Synopsis: Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series.
Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit – and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.
As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords – and hunt for allies in unexpected places.
In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.
That’s the number of times that the word “mate,” in any of its hellish forms, is used in this book.
That statistic alone should be enough to justify this one star rating. If you feel satisfied enough to just remove yourself from this review, run with that feeling. Because I have, like. Seven pages of sh*t to complain about.
That’s if I’m efficient.
And I’ve never been an efficient reviewer. Once. In my life. I counted two hundred (and two) uses of a word over seven hundred pages. That shouldn’t scream “rational and in control of her passionate fury” to you.
So buckle up, buttercup. We’ve got some categories to run through.
DISCLAIMER : This review is teeming with spoilers. It is also X-rated, due to the strength of my anger and the copious sex scenes in the source material.
I HATE THESE CHARACTERS
Rhys makes me cringe harder than Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones’ Diary. (At least that movie has both Colin Firth and Hugh Grant to distract me from Renee viciously critiquing her own body and, like, spilling coffee all over herself or whatever.) He is capable of two actions, like a mildly impressive Ken doll: 1) sex person and 2) valiant hero trying to kill himself in the name of his friends constantly. Either he is full on f*cking Feyre (sick alliteration, Emma) or he must be actively prevented from jumping in front of poisoned weapons with the half-hearted motivation of Heroism To Save My Family (even if it’s not at all clear why doing this would save them, because whatever none of the plans in this book make a lick of sense anyway).
Because, as if this book weren’t fun enough, it rivals the Fast and the Furious franchise for use of the my-real-family-is-the-one-I-made-not-the-one-I-was-born-with cliché.
Like Rhys, Feyre also manages to find time in her packed schedule of sex scenes and repetitive dialogue to be incredibly, incontrovertibly dumb. For example, when she traps Ianthe and ties her up or whatever, she spends an unbelievable amount of time indulging an evil-villain-revenge rant. Just enough time for her to be CAUGHT BY THE DAEMATI (a Cassandra Clare-esque douchey term that pretty much means “species of bad guy,” to the best of my recollection). So much of this book was me silently screaming.
Speaking of the aforementioned schedule, it’s no wonder that that thing Feyre used to do called “painting” is dropped like a hot potato. She never does it, but it’s mentioned a handful of times in the beginning of the book. And then forgotten. And then, suddenly, almost at the merciful end of this suffering: “The movement so perfect that I knew I’d one day paint it.” We’re still pretending that Feyre paints? Between the same diverse selection of identical sex scenes, identical training scenes, identical war discussion scenes, I don’t think she has time for something so banal as a singular interest or hobby. Idk if we’ll have time; I think she’ll have to get to third base with Rhys in a perfumed bath later.
At least Feyre is brave and strong, though. Which is why she’s “too tired” to do anything after a loooong day of watching other people fight in a battle, followed by Mor winnowing her home. So courageous. How does she do it.
Plus, she’s a brilliant friend. Which is why, when Morrigan confronts her for lying, leaving, making her and everyone else fear she has died and also making Mor responsible for it, Feyre’s response is “OH YA??? WELL YOU HAVE A CRUSH ON AZRIEL.”
Truly a depiction of a powerful woman for the ages.
And I don’t get Lucien’s appeal. Do we like him out of the same reason we like Draco? (I’m saying “we” as if I like either of those characters.) Is it an omg-he’s-just-trying-to-do-right-he-didn’t-know-any-better type situation? Because Draco is a child trying to impress a father who doesn’t love him and I still don’t totally buy that. I’m still not a Draco fan. And Tamlin is not Lucien’s daddy, although…maybe a more interesting book if he were.
Cassian and Azriel are both flat and boring. Amren is characterized so inconsistently that it’s impossible for me to know whether I like her or not. (I’m going to say “not” – seems like a safer bet.) Nesta is almost cool, but the whole I Am Mean And Hard And Damaged thing goes too far. And Elain just floats around and lets things happen to her.
