Content Warning: Major spoilers ahead for “A Court of Thorns and Roses” and “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas. The following post also mentions serious subjects such as sexual assault, violence, torture, and death.

I realize this statement needs additional clarification, or else it will look like I’m making excuses for a very bad person.

I don’t mean to say that I think the character Ianthe from “A Court of Mist and Fury” is misunderstood and that her actions were blown out of proportion. Not at all. It was impressive of Sarah J. Maas to comment on how women can be sexual predators and men can be victims of sexual assault. It’s a serious conversation but one that needs to be had. 

Rather, I want to criticize the feeling of inevitability that came over me during Ianthe’s introduction. We meet Ianthe at the beginning of “A Court of Mist and Fury,” and we see her from Feyre‘s perspective. Feyre is suffering from severe PTSD after the events from “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” and she becomes heavily dependent on Ianthe. Ianthe is a high priestess who managed to avoid the horror of Amarantha’s rule by hiding away in a distant land. While everyone else suffered at Amarantha‘s hand, Ianthe was presumably safe on a magical island, living in luxury and getting frisky with the locals. 

Within a few minutes of her introduction, I found myself thinking, “Oh, she’s for sure going to be evil.”

This was literally how I pictured Ianthe in every scene where Feyre talked nicely about her.
Image by: Eleni Roussos/Hasbro/Paramount Pictures/Penguin Random House

Then I admonished myself. Why would Ianthe be evil? Just because it’s the beginning of a 600+ page book and Ianthe managed to evade suffering in a series that seems to glorify it doesn’t mean that she’s bad.

Then a couple hundred pages later, in addition to learning that she’s a predator, she betrays Feyre and her sisters. It was an act of betrayal that left me feeling more underwhelmed than incensed, which, unfortunately, was how I felt reading most of this book. 

I finished “A Court of Mist and Fury” a few weeks back and have been waiting to decide whether to pick up the next book. A while back, I finished the first book after a four-year hiatus, and I wanted to give the series a fair chance because I have friends who love ACOTAR. And for the record, I don’t hate this series. I still gave the book four stars on Goodreads (though 3.5 would be more accurate). Sarah J. Maas built an impressive world with complex rules, interesting characters, and exciting adventures to keep the plot moving. However, at this point, I feel comfortable saying that Maas is not a subtle writer, and in my opinion, the series suffers for it.

We learn more about Rhysand in “A Court of Mist and Fury,” and get a glimpse behind some of that douchebaggery we witnessed in the first book. Every terrible, mean, petty thing he did in “A Court of Thorns and Roses” is backed by some kind of noble excuse. Why was he Amarantha’s whore? Oh, because he was trying to keep his secret city and dearest friends safe. Why was he such a creep to Feyre during her trials? Why, so Amarantha wouldn’t be suspicious and to make sure Tamlin was good and angry when the time came. Why was Rhys always such a chode to Tamlin, even though Tamlin’s family was murdered by the Night Court? Why didn’t you know that Tamlin’s family violently murdered Rhysand’s mother and sister?

It all feels so brutal and contrived. I didn’t feel disgusted for the evil characters so much as distaste towards Maas for making me read about it. Maas consistently tries to tell us, “Rhys is only bad because other people are so much worse.” And while I don’t think that’s a terrible reason to explain some of his behavior, it does start to feel repetitive. Rhysand would have been much more interesting if he’d screwed up or acted selfishly and weren’t such a constant paragon of virtue. 

I don’t think it’s necessary for Maas to depict the worst of some people to make others look better. The end of “A Court of Thorns and Roses” showed why Feyre and Tamlin were incompatible. Feyre was willing to go to dire lengths to free Tamlin, and Tamlin, despite loving Feyre, couldn’t return that devotion in the way that she needed. They weren’t right for each other, and that’s fine. Tons of relationships end that way. And at the beginning of “A Court of Mist and Fury,” Tamlin and Feyre are even more clearly incompatible. Feyre needed care and a purpose, and Tamlin needed to pretend like the first book’s events never happened. The chasm between them was obvious. I was fine with Rhys interrupting their wedding and with Feyre ending things with Tamlin because they weren’t meant to be. It didn’t mean that Tamlin had to be THE DEVIL

I really disliked the part of “A Court of Mist and Fury” where we learn about the deep hatred that runs between Rhysand and Tamlin. In “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” all Tamlin tells Feyre is that Rhysand’s family killed his family. In “A Court of Mist and Fury,” we learn that the whole story is a lot more complex, but Tamlin’s family started it first by beheading Rhysand’s mother and sister. I never got to learn Rhysand’s sister’s name and or any details about who she was as a person, but I did learn that her and her mother’s heads were put in boxes and floated down a river.

That’s not interesting; it’s just horrifying. 

This is a grotesque world where an innocent mortal woman could be kidnapped, her family murdered, tortured for days, and then her corpse displayed on the wall like the “Fight Club” poster in a Frat Boy’s dorm. And I feel like some people may be tempted to ignore my arguments because Sarah J. Maas deliberately created a brutal world where people did brutal things, and I should take my snowflake sensibilities and shove it. But I would like to remind people of the Thermian argument, and that just because a writer creates something that makes sense in-universe does not mean that it’s above criticism.

For what it’s worth, this plays into a bigger issue I have with certain styles of writing. I think some authors are tempted to subject their characters to gruesome, traumatizing experiences in an attempt to make them more complex and interesting. The truth is a little more complicated. It’s really not that hard to think of vile shit to force upon your characters. The writers from the later seasons of “Game of Thrones” did that repeatedly to the female characters, and for what? 

I think it ignores the real complexities of life. Think of all the people you know who have complicated relationships with their parents. The people who love their parents but have had to separate themselves to avoid further conflict. While I don’t want to dismiss abusive parental relationships, in my experience, many of the complicated relationships I’ve seen develop are often because parents are people, and people make mistakes. Mothers criticize their daughters’ weight and appearance because they think that will help their daughters grow up to become stronger women in a society that values their appearance. Fathers give their sons a hard time for not adhering to a certain standard of masculinity because they want their sons to be self-sufficient and tough in an unkind world. I write this not to excuse bad behavior but to remind readers that your loved ones could have had the best intentions and still found a way to hurt you. 

I don’t believe people are really all good or all bad, but they are people, and people are flawed. For what it’s worth, even though I’ve criticized Colleen Hoover’s “It Ends With Us,” I still appreciated the nuance she gave to the main antagonist, Ryle. He did terrible things to the main character, Lily, and caused her pain. However, Hoover showed that Ryle had good intentions and regretted what his actions. It didn’t make up for what he did, but it did make him feel like more of a person and less of a cartoon bad guy. 

The “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series has strict delineations of good guys and bad guys. A few characters are allowed to be less-good good guys, like Nesta and Lucien, but those are few and far between. If you’re not in either of those camps, then you’re probably one of the innocent people who has the misfortune of being caught in the battle between the two.

I wish the book had played out a little differently. I think it would have been interesting if Tamlin had tried harder to meet Feyre’s needs and still not have been the right person for her. Rhysand would have still been Feyre’s mate even if he didn’t act like a guy who’d just read the works of Simone de Bouvier. And maybe Ianthe could have been a more complicated character who wasn’t so obviously a bad guy from the first page. I think all of these changes would make me a little more excited to pick up “A Court of Wings and Ruin.”

2 thoughts on “I Hate Ianthe, But Not for the Reasons You May Think

  1. -The brutality of this series reminds me of Game of Thrones. I had to stop watching GoT because of the violence though
    -“your loved ones could have had the best intentions and still found a way to hurt you” YEPPPPPPPP


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