Book Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

I really liked A Court of Thorns and Roses when I read it last year, so I was looking forward to A Court of Mist and Fury quite a bit. After how neatly ACOTAR seemed to wrap things up, especially with the romance between Feyre and Tamlin, I wasn’t entirely certain where ACOMAF was going to take things, and I was honestly very concerned that it was going to veer into tiresome love triangle territory. I needn’t have worried. ACOMAF wasn’t what I thought it would be, but it was engaging, exciting, and sexy enough that I read it in a single day.

Light spoilers below.

After the events of ACOTAR, Feyre has fallen into a deep depression that Tamlin doesn’t seem to notice or care about, even as the day of their wedding approaches. She ends up rescued from the untenable situation by none other than Rhysand, which I expect most readers will see coming a mile away. However, the rest of the story is much less expected. Though it functions as essentially an “after the fairytale” narrative, ACOMAF for the most part doesn’t rely on tired tropes or worn out gimmicks, and Sarah J. Maas does a great job in this book with Feyre’s character development as Feyre recovers from her harrowing experiences in the first book and finally has the time and space to process her feelings about and examine her relationship with Tamlin. ACOMAF is a book about healing from trauma and disappointment. It’s also a book about finding a space where you can grow to be your best self and fighting for it.

While Feyre’s growth throughout the novel is exceptional, and the development of her relationship with Rhysand is well-executed, most of the other secondary and tertiary characters never manage to fully come to life. While the seeds of ACOMAF Tamlin certainly existed in ACOTAR, the revelation of him as a truly villainous character is somewhat abrupt and borders on straight up character assassination although it’s presented more as a clever plot twist. Surprise! The main love interest from book one is an abusive piece of trash! There is also a whole cast of new characters that Feyre meets at the Night Court, but they are largely interchangeable and barely exist except to further Feyre’s story and development. All this is fine, really, as it’s clear throughout that Feyre is the main character, but still. It wouldn’t hurt for some of the side characters to have a bit more to do in a 600+ page book.

Here’s the thing about this book that makes it kind of great, though. Whereas ACOTAR was a fairly straightforward fairytale retelling, ACOMAF transforms Feyre’s story into something much grander. It’s not quite epic fantasy, but it’s much more than a simple romance. In fact, the trajectory of this series (and Maas’s Throne of Glass series as well) reminds me far more of pulpy boys’ adventure stories and other heroes’ journeys of the 20th century, for all that Maas has a modern sensibility when it comes to characterization of her leading ladies. Feyre’s depth and nuance is at odds, to a certain degree, with her fairly straightforward adventures, but Maas makes it work. Wonderfully.

ACOMAF and its predecessor are probably more firmly in the fledgling New Adult genre, with their frank depictions of sex and more grownup understanding of relationships, but however this series is classified I’m glad it exists at all. It’s not a perfect book, with its heavy focus on its heroine, who can occasionally be tiresomely self-aware, to the exclusion of the other characters, and while Maas tries (in her way) to include some diversity I wouldn’t recommend this title on that score. Some plot developments feel a little too heavily scripted, some feel downright forced, and not everything truly makes good sense. But A Court of Mist and Fury scratches a very particular itch for me and, I expect, for many girls and women who enjoy the same sort of self-aggrandizing, moderately sexy fluff reading. It’s a specific kind of almost-adolescent wish-fulfillment fiction that is seldom done well enough to be more than a mildly embarrassing guilty pleasure.  Sarah J. Maas does it marvelously, and she consistently creates books that I can see myself reading over and over again. Proudly.

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