A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J. Maas

I admit it: I have resisted reading Sarah J. Maas's enormously popular A Court of Thorns and Roses, despite recommendations from several friends. I have tried a few of her books before, and—while they were undeniably readable—they felt vaguely generic, like she'd been handed an AI-generated list of hot literature trends for young women aged 16 to 21 and told to do her damnedest to fit them all into 400 pages. That said, it's summer, we're all in the market for some beach reading, and you could do a lot worse than a fun but formulaic romantic fantasy.

A Court of Thorns and Roses borrows heavily from a bunch of classic stories: Cupid and Psyche, Beauty and the Beast, East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and Tam Lin. Maas's heroine is Feyre, a no-nonsense young woman struggling to care for her family after a bad investment by her father costs them their fortune. When she goes for a hunt and kills the wrong beast, however, a vengeful Fae lord named Tamlin shows up at her doorstep, demanding that she give up her former life to live with him in his castle.

If you've read basically any Beauty and the Beast retelling, you can probably guess where the story goes from here. Unfortunately, when a plotline is this familiar, my brain wants to skip ahead to the exciting bits, and that's a big issue with this story, which centers around a “romance” that [Spoiler! I think? I'd almost bet money!] isn't going to go anywhere. Tamlin, despite the major role he plays in this installment, is clearly not a Good Guy, and—worse—he's not even a particularly sexy Bad Guy. He's stiff, secretly manipulative, and more than a little creepy. I just can't see him being the romantic protagonist long-term, because in YA romance (NOTE: NOT IN REAL LIFE!!!) the heroines are usually better off with someone who seems more openly evil/unpleasant from the get-go. It's the romantic equivalent of that Oscar Wilde quote: “True friends stab you in the front.”

Tamlin aside, I enjoyed this book well enough. Maas continues to be an extremely competent storyteller, and there's more than enough action, sex, and drama to keep the pages turning. I've already ordered the rest of the series, but I'm hopeful I'll find the later installments more emotionally engaging if/when the author changes up the main romantic pairing. And Maas is a smooth enough writer that I MIGHT even eventually accept a Tamlin/Feyre pairing (as long as he gets a complete personality transplant), if that's where the story ends up—but I'm at least 96% certain it won't.
Posted by: Julianka


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