For me, the best way to find new books and series that I love is through recommendations from friends; they know enough of what I like, and I know enough of what they like, plus there’s the added fun of having someone already there to talk about it. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas was a friend recommendation and I can’t wait to dive into the next book of the series in anticipation of the third novel’s release in early May. Incredible fantasy world building with plot elements that echo (and occasionally invert) classic fairy tales, myths, and legends and engaging characters and pacing are some of the fastest ways to capture my attention.
Feyre may be the youngest of three sisters but when it comes to providing for her family in their relatively recently acquired destitute state, she is the one who can be counted on to keep them all alive. Having taught herself hunting, she has a deer in her sights when a monstrously large wolf enters the scene—a wolf so large, Feyre believes it might be fairy in nature. Given everything that the fairies have done and continue to do to humans, even with the treaty in place, she decides to use her precious ash arrow to be sure she kills it dead. But a few days later an even larger beast appears at her family’s door demanding repayment for the slain fairy—a life for a life—and Feyre must either go to live in the fairy realm of Prythian for the rest of her days or die before her family’s eyes.
I’m a sucker for reworked classic fairy tales so one of the best things about A Court of Thorns and Roses for me was the way it included some strong elements and allusions to a few classics but without feeling like a simple retelling was the only point behind it. Though Feyre’s situation through most of the first and second thirds of the book is very evocative of Beauty and the Beast, it never feels like that’s all it’s trying to be—nor is it simply any of the other legends and myths it draws on for inspiration. A huge part of how the novel avoids falling into a trap of just another retelling is through the ways it subverts and inverts elements of those fairy tales and myths; for instance, Feyre leaving home and staying in Prythian is a punishment earned, not a sacrifice to save another.
The novel also demonstrates beautifully how it is possible to create a fantasy world wherein the technology level and social structures reflect those found in true history without being entirely backwards with regards to gender, sexuality, feminism, etc. (which is so often justified under the guise of ‘historical accuracy’ which really shouldn’t carry weight within fantasy as a genre). Feyre’s hunting capabilities and reluctance to wear skirts or dresses stems from practicality and mostly draws criticism from her sisters but originates not in an attitude of ‘women don’t do that’ and more from their higher class origins, i.e. ‘none of us should have to be/act like peasants because we’re not; we were once rich and noble.’ Similarly, Feyre’s sexuality is never hidden and she never lets herself be shamed for it. There are undoubtedly some who would look at the fact that this novel depicts sex so openly and positively and balk at the fact that it is being marketed to young adult audiences, but if anything the way it treats sex—and especially young female sexuality—makes me happy it’s being aimed at that particular audience.
Sex isn’t the only area where the novel is willing to tread non-traditional paths, but some of the others I would want to discuss fall towards the novel’s resolution and I wouldn’t want to spoil anything there. Besides, I have a pretty good feeling I’ll be able to address those themes in my review for the second book in the series, which I’m hoping to get to very soon.