Book Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

ACOWARA Court of Wings and Ruin
by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury
Form: Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Magic, War, Love, Relationships, Sisterhood, Sacrifice, Identity, Redemption

Summary from Goodreads (Book 3): Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit – and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords – and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

My thoughts:
The final book in the series really excels in two ways: world-building and showing the costs of war.

In this book, more than any other, we get glimpses of the other Courts: Autumn Court, Winter Court, Dawn Court, and Day Court. The Dawn Court in particular was one that I loved imagining. Their palace reads like a calm, pastel paradise:

Steps and balconies and archways and verandas and bridges linked the towers and gilded domes of the palace, periwinkle morning glories climbing the pillars and neatly cut blocks of stone to drink in the gilded mists wafting by.

It’s not just places that we get glimpses of, but the people who inhabit each of the different Courts. The world really comes to life, and sets up a wealth of possibilities for future books.

I was also really impressed with how the author conveyed the costs of war. While lives lost, injury, and overall destruction were portrayed, it was the mental and spiritual toll that she highlighted in the story. Seeing war from Feyre’s point-of-view, someone who hasn’t experienced it prior, gave a glimpse of how war changes your soul. And yet why she fought and what drove her. For a series that has explored abuse, trauma, and recovery–it made sense for the author to show the toll war takes on the mind and spirit.

While not the last book in this world, this book is a solid conclusion to the trilogy that is Feyre’s story arc. Readers will be satisfied with her growth as a character and her role in protecting the world she loves.

Overall: This series was a pleasant surprise. If you enjoy lush fantasy world-building, strong female protagonists, deep ensemble cast of characters, and well-written action sequences, this series delivers. Recommended for older teens due to mature content and themes (sex, violence, abuse).

Series Review: A Court of Mist and Fury (Book 2)

ACOMAFSome spoilers in this review because I want to discuss some of the key topics in this series: relationships and abuse. Trigger warning, but I think this series does a nice job with the topic.

A Court of Mist and Fury (Book Two)
by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Form: Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Magic, War, Love, Relationships, Trauma, Abuse, Recovery, Sacrifice

Summary from Goodreads (Book 2): Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

My thoughts:
Again this series has a huge following with abundant fan art and Etsy merchandise. I’d heard so much about the series–and had to see what all the fuss was about. However, I’d also heard that the second book in the series, not the first, is is the best in the series. (And yes, it’s very much necessary to read ACOWAR first in order to appreciate book two.)

In the first book, the author sets up a romance that ultimately becomes an unhealthy relationship. The author is forcing the reader to question and consider how relationships are portrayed in fiction.

Sarah J. Maas is flipping expectations and stereotypes:

“You think I don’t know how stories get written–how this story will be written? … I am the dark lord, who stole away the bride of spring. I am a demon, and a nightmare, and I will meet a bad end. He is a golden prince–the hero who will get to keep you as his reward for not dying.”

The golden prince, Tamlin, is controlling and abusive. In the first book, he is portrayed as protective, generous, and handsome with a hint of danger. But these traits evolved in book two–protective became controlling; generosity stemmed from misogyny; and that hint of danger became actual violent outbursts.

The dark lord and demon, who we disliked in book one, morphs into someone who deeply understands the value of freedom and the depths of emotion. Rhysand, the bat-winged lord of the Night Court, is an ally and supporter of the women around him. Not only is he comfortable with powerful women, but he encourages them to take center stage.

This flip was not something I was anticipating, and it was executed beautifully. We witness the slow and painful realization by the main character, Feyre, that something isn’t right about her relationship. Part of the book’s exhaustive 600+ is giving Feyre the time she needs to heal after both emotional and physical abuse. And by the book’s end, Feyre has discovered what true love is and should be–an equal partnership of mutual respect.

I realized how badly I’d been treated before, if my standards had become so low. If the freedom I’d been granted felt like a privilege and not an inherent right.

This novel forces readers to consider heavy issues, such as abuse, trauma, and recovery. I went into this series expecting a fantastical world and love triangle romance. But what I got was a heroine who battles PTSD to discover her own inner strength and redefine her self-worth. I had some issues with Feyre in book one, but I am certainly a big fan by the end of book two.

Side note: The settings in this book are stunning. I love the world-building and descriptions of the various courts.

Overall: This book was a pleasant surprise compared to the first book. It twisted the story away from our conventional expectations and explored difficult topics such as abuse, recovery, and identity. Definitely worth reading if you are a fantasy/romance fan.

