Sarah J. Maas’s novel, A Court of Thorns and Roses, is a fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast. The world is divided by an ancient treaty into two sections: human and fae. There is a magic wall that divides the realms. Feyre and her family live along that wall. They lost all their wealth, and rely solely on Feyre for survival. Feyre is out hunting when she kills what turns out to be a high fae, disguised as a wolf. That night a fae in beast form, Tamlin, comes to her house and demands her life for his friend’s. Feyre finds herself living in the luxurious fae Spring Court where she will have to live out her days, but all is not as it seems. Everyone at the estate has a masquerade mask on, which Feyre learns is a symptom of a much more serious problem, that she might be the answer to.
Maas tells a good story, although the pacing felt strange. Most of the story is Feyre at Tamlin’s estate learning about fae history and the mysteries that surround Tamlin’s solitude. The book is four hundred pages long, and it isn’t until the last fifty pages or so that the action picks up. The romance that develops between Feyre and Tamlin is really captivating, so I didn’t notice that there was essentially no rising action until there finally was. This is the first book in what will be an eight-book series, so I hope this is all world set-up, and the next seven books will have more action.
The world that Sarah J. Maas creates is fascinating. Feyre’s world is cold and sparse, reminding readers of the Middle Ages. When Feyre makes the transition to the other side of the wall, it’s a complete transformation. The masks mark a distinction between Feyre’s humanity and the strangeness of the fae. Maas’s writing allows scenes to flow organically, but still contain reminders of the masks.
The writing was good, with two exceptions: bowels and shredding. All the fae threaten to shred people to ribbons. At first I thought this might be a trait specific to fae, like a specific punishment, but it wasn’t. It was just a really overused phrase. The other phrase Maas used several times throughout the book was when Feyre got scared, she would think something along the lines of “my bowels turned watery.” The first time the phrase appeared, I thought, “ew” and “wow, she must be really scared.” And then the phrase appeared several more times. It pulled me out of really intense scenes because it was so ridiculous. I attribute these repetitive phrase appearances to poor editing. When writing a four hundred page book, it’s totally easy to forget you’ve used a word or a phrase several times already, or to go for phrases you know work.
This book falls into the weird crevice known as “New Adult” literature, the bracket where characters are between the ages of 18-30. Mostly, books that receive this title are realistic fiction, and deal with people making the transition from high school to adulthood. This is a new genre, so it hasn’t actually caught on widely, yet. A Court of Thorns and Roses is in the Young Adult section of bookstores, and I’m sure libraries as well. Feyre is 19 years old. This book gets very racy, which is fine, except shelving it in YA means that it is within the reach of 12 year olds, and that might not be the best idea.
While A Court of Thorns and Roses was not perfect, it was really fun and romantic. The characters are well developed, and the world is immersive and beautiful. I really love retellings of Beauty and the Beast, so I truly appreciated how true this version was to the original. The ending wrapped up pretty nicely, but also left enough threads hanging that I will read the next book, A Court of Mist and Fury. I’m excited to see if this is a new fairy tale, or if Sarah J. Maas goes into completely original territory.