Thursday 5 May 2016

#CBR8 Book 46: "A Court of Thorns and Roses" by Sarah J. Maas

Page count: 432 pages
Rating: 4 stars

After Feyre's father lost all his money, her family (widowed, crippled father and two older sisters) live in a tiny cottage desperately trying to make ends meet. They mainly survive because Feyre taught herself to hunt and tries to make sure they have enough to eat. The only way they make money is if her father sells one of his wood carvings or Feyre has animal skins to sell at the market. One day, when Fayre sees a giant wolf in the woods while hunting and kills it with an arrow through the eye. The pelt brings her a fair amount at market, but come the evening, she discovers that she made a huge mistake.

The wolf was in fact a faerie in disguise, from the near-by faerie kingdom of Prythian. A gigantic fearsome beast comes tearing into her family's cottage and demands that she come with him, to spend the rest of her life in Prythian, or pay with her life for killing the wolf. Fayre doesn't really have a choice and fears for the safety of her father and sisters if she doesn't go with the beast. She discovers that the creature is in fact one of the high fae, Tamlin, High Lord of the Spring Court and the wolf she killed was one of his vassals. Due to a curse, all the members of Tamlin's court are stuck forever wearing elaborate masks. There is clearly something badly wrong in Prythian, a danger that may easily spill over the borders to the human lands, but no one seems willing to tell Fayre the truth about anything, while she's otherwise treated as an honoured guest in Tamlin's household.

Initially, Fayre keeps trying to escape to get back to her family, until Tamlin reveals that he's made sure her father and sister are safe and in fact prosperous again, but only as long as she stays put on his lands. Reluctantly, she tries to settle into her new life and slowly, but surely, she grows closer to both Tamlin and his sarcastic, one-eyed envoy, Lucien. It also becomes clear that neither of them want any of the faeries from the other High Courts or the mysterious "she" who cursed them to realise that Fayre is living there.

Fayre's hatred and resentment towards faeries eventually changes, and she grows more and more attracted to Tamlin, who in return seems to love her. When danger threatens, he sends her home to her family to protect her, but she refuses to stay, wanting instead to fight it with him. She returns to find him gone, with his servants finally able to tell her more about what the curse actually entailed. Fayre now has to fight her way into the evil Faerie Queen's realm and risk everything she has to break the curse and rescue Lucien and Tamlin.

While I've seen this book described in a lot of places as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which certainly applies a bit, the fairy tale it reminded me the most of was East of the Sun, West of the Moon, one of my favourite stories as a child. The youngest girl in a family is taken away by a large white bear in return for untold riches given to the family. By day a bear, he turns into a man by night, although the girl never gets to see what he looks like. When she's eventually tempted enough to light a candle to take a look, three drops of wax fall on his shirt and he wakes up. If the girl had stayed patient for a while longer, the prince's curse would have been broken. Instead he has to go marry a troll princess. The girl travels east of the sun and west of the moon to track him down and has to complete three tasks to rescue him.

If I'd been aware that this book was based on one of my favourite fairy tales (I've not seen this confirmed anywhere, but I refuse to believe the similarities in the overall plot are co-incidental), I probably would have read it a lot sooner. As it is, I waited until it fit into my Monthly Key Word Challenge for April and found it quite hard going in the beginning, because Fayre really isn't the most engaging of protagonists. She's angry, cranky and quite hateful and it took me a while to warm up to her. At the same time, I suppose the fact that she refused to meekly accept her captivity and kept trying to save herself is better than meekly submitting, like a lot of classic fairy tale heroines.

The book really got interesting to me by the time I figured out that the story was indeed a lot more East of the Sun, West of the Moon than Beauty and the Beast and Fayre has to face up to what her pride and stubbornness has wrought. The challenges posed to her by the Faerie Queen really are nearly insurmountable and Fayre is forced to make some really uncomfortable bargains to survive long enough to get a chance to rescue Tamlin and Lucien.

While I thought the evil Queen veered too close to insane, evil stereotype, there were a lot of other interesting characters in the supporting cast. The eldest of Fayre's sisters seems pretty horrible at first, but really grew on me as the book progressed. I hope she returns in one of the sequels and gets more to do. I also liked Lucien, and while Rhysand was made out to be a bit of a push-over and a sinister creep to begin with, there is clearly a lot of complicated reasons he acts the way he does, and the way the final half of this book played out, we're clearly going to find out a lot more about him in the sequel. I'm asking you up front, Ms. Maas, can we please avoid the inevitable love triangle? Pretty please, with sugar on top? Can't Rhysand have a different love interest? Thank you in advance.

I tend to like my faeries when they're dark, ruthless and sinister and there was certainly enough of this in A Court of Thorns and Roses. One of the benefits of waiting so long to pick it up is that the next book in the series is out any day. So now I have that to look forward to.

Judging a book by its cover: It's an eye-catching cover, to be sure.There's a striking contrast between the red and black dominating the cover, with the writing all in white. I'm assuming the woman on the cover is Fayre, our heroine, based mainly on her long brown hair and the tattooed arm. Her outfit, however, looks like a leotard seemingly made out of black scales and feathers, and bears no resemblance to anything she is described as wearing at any point in the story.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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