Although I had a huge interest in Greek and Roman mythology when I was growing up, consuming and devouring any kind of stories that I could get my hands on, and I enjoyed a few Norse legends and folk tales too, when I could get my hands on them, I actually know very little about Irish folk tales. There are, of course, the usual stories that every Irish child learns about – Fionn MacCumhaill, Cú Chulainn, The Children of Lir, Diarmiud and Gráinne, The Táin Bó Cúaingle – but if I were actually pressed about the deities of ancient Ireland, I would be hard pressed to come up with any solid information. The majority of my information about Irish and Scottish fairies is derived from books which give different interpretations of them – like the Wicked Lovely series, which I read entirely based on the fact that the main character had my name, or Holly Black’s Tithe, or even Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. All of those books feature the division of fairies into different Courts, as tall, beautiful, otherworldly beings with pointed ears and an inability to lie (at least, a perceived one), as well as an aversion to iron.
So when I began to read A Court of Thorns and Roses, I thought I knew what I was in for – more Fae, much like in the Throne of Glass series, which Maas also wrote – and a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which I thought would be interesting.
I think I had set my expectations too low, though. I didn’t really rate the Wicked Lovely series, I didn’t even finish the Tithe series, and The Mortal Instruments are good but not great. It seemed to me that fairies weren’t exactly an area in which I would really love the books I was reading. A Court of Thorns and Roses really turned that around for me. It was really very good.
When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that the world in which it is set is essentially the UK and Ireland. Although I had seen the map at the front of the book, it didn’t register with me where on the map the story took place until the word ‘Hybernian’ was used, and something clicked in my mind. Feyre was then obviously on Great Britain, and Hybern, the neighbouring land, was the Ireland-shaped mass off to the side. I could have, of course, deduced this from reading the names of the countries on the map. And there’s even a little arrow which points to where Feyre’s village is. But I was reading on my kindle, and the map is small. And I’m dumb.
I really thoroughly enjoyed ACOTAR. Feyre (although it infuriated me that her name isn’t pronounced how I thought it would be, since it’s Fay-ruh, not Fair) was a great main character, who was curious and impulsive and not perfect, but tried really hard. She had immense loyalty towards her family, even when they were horrendous to her, and her sense of duty and obligation is her driving force in life. Tamlin, her romantic interest, was less interesting – mostly just a stock gorgeous man character, he paled in comparison to Rhysand, who I found entirely fascinating. Dark, brooding, the Lord of Shadows, I am so on board with this character, I can’t wait to see more of him in A Court of Mist and Fury.
What I really enjoyed about ACOTAR wasn’t just the characters, but also the slippery, bargain-making, promise-bound honour of the High Fae and their obligations to each other. Their loyalties and alliances and behaviour was really compelling to try to understand.
ACOTAR is much more mature than the Throne of Glass series. I would really class it as NA, rather than YA, although it was similar in tone to Empire of Storms at times. It was at times dark and brooding and ominous, at times horrendous, and at times a sweeping romance. It really is very good.
I’m looking forward to reading A Court of Mist and Fury, the sequel, when I get the chance, and will definitely be looking out for other stuff from Sarah J Maas in the future.