Upping the ante from A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury flexes the worldbuilding and complex characters that have defined Sarah J. Maas’ works. Where the first book stood largely on its own, completing its narrative arc while keeping threads and potential for subsequent books, Book 2 in the series embraces the task of drawing readers into a fantasy series that is rich and diverse. For all the color and fantasticality, the story paints a world of magic and bright colors that bely the shades of grey the characters possess, and the true, darker nature of the world they live in. Bringing more of what readers who loved the first book will expect, A Court of Mist and Fury shows that it can stand on more than its romantic themes and steamy intrigue, bringing fantasy and adventure in equal measures for readers.
The second book of the current five in the ACOTAR series, A Court of Mist and Fury immediately distinguishes itself by coming in at over 600 pages compared to just over 400 in the first novel. It begins with Feyre back with Tamlin at the Spring Court as they try to adjust to life after the events at Under the Mountain, then quickly disturbed when Feyre is snatched away by Rhysand on her wedding day as he calls in his bargain they made. As the story progresses, we see Feyre spending time at the Night Court, Tamlin’s jealousy raging to dangerous heights, and eventually Feyre fleeing back to the Night Court as the High Lord of the Spring Court attempts to imprison her at his manor “for her own safety.” While Feyre is at the Night Court, she works with Rhysand, slowly coming to trust the handsome High Lord, and over time falls in love with him. As their dynamic evolves, Feyre gets to know Rhysand’s Inner Circle, his chosen family and court, who are actually at times more interesting and even more enjoyable in their charismatic dynamics than the dance Feyre and Rhysand are engaged in. The more time Feyre spends in the Night Court, the more she learns about an encroaching threat to Prythian from Hybern, the forces behind Amarantha’s reign of terror. As the stakes rise, their shared task to save their world might force them to risk everything they hold dear, Rhysand’s protected city of Velaris, Feyre’s human family, and all they tried to hold onto in the rebuilding after Amarantha’s death.
A Court of Mist and Fury feels like so much more, whether it is the author being more confident in her work, a confidence in readers who liked what A Court of Thorns and Roses brought and will like even more of it, or simply settling into the New Adult genre, it’s just a lot more. The book is longer, with a more intricate story than the first book. There is much more graphic sex, as well as being an overall more emotionally charged narrative. While it does not necessarily feel gratuitous, there is certainly a much greater emphasis compared to the first book. This comes as a result of the growing sexual tension between Feyre and Rhysand, and to the nature of their Mating Bond snapping into place. That aspect was not something that I took as thrown in to just be gratuitous, but as a layer to their dynamic, which also allows for some comedic moments between them and other members of Rhysand’s Inner Circle.
The worldbuilding and the characters again take the center stage as Sarah J. Maas’ greatest strength. The characters are interesting and well developed, and they all play off each other very well. The writing style meshes with the storytelling, but it is overly simple and allows the other aspects of Maas’ craft to carry it, rather than adding to it.
One of my favorite parts of the story, both in its introduction and ongoing aspects, is the dynamic of Rhysand’s Inner Circle. It grows and evolves as Feyre is first introduced and how they adopt her in, largely on Rhysand’s word alone as we later learn. They are a family, gathered and chosen, and that beautifully is conveyed in the author’s writing. They are one of the most engaging parts of the story, and the part that I want to know more about, to see more fully actualized and developed. But in their complexity, it is another place where I see some of Maas’ shortcomings. Each character is almost archetypal, too simplistic as they fall into their roles. Their aspects are too easy and their roles far too simplified, especially compared to how interesting and complex the characters are. Perhaps those roles get developed in later books, but early on, many of the members of Rhysand’s Inner Circle seem present largely for narrative means for allowing the story to progress, and their actual characters and talents are never allowed to truly shine.
The one part of Maas’ storytelling that she wields extraordinarily well is the shared honesty between Feyre and Rhysand. It first struck me when I came to the passage where Feyre reflects on her time with Tamlin, musing that as someone who had known hardship for so long, that she might have fallen in love with the first person who showed her any amount of kindness. As I read it, I realized it was a more profound insight than I first gave the story credit for. From there, it is the tense relationship between the two, based on their shared time in Under the Mountain, Rhysand making good on their bargain and actually rescuing her, and then through their loaded banter during Feyre’s time in Velaris that it grows and develops. They are two damaged, flawed people who find ways to love the broken pieces of each other. They don’t try to “fix” each other, and they certainly don’t fill each other’s shortcomings. They are able to see one another, honestly, especially when they aren’t able to see themselves. And the beautiful part is that we see that it was Rhysand who really takes the chance, trusting it to Feyre, knowing that she may never reciprocate his feelings. I think the emotional aspect of Rhysand’s deep desire to trust Feyre is the unique influence of Maas’ storytelling, and is not something I have seen integrated in romance in fantasy stories.
Though A Court of Thorns and Roses had me interested, A Court of Mist and Fury has me intrigued enough to continue with this series. Even as a male reader not invested in the sultry spicy bits, both the style of the story and the craft of the author more than made me want to keep reading. Maas made me enjoy a story that was interwoven with desire and passion, leaning into the strength of the world she created, the people she crafted for it, and the threads that combined to make the story. As much as it elevates from the first book, the most interesting part is how much it sets potential for. My only hope is that the rest of the series can match the expectations as the series seems to strive towards epic fantasy, and while certain aspects have not reached those heights as of this book, I will remain cautiously optimistic as I look to the rest of the series and the characters’ stories I have become invested in.
A Court of Mist and Fury is written by Sarah J. Maas, and is published by Bloomsbury.
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