A Court of Thorns and Roses is a book that was not written for me. In that, I mean I’m not the primary intended audience, at least not on the surface. I’m a man and I love epic fantasy. And while a well-written romance arc in a story can be great, books with a strong, spicy romance narrative are not the ones I typically gravitate towards. My exposure to A Court of Thorns and Roses and Sarah J. Maas as an author was entirely from women readers. And their responses have been overwhelmingly positive. Fantasy is for everyone, but A Court of Thorns and Roses seemed to reach its audience of predominantly female and younger readers in ways few other fantasy books had. So after seeing everyone from Twitch streamers to bookstagrammers raving about it, I ordered my own copy and delved into the world of Prythian and the adventure of Feyre Archeron.
In an opening that might feel very familiar to those who read fantasy, Feyre is drawn from her ordinary world of struggle and strife, and taken to the fantastical realm of the fae. As she is challenged in her preconceptions and suspicions of the faeries who hold her captive, she learns more about their identities, their world, and how much more there is than what she can initially see. Feyre fits the archetype of the cautious yet headstrong heroine, not content to simply do as she is told without pushback or at least a sarcastic rebuttal. She wins over the faeries as much as they win her over in a story where both sides learn there is more to the “other” than just what the stories have told them. As Feyre kindles a fondness for Tamlin and those of his house, she learns about a growing shadow and threat to the realm of the faeries. Far from infallible or unbreakable, Feyre has to compromise and find strength both within herself and from others in order to be brave and face the threat, standing confidently for Tamlin and her love for him despite the very real prospect of losing him forever and perhaps so much more.
Sarah J. Maas’ impact on the genre for her audience is undeniable. She brought stories inspired by classic fairy tales into a completely different light and for a dramatically younger and newer audience. A Court of Thorns and Roses serves as an inspired retelling of Beauty and the Beast, as well as drawing from other myths and folktales. In her tale, Maas has created a story that feels just familiar enough to be comfortable while much is still original. The characters are not morally black and white, and the world is rich and diverse, with both aspects only hinted at in the first book. The levels of complexity to the characters and the setting are pieces I’m excited to see more of in the rest of the series. The first book in the series is too short to fully showcase how complex the characters are or how truly expansive the world is. With the full series set to span multiple books and follow multiple characters, there is little doubt in my mind that there is much more to be explored.
Sarah J. Maas’ works are without a doubt written for a female audience, and they have almost created a cult following with their spread in popularity. Speaking as an observer from the outside, whether it’s the nature of the story, the drive of the characters, or the style in making fantasy about more than powerful magic and slaying monsters, Maas’ work has made fantasy enjoyable to an audience that might not have felt the same kinship within the genre before.
The storytelling craft of A Court of Thorns and Roses perhaps surprised me the most. Early on in the story, there were elements that seemed unrealistic or plot holes that were being ignored for the sake of the larger narrative, but I was pleasantly surprised to have them pay off later on in the story. I was suspicious of the unassuming narrative style, incorrectly predicting that it would rely on the romantic arcs and smoldering feelings of the characters. The book was instead well paced and the story elements were placed through the narrative intentionally and at the perfect intervals. Maas layers worldbuilding with character development within the main story arc in a way that I felt was extremely well crafted. The story progression never felt slow or stale, and the aspects of worldbuilding or backstory that were presented were not distracting or jarring, but again felt very intentional about how and when they were used.
A Court of Thorns and Roses shows its clear inspiration from folktales and faerie stories, but Maas does more than just draw story aspects for a launching point. They inform the style and feel of magic and the faerie realm as a setting, creating a story where legends and faerie stories overlap and pieces of both that are true and others that are just myth. It’s a small but fun addition that just serves to add to the worldbuilding of Prythian. Since the setting is divided between the realms of the faeries and the mortal lands, of course over hundreds of years stories and myths, legends and history would all mix and spill into each other. Sometimes folktales hold a grain of truth, sometimes myths are distorted reflections of history. Tying those elements into Feyre’s internal narrative she has at the beginning of the story as well as integrating it into more significant parts of the story were great additions by the author.
As much as A Court of Thorns and Roses is written for a very different fantasy audience, I still very much enjoyed this book. The characters and the worldbuilding are absolute strengths of Sarah J. Maas, something she is largely (and rightfully) recognized for across her works, not just the ACOTAR series. The story felt strong and engaging even as I was not as heavily invested in the romantic arc, which means that the narrative was just as strong of a component as the driving relationship between the characters. For all the acclaim it has drawn, I am glad I took the chance on this book and I am optimistic as I look to the next books in the series.
A Court of Thorns and Roses is written by Sarah J. Maas, and is published by Bloomsbury.
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