A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas
A Court of Thorns and Roses #1
Bloomsbury 2015
416 pages
4/5 stars

This is a book that came to my attention because of the title, which I think a pleasing one, and entered my reading list when it turned out it’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling. And I’m a sucker for Beauty and the Beast. Although not perfectly to my taste, for reasons that I will discuss below, Maas shifts the theme and, if you will, moral of the original story in a way I find refreshing, and I enjoyed this book enormously – enough to read it in two days.

The first thing that I noticed was that this book is written in first person. You all know my feelings about that. However, as I started reading it and started getting into it, it occurred to me that this isn’t unusual in Beauty and the Beast – not that I’ve read all that many, but one of the ones that has stayed with me, Robin McKinley’s Beauty, is likewise told from first person perspective. It is admittedly a good way to approach fairytales, which are usually told in very short format and have an omniscient narrator, and switching narrators allows more of an immersion and understanding of emotional side of things. But I digress.

The characters are fine. I don’t find the heroine, Feyre, or the Beast character Tamlin to be anything too exciting or special, but they don’t annoy me, either, and I liked them well enough. There are some side characters that are more complex – especially one of them – but I think this is actually really nicely in keeping with the fairytale tradition. Although Feyre’s sisters and father are left to the margin, Maas manages to bring in lots of questions of family, which I very much liked, and Feyre also comes to grow, in a way that seems perhaps slightly too convenient and quick, but it’s within the confines of credibility.

There’s more sex and violence than I was expecting from a YA book, but it turns out it made this book better for me. Sex especially is treated very casually, as it were – nothing dramatic or evil, just a fact of life, and boy, isn’t that refreshing! The violence isn’t too gory, especially after you learn it’s going to be a part of the story, but it might come as a shock to someone expecting more of a fairy tale. (I read Maas’s Throne of Glass in January and so had an idea of how she depicts these things, so it didn’t come as too much of a shock, although the fairy tale aspect meant I didn’t necessarily expect it the same I would have in a high fantasy setting.)

I mentioned the theme, and I will go into it very briefly. The message in Beauty and the Beast is generally that you should always try to see beyond looks and appreciate people for who they are, not what they look like. However, the focus of A Court of Thorns and Roses is not on the relationship between Feyre and Tamlin, although it obviously does feature centrally in the story, and this is where the first person narration comes in again: it allows the reader access to Feyre’s doubts and reasons, and focuses more on the necessity of telling those you love them that you do, rather than the act of falling in love. I won’t say more, but this much becomes obvious when you read the book.

What did I have a problem with, then? Where did that one star go? I felt the book lost some of its magic towards the end, as events started piling. Most of the action is placed towards the end of the book, and I would have preferred a more even balance – or for some of the stuff from the end to be cut out completely, but that’s really a question of preference. The tone changed somewhat, I felt, and started to become more similar to Throne of Glass, which has nothing wrong with it but doesn’t appeal to me the same way the more sedate and fragile pace and atmosphere of the book in general does.

There are also tons of references to fairy tales, some more obvious than others – lots to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, much to my delight, although not surprisingly. The references aren’t too overpowering and won’t make you snort in derision (I very much disliked all the Wicked musical references in Gregory Maguire’s Out of Oz – too glaring). There is even one from Howl’s Moving Castle, the Miyazaki movie rather than the book, that I stared at for a long while because it was simply so recognisable. I think there is a larger reference to that story as well, but I won’t claim it to be intentional because of its nature. (Nope, no spoilers.)

As I said, I tore through this book. I was positively surprised, and although I’m not sure I like the implications of where the sequel –A Court of Mist and Fury, out May 3rd 2016– might be going, I’m pretty sure I will pick it up the first chance I get. I recommend A Court of Thorns and Roses, and may even read it again. That kind of good.



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