When my Practical Bloke wanted gift suggestions this year (i.e. “What books do you want?”), Sarah J. Maas was at the top of the list – not her exactly, that would be illegal – but her Throne of Glass trilogy. I’d wanted to read it for ages, but he also bought me the first of her new series, The Court of Thorns and Roses.
It begins with the young heroine, Feyre (Fay-ruh), hunting in a forest in deep winter. As she stalks a doe, a wolf also pursues her prey. It’s no ordinary wolf, but one of the hated fae from over the northern border. She kills it with an arrow of ash wood then bring down the doe, relieved her father and older sisters won’t go hungry for a few days. The wolf is skinned to sell.
A day after returning home, she faces the consequences of the kill. A faerie lord arrives in the form of a great beast, declaring her life is forfeit for the crime of murdering one of the fae. But there is an alternative; the Treaty between humans and the faerie lords stipulates if she is not executed she must return to his lands in the north, never to see to her home or family again. Feyre is hauled off to the estate of the faerie lord, Tamsin.
When I opened this book I was soon chapters into it, though I’d intended to read the Throne of Glass trilogy first. Feyre is capable and resourceful, rising to the challenge of providing for her family since they fell on hard times. It’s refreshing that she is the youngest of the family, as usually in hardship stories it’s the oldest siblings that look after the younger ones. She’s no paragon, though, as she nurses a streak of resentment against her sisters for not shouldering their share of the burden, her father for losing their money, and even her dead mother for neglecting them.
The Court of Thorns and Roses has been described as a Beauty and the Beast tale, but it’s not as simple as that. It’s closer to a re-imagining of the Eros and Psyche story from Greek mythology, including the main character being the youngest of three sisters. It’s a fantasy love story, but is at its best in the sections where the romance is not the focus.
After Feyre settles into Tamsin’s estate, slowly letting go of her plots to return home and dealing with a growing attraction to Tamsin, I found the narrative gradually loses impetus. As it’s written in first person in Feyre’s viewpoint, we know there’s something bigger going on, but it’s so vague there’s a lack of real threat, no overarching goal or deadline to push the narrative forward. There’s a shadow, but no ticking clock. The growing romance didn’t really captivate me, perhaps because it seems to be the whole point at that stage, without a sense of where it’s all leading. Maybe the singular viewpoint in this case was a handicap, as if we saw the situation from Tamsin’s side the stakes and tension would flow naturally.
Feyre had caught me in the first few chapters, though, and it’s not too long until she’s back in action with grit and determination, ramped up to new levels. The rest was page-turning, with lethal threats, shifting alliances and inhuman determination.
I tend to be a visual thinker, so on the right is my graph of the page-turner rating level through The Court of Thorns and Roses (not exactly to scale). Obviously I liked the latter part of the book best. It bodes well for when I get to the Throne of Glass trilogy, because Sarah J. Maas can definitely write bad-ass women in action.
Links: Sarah J. Maas website