Written by Lauryn Smith
I am not likely to win any friends with my review of “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas. Recommended to me by another Reviewer, this book is a Young Adult fan favorite, but I question whether I can get on board.
Before you ask, yes, I kept an open mind while dutifully reading through to the very last page (a necessity, since I swore to read its sequel, which I have been assured is much better than its predecessor).
“A Court of Thorns and Roses” is the first in Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series. An amalgamation of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Twilight,” a touch of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and a pinch of “The Hunger Games,” this book exemplifies fan fiction, and not entirely originally (more on this later).
In it, a teenaged, wholly human diamond in the rough named Feyre kills a fearsome wolf in the woods and soon after is snatched from her derelict home by a handsome and fierce faerie, because, surprise, that wolf was actually a faerie, too. But her captor, Tamlin, is no ordinary faerie. He is a High Fae—a normal faerie but more striking, more magical and more powerful. Now a forced resident of Tamlin’s estate, Feyre learns that the kingdom’s residents are in turmoil and at risk of losing their powers, effects of a curse that was put on the land. Another effect? The faeries all have masquerade masks permanently stuck to their faces. Naturally, Feyre and Tamlin bond and fall in love, and Feyre’s sacrifice on Tamlin’s behalf restores peace to the land.
Given that Feyre is clearly an integral player among her peers (family breadwinner turned stoic faerie prisoner and savior), shouldn’t she be impactful? Portray confidence? Evoke sympathy? Instead, she is kind of a dud, and it is not because of her intrinsic traits but rather the rendering of her character, which in the end is rather flat and static.
Feyre’s attachment to the art of painting is perhaps the most notable example of her imperfect characterization. We are told from the start that she enjoys the beauty of color and paint, and later we learn that she wishes that she can recreate the colors she actively sees, yet she doubts her ability. This is all fine and good. But what does this aspect add to the story? Frustratingly little. The sporadic quips about Feyre’s focus on color are integrated inorganically and each time sound immaturely pretentious. Instead of adding depth to Feyre’s character, these lines jar the reader’s following of the story and evoke a mental avoidance of Feyre.
Now, let’s circle back and talk about how each of the stories mentioned earlier manifest in “A Court of Thorns and Roses.” The plotline is actually the best part of the story, but many elements are not unique. The similarities to other tales are uncanny. For instance:
Sure, art is a process of stealing from others, but that process should also involve improvement and ingenuity. “A Court of Thorns and Roses” in its final form feels like a rough draft stolen from one of Maas’s high school notebooks.
Writing a book for pure entertainment is not a bad thing, but Maas seems to try to add hints of substance, and unfortunately, those attempts fall flat. “A Court of Thorns in Roses” is a fairytale in the simplest sense of the word. Even though the book is romantic fantasy, wouldn’t a touch of reality, or at least humanity, make the story infinitesimally more compelling than what it otherwise is?
I am not ignorant of the fact that for her age Maas is an accomplished writer. But after reading “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” I wonder how she achieved her acclaim. (I am going to take a second to gripe about her writing in this book, specifically her use of the word “hiss.” According to Maas, people hiss with nearly with every breath. Her overuse of the word makes it completely lose its impact.) From what I understand, this book series is Maas’s venture into adult fiction, but I cannot say with confidence that her writing will appeal to an adult audience. The book is truly YA. (How it compares to her actual YA novels, I do not know.)
Perhaps my biggest concern with Maas’s writing is that she does not show, she tells. Cliché, yes, but the reasoning behind the cliché is spot on. I could not help but find some of her unnecessary explanations, often in the form of Feyre’s thoughts immediately after events, a bit insulting. I do not think that my YA standards are too high. Entertainment for young audiences that incorporates actual substance is possible (take a look at some of Sherman Alexie’s works, for instance).
All that said, “A Court of Thorns and Roses” is a perfectly fine beach read. The plot moves at an even pace, and there is a good amount of action. I read it while in the heart of Belize! A tween at the Belize airport even made a point of stopping when she saw the book I was holding to proclaim her love for it. Long-standing YA fans, this one is for you.
Title: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1)
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication date: May 5, 2015
Page count: 432
List price: $18.99
Nominations: 2015 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction
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