ACOTAR Review (GoodReads)
ACOMAF Review (Bitchy Fantasy)
This book is probably the most interesting one in Sarah J Maas’s career because it’s her first attempt at completing a story. Yes, there is the second trilogy coming (give it to me now!), but from what I’ve heard, it will be from a new perspective. New storyline. Same characters? But different story. I think. I’ve been reading Maas’s books for years now, but I’ve never heard her say “the end”. The end is the most important part. It determines if you have a good or bad taste in your mouth when you close the book for the last time.
So what did I taste?
I was always told to point out the good, bad, good when critiquing. Start with some good. Go to the bad (and there is bad) and end with good.
The best part of ACOWAR is that Feyre is the villian the first 80 pages. Yes, there is the looming threat of Hybern and Maas’s ill-conceived, incestial royal twins, but in the context of the Spring Court, Feyre is the villain. We see the poisoned kernels she feeds the Spring Court and the Hybern emissaries. She is conniving. She is duplicitous. Every action and word out of her mouth has a purpose. Her former lover sold out the world so he could own her, but she refuses to be owned and will destroy his world for that betrayal.
This creates a claustrophobic sense of unease and suspense. It felt sleek and precise. We could feel Feyre’s rage and need for revenge.
But there will always be a but.
Some of Feyre’s decisions are troubling. She uses the abuse Tamlin inflicts on her as a tool to manipulate Lucien and his men. I don’t think I have to explain why this is highly dangerous behaviour. It trivialized domestic abuse and converts it into a plot point. Women do not seek help for their abuse for manipulative reasons. They seek help because they need help. I understand that Feyre’s acts are supposed to be empowering–the abused manipulating the abuser to their benefit–but Maas does not have the where-with-all to pull this off. It comes off very negatively on Feyre, and though she does have reservations to being a spy, this is something that is never addressed.
I think it is important to notes these things right off the bat because I know that Maas is an author who can be quite polarizing. It seems that people either worship the ground she walks on, even to the very bitter end, or they actively hate her and criticize the phobic rhetoric she either knowingly or ignorantly perpetuates. Maas has become a symbol of the old school, which compared to her more culturally knowledgable contemporaries, only makes her characters more out dated, her relationships stale (like white bread), and her storytelling less worldly.
Maas has become a symbol of white feminism. She is Becky with the good hair. She speaks openly about girl power, but it’s a very certain type of empowerment that is being shown in her stories. Her Ivankian narrow-mindedness (yes, I just coined Ivankian) will not satisfy an audience that is more aware of the room they sit in, more vocal about the color of their skin, more vocal about their sexuality. An audience that doesn’t mind calling out an author, and won’t sit for a story that doesn’t keep up with the times. Maas has been silent about the criticism, and silence is louder than words.
This is not new information. I’m just pointing out concerns other’s have brought up before and will continue to do so. The audience will only grow louder until they decide it’s time to leave.
Where does that place me? I’ve said in the past that I enjoy reading Maas’s books, but I acknowledge that my reviews will always come from a place of privilege. We have to do better. Authors have to do better. Maas has to do better. Pointing out problematic material is important, especially with things you enjoy, because complacency breeds a status quo that elects Trump to office. Maybe it’s unfair to bring up Trump in a review for a fantasy book, but Maas is touching on issues close to home and country. A “superior” race wishing to enslave an “inferior” race. A fucking WALL that separates races. If anything, ACOWAR proves that fantasy can never be completely removed from reality.
I do think she tried to learn and grow in this book. She still makes mistakes, but it is not my place to say whether she correctly portrays these attempts at diversity. I will read and grow from the other reviews out there.
I’ve dug myself a little deep. Let’s build ourselves a ladder and get out of the review. Let’s talk about some things I loved. These are some of my thoughts that I jotted down as I was reading. This section will be full of spoilers…
The Night Court. I love every single one of them. I want them to stay happy and healthy. I could listen to their banter forever.
There is one off-handed comment where we find out that Rhys went shopping for his wedding band while Feyre was at the Spring Court. I like to imagine Rhys just casually browsing jewelry while Feyre is in the den of their enemy.
I swear that the people of Velaris are just the people from Roller Coaster Tycoon. We never hear or see them, but they are there, supposedly. I like to imagine they just walk around aimlessly like in the game.
I thought mates were suppose to be some rare thing, but literally everyone in ACOWAR has a mate. You get a mate, and you get a mate, and you get a mate. Everybody gets a mattteeeee!
Nesta is April Ludgate. I value her above every other character. She is the light of my life. Nesta and Cassian are my second favorite Maas couple (behind Elide and Lorcan of course).
If this next trilogy does not center around Nesta and Cassian, I will be disappointed. If this next trilogy ruins Cassian and Nesta, I will be VERY disappointed.
I think one of the biggest surprises was how badly I liked the Elain/Azriel pairing that was hinted at. You can almost see the triangle that is being formed in this book with Lucien.
I will say the hetero pairings are a bit of an overkill. The Night Court reminds me of a group of kids I knew in middle school. There were about 10 of them, and they only hung out with each other. They only dated within their small circle. Middle school relationships tend to have a short shelf life, so they were dating and breaking up with each other all the time. It was like one big hetero orgy for three years. I think I have diverted from the review, but you get my point.
I actually found Lucien to be the most compelling character in this book. See, by the end of ACOMAF Feyre has already discovered who she is. She knows what she wants. This book is really about maintaining the happiness she has found with Rhys and extending that opportunity to the rest of the world. Feyre doesn’t really have any inner strife (yeah, the mirror but I don’t really count that). All of the conflict for Feyre is external. The characters floating around Feyre, though, have a lot of inner turmoil. Nesta. Elain. Mor. Lucien. And yes, even Tamlin. I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I think Maas handled the Tamlin situation very well. She made him a sympathetic character without romanticizing him and without letting him off the hook. He has his little moment of redemption, but you don’t forget the things he has done. You don’t forget the things Lucien didn’t do. They feel like people with major flaws unlike the perfect facade that we find with a character like Rhys. Rhys can be too self-sacrificing at times. Don’t get me wrong, though. I’ve never been the biggest Rhys fan, but I did cry my single and only tear when he died (and then came back). Proof below:
RIP Suriel. It was actually sad to see that annoying codetalker go.
The scene where all the fae and humans meet to discuss a new peace treaty and tell their stories feels like the gym scene in Mean Girls.
My favorite line in the book was said by Lucien, “I hadn’t realized I was the villain in your narrative.” This is an overall theme for the trilogy. Everybody believes what they do is for the better good, but minds can become narrowed with time. Lines and walls are constructed to keep the other out, but life is easier when you are willing to listen to someone who is different from you. Those differences become fainter and reveal the human, or fae, in all of us.
So that taste? I’d say it’s bittersweet.