For mature teens–sex, violence, language, sensitive topics.

I am currently over half way through book three, A Court of Wings and Ruin. Look for a review of the final book in this trilogy soon!

Series Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses (Book 1)

ACOWARMinor spoilers in this review because I want to discuss some of the key topics in this series: relationships and abuse. Trigger warning, but I think this series does a nice job with the topic.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (Book One)
by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Form: Hardback and Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Magic, War, Painting, Love, Relationships, Trauma, Abuse, Recovery

Summary from Goodreads (Book 1): Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

My thoughts:
This series has a huge following and the fans are intense. There is abundant fan art, candle scents in honor of characters, book-inspired jewelry, clothing, and more. I’d heard so much about the series–to the point where I even recognized the characters names without having read the books (Feyre, Tamlin, Rhysand).

However, I’d also heard that the second book in the series, not the first, is what really blew people away. But with book one being over 400 pages and book two being over 600 pages… this was a big investment of my time. Was the second book really going to have the payoff to make it all worth it? (And yes, it’s very much necessary to read ACOWAR first in order to appreciate book two.)

The first book is loosely based around the story of Beauty and the Beast. It was a slow read for me. I enjoyed the main character’s love of painting. The world and descriptions were vivid and interesting. And this author can write action really well! There were some really memorable fight scenes.

But the relationship/romance made me cringe, and the logic of some plot points left me confused. I couldn’t understand why Feyre felt forced into certain positions or made certain decisions.

But what the author is setting up in the first book is an unhealthy relationship. But you won’t necessarily know the relationship is unhealthy as you are reading it right away. Something about it just feels off–yet it’s so similar to a lot of relationships you read in novels (YA or adult). She creates a character who is strong and worthy of love, shows them falling in love, and then shows how the character changes–but changes in an unhealthy way as a result of her relationship. And yet, there were a lot of readers supporting this relationship when this book first came out. The author is forcing the reader to questions and think about how relationships are portrayed in novels.

What makes the second book in this series so excellent is how Sarah J. Maas is flipping expectations and stereotypes, and forcing readers to consider some very heavy issues.

Stay tuned for my next post where I tackle book two: A Court of Mist and Fury

Behind the Story: Deciding Between Standalone or Multiple Books

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:
Standalone to Multiple Books: Making the Decision

When I set out on my current Work-In-Progress (WIP), I was resolved to write a standalone novel.  I am doing an adaptation of a classic piece of literature.  That classic is one, admittedly long, book.  Therefore, I would write one book.  I thought a standalone novel was a good place to begin for a new writer, and I didn’t want to jump on the series bandwagon.  One book.  I could handle one book.

But as I started writing, I began to worry.  My word count was high.  And climbing.  I am not a verbose wordsmith either.  My scenes are quick.  Rarely do I write more than three sentences of description.  I like action.  In fact, while I’m praised for my fast pacing, my advisors and critique partners often want more description.  So the fact that my word count was so high made me nervous.  Because I knew I would need to eventually go back and flesh out descriptions and close plot holes that I sped past.

I was less than two-thirds through the first draft when I hit the max word count for a typical Young Adult standalone novel.  (YA typically falls between 55k and 90k.)  And so I knew I had to do some serious thinking.

Why had I tethered myself to this one book idea?  Mostly, it was because I wanted to be identical to the classic novel I was adapting.  Was that a wise decision?  Can I consider another option?

And when I thought about it, multiple books actually made more sense.

  • My one book is very much divided into three distinct parts.
  • There are three completely different settings.
  • Each part ends with a devastating event.
  • Each part ends with both a resolution as well as a cliffhanger.
  • Each part begins with my character grappling with change and new conflict.

I had three books.  Easily.  In fact, three books made so much more sense.  So I gave in.  And the good side is: I have almost an entire trilogy drafted.  Not just outlined.  Drafted.  And that rocks.

The tough part: it’s all a little more overwhelming.  Because a part of every writer wonders why anyone would want to read their book.  And now I have to persuade a reader to not just invest their time and money in one book, but three.  And that’s more pressure.

But I love my story.  I love my characters.  I love my setting.  And I know this story isn’t like anything else that’s out there right now.

So I’ll ignore the pressure and doubts.  And keep writing.  Because deep down: I just love this story.  And I have to write it.  Even if it takes me three books.

Have you ever had a story evolve beyond your expectations?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!