“Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings 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.” – blurb from the author’s website.
If you read the first two books and want closure, go ahead and read this one. I’ll be interested to see what books 4 and 5 in this series cover in terms of plot; the series could have ended at book 3 and it would have been tidy enough. My hunch is that Maas thought fans wanted more Feysand romance scenes to end their arc with since the last third or so of book 3 was nonstop plot.
The second book in this series, A Court of Mist and Fury, is still the best one in my opinion. The third book, A Court of Wings and Ruin, has a little bit of interesting scheming in the first part, but that same part hearkens back to book 1 in that it is mostly Feyre angstily hanging out at Tamlin’s court not talking much and over-narrating constantly. Once Feyre makes it back to the Night Court with her friends, the book struggles with a lack of convincing tension.
By this point in the series, the sexual and romantic tension between Feyre and Rhys has pretty much evaporated, replaced with their super supportive, pretty much perfect relationship, which is a little bit boring. And the last books taught us that every time someone’s life (as long as they’re a named Good Guy) is threatened, a healer will find them in time to save them from permanent damage. The situation at the end of book 2 was super dire for everyone, but everyone recovered. Feyre’s sisters were emotionally messed up for a while from being Cauldron-ed against their will, but other than that there were no lasting consequences for anyone. There were several scenes and passages in book 2 about how devastating it is when something happens to an Illyrian’s wings, but all three Illyrian Good Guys sustain major wing damage that just…doesn’t matter long-term. All of these character-level stakes invalidations make the bigger stakes set by Hybern feel hollow.
Despite Maas spending the bulk of the book trying to convince the reader that Prythian is well and truly screwed if Hybern invaded, I was never convinced of the danger. Maas’s macro (worldbuilding, politics, overarching plot) is not strong enough to keep my interest through this long book on its own. Her dramatic tension falls flat time after time because the stakes simply aren’t real. The Hybern battle was kind of a farce of deus ex machina chaining. Like, “Hybern is way too strong, we’ll never beat them! But wait, the Spring and Autumn courts showed up to help! Oh shit they’re still too strong! But wait, we have three superpowered dudes to fight on our side! But wait, Hybern killed two of them with the cauldron / simply snapping their necks??? (how convenient for Maas to not have to figure out what to do with an unleashed Weaver and Carver in a post-battle world). But wait, we’ve got reinforcements coming in from boats led by Feyre’s dad who we haven’t seen for two books! Oh shit they have reinforcements too and the cauldron is still too strong! …And I’m not really even exaggerating here. That’s what the battle felt like. And the whole time you know that everything is going to turn out okay because it always does. In a giant battle where the stakes were supposedly that the entire Good Guys party expected to die, and the consequences of losing were that all of humanity was going to be re-enslaved, the only casualties of Good Guy characters were…just Feyre’s dad, I think? And the aforementioned Weaver and Carver, but they were more like mercenaries. I’m not saying I want characters to die and countries to crumble so that I can enjoy a book series. I am fine with the primary tension of the series being the romantic and sexual tension. I just think that if Maas is going to go for the angle of giant-war-that-could-kill-everyone and cast herself as an epic fantasy writer, she should see it through.
Speaking of the three superpowered superpowered dudes in the Hybern battle, let’s talk about faerie magic bargains. The power level of bargains is weird in the whole series, but the issue comes into sharper focus in book 3 since bargains are used to control the three powerful and spooky creatures that become part of the deus ex machina chain in the final act of the book. Why don’t the characters abuse bargain magic to their advantage? Can Feyre and Reysand make a “bargain” with each other that they have to see each other at least once a week so that anyone who prevents them from doing so angers the mysterious neutral-third-party-faerie-bargain-magic and gets killed? Or are their rules about the terms of bargains? The way bargains currently exist in the series–overused, generally for alliances between unlikely friends, and underexplained–leaves them feeling like a cheap way to remove betrayal as a possibility for every subplot they’re integral to, which in turn feels like a shortcut to not having to worry about whether your characters’ motives and behaviors are consistent and sensible.
The other underexplained faerie magic mechanic that drives me a little bit nuts in this series is mating bonds. From what we’ve seen, they’re always heterosexual. There’s some vague hand-waving about it being related to procreation instincts, but it just feels like just another heteronormative slap in the face to queer readers. I wonder if Maas got some fan letters complaining about how painfully straight everyone in the series was after book 2 came out, because in this book we finally get some gays. There’s at least two bisexual characters, two lesbians, a reference to mmf threesomes, and a gay character. Finally having some representation is nice, but Mor’s coming-out seemed weird. How, in 500 years of going into his cousin’s mind, did Rhysand never find out she was a primarily sapphic bisexual? How, in 500 years of living in a seemingly decently sexual society, spending most of that time with her very close and loving circle of friends, would this have never come up? The reason Maas gives for Mor keeping it from her blood family–because she didn’t want them to be able to use that part of her to hurt her–makes sense and is consistent with what a lot of LGBTQ+ folks go through. But I don’t think I buy her being closeted that hard in the rest of her life for that long. Her sexuality feels like a box-checking afterthought.
To round out this review, I figured I’d call out some more silly writing pet peeves. In every romance scene I can remember, there is mention of the man’s callused hands “scraping” against Feyre’s softer skin. Every time. I get the sensory detail she’s going for, but she could mix it up with the verbs, especially because “scraping” is a pretty gross one. Maas also really overuses the image of Rhys “tracing lazy circles on [Feyre’s] skin with a finger.” That one is so specific that it draws attention to itself and is all the more noticeable in its repetition.
…I’m still reading them all, though, aren’t I? As I mentioned in the recommendation section, I am curious to see where the story goes from here. The stakes in book 3, regardless of how real they may have felt, and their resolution reminded me a little bit of Abhorsen by Garth Nix. There’s just such a final-boss feeling about the characters all banding together to overcome a massive threat that I’m not sure where else the story could go unless Maas drops the pretense that she’s trying to write epics.