A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Preamble

I haven’t written a review in a few weeks because I first spent a week visiting my parents for the first time since Christmas 2019, and then I came home and started playing Elden Ring. At this point I almost feel like I should review Elden Ring because of how much of my free time it has consumed (and I’ve loved every minute of it). But hopefully this discussion marks the return of my review-writing groove. 

Description

“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.” – the blurb from the author’s website.

Recommendation

If you read book 1 and liked it but wished it was better, go ahead and read book 2.

I wasn’t planning on continuing to read this series. I asked some friends who read romance novels for recommendations with the context that I liked the premise of A Court of Thorns and Roses but felt it was done poorly for all the reasons I outlined in my review. I also went googling for the same purpose, and both friends and forums promised that the second book in the series is better than the first but otherwise didn’t have any recommendations for similar-but-better book options. So, I took the plunge and picked up book 2. 

Cover of A Court of Mist and Fury

Discussion

A Court of Mist and Fury (ACOMAF) was pretty immediately better than the first installment, A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR). It starts as an honestly pretty sensitive rumination on post-traumatic stress. For the first act, nothing significant really happens, and the focus is instead on Feyre, Tamlin, Lucien, and Rhysand dealing with daily life in the aftermath of the ending of ACOTAR. There’s exploration of survivor’s guilt, night terrors, and physical side effects of trauma. We see Feyre and Tamlin react to their shared trauma in very different ways. The climax to this first act in Feyre’s emotional rupture upends the status quo for all of the major characters and sets the stage for the introduction of several new characters.  

The characters felt more developed and nuanced in A Court of Mist and Fury than they did in A Court of Thorns and Roses. This book benefited greatly from bringing in the Court of Dreams characters in the second act, providing people other than Feyre, Tamlin, and Lucien for Feyre to think about. We get more direct characterization through the characters interacting with each other as opposed to everyone being mostly awkward and silent and Feyre over-narrating everything she thinks about everyone. A lasting complaint I have from book 1 that still stands in book 2, though, is that you can tell who’s going to be a ‘good guy’ eventually from how much characterization they get. Tamlin still has no personality after about a thousand pages. Even the way his trauma response is handled in the first act is much flatter than the other characters, and it’s basically used as an excuse for turning Tamlin into a villain so readers can root for a Feyre-Rhysand ship without guilt. Lucien is probably going to turn Good Guy in book 3 based on the relative nuance of his behavior. Rhys was the most interesting character in book 1 so obviously he’s Super Good Guy in book 2. Tamlin’s flatness emphasizes my feeling that book 1 was written because Maas really wanted to write book 2, but she knew it needed buildup for the scenes to work. Unfortunately, book 1 feels rushed and empty. 

The world feels fuller in A Court of Mist and Fury than it did in book 1. I know there were supposedly a lot of faeries trapped Under the Mountain in book 1, but it doesn’t make sense that the entire country’s (continent? What does Prythian count as?) worth of people could fit there. The world didn’t feel lived-in in book 1, but it does in book 2. Unfortunately, the background people that make Prythian feel fuller in ACOMAF are pretty flat. I think Maas’s writing lacks exactly what I think Terry Pratchett excels at–in his books, each character feels like a real, full person with some degree of depth no matter how minor their role in the plot.

The tradition continues in this book that no physical danger for any of the named Good Guy characters is permanent. People die, but they don’t have names or personalities. Even though most of the main cast has been through intense emotional trauma (especially by the end of book 2), the stakes still feel very low due to the consistent reversal of physical consequences and how quippy the characters are with each other even in tense situations.

The writing in this book still drove me nuts for the most part. To her credit, Maas used less em-dashes. However, she still made a lot of questionable choices, including:

  • Bones, muscles, knives, etc “barking” far more than they did in book 1
  • People constantly hissing, growling, snarling, purring, and baring or flashing their teeth. Are they cats and dogs? Has Maas never seen a cat, or a dog for that matter?
  • Almost unilaterally referring to women as “females” and men as “males.” In the real world, this linguistic tendency screams incel to me, especially the “females” part. I tried to give Maas the benefit of the doubt, thinking ‘oh maybe this is just a facet of her world, no one calls anyone men or women because there’s so many humanoid species, maybe men and women are terms just for humans.’ That benefit of the doubt crumbled on two counts: 1. Humans also call each other males and females all the time in this series. 2. It’s not consistent. Rhys refers to Feyre as a woman a couple of times, and Feyre refers to the human queens as women. I don’t remember if anyone actually says man or men though. What gives, Maas? Super weird.
  • This isn’t specific to Maas, but she seems to come up with phrases that she likes and then re-uses them in close proximity to the first usage, but then never again. Example: in the king of Hybern’s throne room, Feyre narrates that Tamlin “had the good sense to look horrified” at something, and then a couple pages later she narrates that the king of Hybern “had the good sense to look somewhat unnerved.” Used once, it makes sense as Feyre identifying that there might be some kernel of humanity left in Tamlin. Used again so soon, it feels lazy.
  • She never uses anatomical words for genitalia except for “cock,” leading to a lot of awkward euphemisms like ‘the bundle of nerves at the apex of my thighs.’ We’re all adults here, it’s okay to call things what they are.

Awkward avoidance of certain vocabulary aside, the sex parts were better than in the first book. ACOMAF is mostly a slow burn between Rhys and Feyre, and I think Maas does a good job with their flirting and teasing. When there are explicit sex scenes, Maas’s writing feels less shy than it did in the first book, with the exception of my vocab complaint above. The ‘payoff’ scenes are longer and more detailed than they were in book 1, and they often have a narrative significance that feels more skillfully arranged than those in the first book.

Overall, Maas’s second installment of her A Court of Nouns and Other Nouns series is better in pretty much every way than the first. I still hesitate to call it a “good” book, in the way that I would be reluctant to call a really addictive garbage reality TV show (*cough cough* Love Is Blind *cough cough*) “good” TV, but that’s not going to stop me from consuming the entire series.

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