Morrigan, never all that interesting, now just represents the worst bisexuality rep I’ve ever read.
It’s never a good sign when you’re praying for characters to die in battle just so you can catch a f*cking break.
But guess what. None of them do.
THE WRITING SUCKS, ON BOTH A COPYEDITING AND SUBSTANTIVE LEVEL
I truly believe that whatever team of sad sacks was assigned to copyedit this book was physically unable to attentively read it. And I cannot blame them. But it does allow for some hilarious mistakes to make it through these dull, dull pages.
Example: “She did not avert her eyes from the Morrigan.” That pesky “the” makes her seem like a pro wrestler, or someone with a fun nickname, rather than the personification of the worst bi rep ever to grace young adult pages. But we’ll get to that.
There are so many ellipses and dashes and italicizations and…other – ways: of breaking up the TEXT that it actually gave me motion sickness. On top of everything else this book has made me suffer through.
Maybe if a copyeditor had found the strength to make it through this book, they could have stopped the way SJM insists on using the term “Hybern.” IT MEANS SO MANY THINGS. “Hybern” is used as the nomer of the evil king, the word for his people, the name of his kingdom, and the title of the land it’s situated on. That is just…basic bad worldbuilding, no?
Also, a monster creature thing described as having no eyelids narrows its eyes. This inspired a fifteen minute long discussion with my roommates on whether eyes can narrow without eyelids. We came to a unanimous consensus: no, they cannot.
Also, as Val pointed out in her amazing review of this book, the words “vulgar gesture” are used over. And over. And over again. WHAT DO THESE USES MEAN. WHY DO THEY CONSTANTLY INSPIRE LAUGHTER IN WHATEVER
GLORIFIED PROP CHARACTER WHO HAPPENS TO BE NEARBY. IS THIS TACTIC SUPPOSED TO REPLACE ACTUAL JOKES OR BANTER? Because it doesn’t. It just makes me angry, and also confused, which makes me even angrier.
And who thought that was even possible.
WHAT IS THIS ATTEMPT AT HIGH FANTASY LANGUAGE
Except then, y’know, Rhys and Feyre and the Gang are also so hip and cool and up to date that this book uses the word “fuckable,” a word so slang-y that my laptop recognizes it as a typo for “suckable” or “faceable,” whatever the hell those words are.
Otherwise, the only other remarkable attempt at making this any different from the way humans speak in 2017: the use of the word “male.”
Women are sometimes called “females” in this, but are also called women and girls and whatnot. Men, on the other hand, are absolutely only called males. There’s an amazing moment when SJM refers to Rhys as a man, and then instantly, like, corrects herself. So it reads on the page as “man – male -”
It makes no sense. I love it.
It’s truly the little things.
THE END OF THIS BOOK IS JUST A LISTING OF CLICHES
As the war we’ve waited for finally arrives, and so does the time for motivational speeches and tragic goodbyes and other things that fail to make me feel something, SJM loses it entirely.
Nearly every line of dialogue in this section is just a cliché, and so I will copy and paste them here, for your perusal and accompanying amusement.
“Leave this world…a better place than how you found it.”
“One life may change the world.”
“I believe everything happens for a reason.”
“It is the family you make, not the one you are born into, that matters.”
“Light can be found even in the darkest of hells.”
“The great joy and honor of my life has been to know you.”
“I wasn’t sure if in the entire history of Illyria, there had ever been such a discussion.”
So bad. And, therefore, so good.
LET’S LAUGH AT DUMB THINGS
The moments when this may or may not be attempting to instill some sort of entertainment or amusement in its reader do not work at all. Luckily, we have something much better: Really dumb stuff. It is much more fun (and nourishing to the very soul, like a bowl of chicken soup – so pretty much the series of books “Chicken Soup for the Soul”) to laugh at something unintentional and dumb than it is to laugh at a cheap joke. This is why the show America’s Funniest Home Videos has been on for twenty-eight seasons, and like a thousand interchangeable bad sitcoms are canceled every year.
For example, this passage. Feyre and Rhysand are apart, blah blah blah, it’s the tragedy of the century (or millennium, since these boring ass people live for infinity, because there is no justice in this world). Unsurprisingly, they use their mind control powers for a saintly motivation: sexting. Which is already so hilarious. But it gets even better, because:
“I sent back an image of me sticking out my tongue at him.
My clothes were back on when his answer arrived.
Like mine, it was wordless, a mere image. Like mine, Rhysand’s tongue was out.
But it was occupied with doing something else.”
I choose to interpret this statement the same way a middle schooler interprets the existence of performer Marilyn Manson based on a shady rumor he once heard about a surgery to remove three ribs. I believe that this is incontrovertible evidence that Rhysand can suck his own d*ck. WHAT ELSE COULD HE POSSIBLY BE DOING. WHAT COULD IT POSSIBLY BE OCCUPIED WITH. SJM I JUST WANNA TALK.
But just as often as I was making myself laugh by making Rhys my YA fantasy version of Marilyn Manson, I was being equally amused by seemingly innocuous lines. Like when Eris, scary villain/abuser extraordinaire, was bidding The Night Gang adieu and said, “See you at the meeting in twelve days.” I MEAN. WHAT. WHO SPEAKS LIKE THAT. Even dialogue is just an opportunity to force an info dump. You guys, seriously: this book is so poorly written.
LET’S SCREAM ABOUT DUMB THINGS
Sometimes, or most of the time depending on how you look at it, I do not want to laugh at the dumb things. Sometimes I am incapable of it, because this book is an ungodly length and so much of it is long-term stupidity.
Chapter 45, for example. Or, as I like to call it, “That Meeting in Twelve Days Finally Happens.” Yes, this book is so boring that we are expected to anticipate an actual, literal meeting. Sure, it’s a meeting between high lords to talk about war, but it’s still a sit-down political discussion. And also it’s just the same endless repetitive cycle of insult dialogue feat. fun moments of The Night Gang being the least convincing people on the entirety of the Earth.
There’s an especially great moment in that adrenaline-inducing conference. For the 8,000 pages leading up to it, Rhys is all, “Ok, Feyre. Listen up. Number one thing – just don’t show your powers, k? Long story short the Powerful Men are going to get pissy and then…well y’know these negotiations are the most important thing to happen in hundreds of years, which I should know because I’ve been alive for that long, even though you’re, what, fresh outta adolescence? Anyway just the only thing you should do is not show your powers.” To which Feyre’s response is, “Got it. *shows powers instantly*”
YES. Feyre shows her powers at the meeting!! So quickly!!! She doesn’t even try all that hard, and, as promised, it almost derails the nonstop excitement of this much-anticipated civilized forum! Almost. Except then everything works out, as it always does, by Feyre saying something totally normal, 6/10 at best, and everyone being like “wow omg…who is this girl…she is so smart and brave and honest and we respect her so much” so that Rhys can be like “that’s my mate lol.”
The only way to make the experience of reading a deeply unpleasant, extremely long book worse is to publish that book with goddamn tissue paper pages. This was like reading the Bible but without the action. And with a whole lot more smut.
I’m tucking this quote in this section too, because I don’t know if I’m being persnickety, but at one point, it’s said that “Only a madman would wield the might of his army just to get revenge on three women.” And my question is, why use the word “women”? Why not “people”? Is it more insane if it’s women? Why is that? TELL ME WHY. REALLY I JUST WANNA TALK.
PLOTLINE? WHAT PLOTLINE
This book is just…so boring.
There are countless info dumps, which, I mean. There’s no excuse for that in a third book. This was going to be the last book in the series, when there was still hope in the world and I prayed that somehow SJM actually was writing these books for some sort of artistic fulfillment rather than money. How, I ask you, would there still be so much sh*tty worldbuilding in the last book in a series?
OH YES, THIS BOOK IS DEFINITELY WOKE AND NOT THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE OF THAT ENTIRELY
SJM has been getting a lot of sh*t lately for her white/straight/cis narratives. So it’s no surprise that she would try to get those pesky activists off her back this time. Unfortunately, she does a remarkably bad job.
This book is all straight people except for LGBT+ relationships based on sex alone, or in an unequal relationship wherein one person has authority over another. (Examples: a high lord whose bisexuality extends purely to the fact that he’s into threesomes; a military captain dating his high lord/commander/boss.)
Plus, there’s bisexual rep so terrible it took me hours to make it through a handful of pages. But that gets a category of its own.
I also shouldn’t be surprised at the redemption of abusers in this book. Because Tamlin, in ACOTAR, was just a Nice Guy. Fine. But the fangirls loved a certain bad boy guest star with purple eyes. So, instead of creating a love triangle or transitioning between love interests like a normal person, SJM made him into an actual abuser. A villain.
That’s also fine. But you can’t just redeem him like you could redeem the unloved side of a love triangle. Because you made him into a genuinely bad person.
Unfortunately, SJM must have missed that memo. She must have missed it three times, actually, because Eris also gets redemption (and a throne!). As does his enabler brother, Lucien. Wonderful. Abuse apologists for the win.
But this book is totally, definitely feminist, right??? I mean, female protagonist! War plotline! It must be, by default! So when Cassian says“I told you that the moment we started letting females into our group, they’d be nothing but trouble”, and woke king Rhys responds, “You actually said you needed a reprieve from staring at our ugly faces, and that some ladieswould add some much needed prettiness for you to look at all day.” it’s totally fine!
So it’s an utter shock that this narrative also lives nearly entirely within the bounds of gender roles. Reading about men (Rhys, Cassian, Azriel, all the high lords) fighting in battle while the women (Feyre, Mor, Elain, Nesta, Cresseida) watch and tend to the wounded later is so refreshing. Doesn’t make me want to blow my brains out at all.
And no, Mor being assigned to babysit Feyre later on, only heading into battle because Feyre tricks her into fighting so she can sneak away, does not make it better, thanks.
This is definitely, certainly the feminist YA fantasy you’ve been waiting for, folks.
THE WORST BI REP EVER TO HIT THE SHELVES, WHICH IS INSANE BECAUSE WHEN IS THERE E V E R GOOD BI REP
But I haven’t mentioned the most unforgivable thing yet. The thing that made this book my first SJM one-star, after giving every other book I’ve read by her two stars. The thing that actually made me feel real hatred and fury and, worst of all, sadness.
Truly, the worst bisexual representation I have ever read comes in the final chapters of this book. I’ve read a lot of bad bisexual rep. And it’s endlessly upsetting. But none of it felt quite like this.
Apparently, Sarah J. Maas decided in the third book that she wanted to stop getting sh*t for her heteronormativity. So she decided to take a character who had been established as straight, and make her bi.
So she took this character, Morrigan. She makes Morrigan cry. She writes Morrigan’s impassioned speech to Feyre. This is Morrigan’s coming out, for the first time. Morrigan says that she prefers women. To the point that she is only capable of feeling romantic love for a women.
But occasionally, she will force herself to sleep with a man. In order “to keep people from looking too closely.” Instead of telling the man who has been in love with her for centuries that she doesn’t love him back, won’t ever love him back, she forces herself to sleep with men when he’ll know that she’s done it, so that she still seems straight but he’ll know she doesn’t love him.
And the author dubs it bisexuality.
I hate that she felt entitled to use this underrepresented, misunderstood sexuality as a playing piece in her own quest to be well-liked. I hate that the hundreds of thousands of people who read this book have been given this depiction of bisexuality. And I hate that Sarah J. Maas will keep writing wildly successful books. Books in this very series, depicting this character in this way and calling it “bisexuality.”
It’s unfair. It’s awful. And I am never, never, never going to forget that it happened.
Bottom line: I didn’t expect to like this book. But I also didn’t expect it would become one of my least favorite books I’ve ever read.