A Court Of Wings And Ruin | Thoughts
“They say you came back different. Came back wrong.” A crow’s laugh. “I never bother to tell them I think you came back right. Came back right at last.”
Warning: spoilers abound in this review. In order for me to talk about some key points, there's just no way to avoid them! So come back after you've read!
First; thank you, thank you, thank you Sarah J. Maas for skipping any pining we could have endured in the beginning. Taking into account how ACOMAF ended, I was worried the beginning of ACOWAR would include endless chapters drawing out the torment of Feyre being separated from her family (read: Rhysand). I did not want to spend valuable page time seeing what is done in too many novels after the main characters decide to be together - they are torn apart, and thus spend time pining for one another instead of focusing on the bigger matters at hand. In this case, the looming threat of Hybern and attacks on Prythian. So, get our Court of Dreamers back together as a unit, and kick some ass. Maas did just that, and shit when down almost immediately. Thank you.
So, we've skipped any pining, which truth be told did not even exist in ACOMAF as the journey Feyre took was more about emotional healing than finding a partner. Loving herself and healing herself before she could allow someone else--the right someone else--in. This is the romance of two soulmates who have found one another and are reunited, fighting together for their family and land, side by side, as equals. When you take out the angst that so often clouds other would-be great stories, you have a lot of room for some amazing fantasy.
“Rhys growled. 'They took what is ours. And we do not allow those crimes to go unpunished.'
His power rippled and swirled around me.
'You do not fear,' Rhys breathed. 'You do not falter. You do not yield. You go in, you get her, and you come out again.'
I nodded again, holding his stare.
'Remember that you are a wolf. And you cannot be caged.'”
And ahh, the fantasy. If I called ACOMAF a romance first, fantasy second, then ACOWAR is all fantasy. Yes, there are the steamy scenes with Feyre and Rhys, but you know what? They have a normal relationship (well, despite them being all-powerful and winged and immortal). They want to be with each other, support each other, challenge each other, and participate in allllll the physical and emotional ways you can connect and express that feeling. So there are those scenes, but the plot is centered on the war. On the alliances they need to make, the riddles they need to solve, the lines they need to form in order to win each battle.
There is such great, creative fantasy woven into this story--the Cauldron, a firebird, seers, gods, winged races, magical animals, monsters, magical artifacts, demons older than memory...so much creative imagination and every bit of it working into the story the way it's supposed to. Nothing felt forced, no character arc felt unbelievable.
The characters themselves stay true to who they are, which was a concern I had especially in regards to how Tamlin's role would play out. I appreciate how Maas did not simply vilify Tamlin now that we are "done" with him. Let us not ignore that he. loves. Feyre. Maybe not for the right reasons, maybe not in the right way, but it does not change the fact that his heart is broken now at the realization she was not taken, but chose to leave him. And he is angry, and angry, broken-hearted people do spiteful, angry things. It would have been so easy to turn him into a villain, turn his hundreds of years of existence of loving and fighting for Prythian into a meaningless backstory and have him switch sides. Perhaps he is a certain kind of villain to Feyre's personal story, but he is not the true enemy, and when it counts his colors show. I respect how Maas held true to his character, showing with Tamlin and a bit with another high lord as well, that no matter the bad blood, when their mutual home is attacked the feuds are set aside and all stand on the right side. Together. Even if they do not, will never, play nicely together.
Feyre is the bad-ass High Lady I wanted her to be, in complete control of her powers and unafraid to use them. There are setbacks, and she deals with them each in turn without losing herself to fear or self-doubt. And the times when she unleashes, not always in the grand show of power that you'd expect, are oh-so-satisfying. Something about the Lord and Lady of Night reminding those who degrade and condescend to them who has the real power just had me grinning. Take that! That said, even the all powerful can be bound by rules, and Maas handled the balance of what rules this world's magic adheres to quite well. The times when Feyre and Rhys are slaves to these rules were frustrating but not a stretch to believe, helped by the logical solutions they were often able to find to get around such setbacks.
“Perhaps that’s because Rhysand has not lost you at all. But rather unleashed you upon us."
I do have something to say about what I only just learned is some controversy about Maas' writing. I did notice there was more of an effort to clarify things like skin tone and race, to bring more diversity to the characters. Which made me realize that it hadn't been a major aspect before, and when I looked into it found that there are many who criticized Maas for lack of diversity in her writing. I didn't notice before, not because I am insensitive to the many representations to be had, but because as a writer I understand we write the stories of our hearts, of our dreams. To attack her for not including your specific situation--be it gender identity, or race, or relationship--is foolish. We do not write to insult you or deliberately exclude you, and you should not go into a story ready for a fight over how you've been slighted. This is her story, her darling, and I found nothing about how she represented her characters to be controversial or offensive. Do not pick up a high fantasy novel and then trash it for not being modern fiction focused solely on representing today's issues. Now, if she had written in an outright hateful or ignorant manner about any such characters in her stories, we could glean something about her. But just because her characters don't have as much diversity as you like--sexual, gender, racial--does not mean she's ignorant or did so purposefully. I'll say it again; this is the story her heart wanted to tell, and it wanted to focus on high fantasy, magic, and war; on friendships and love; on brokenness and healing and forgiveness. And ultimately, thank the Mother, on happiness at the end.
Moving on...I did have some minor squabbles, but I still loved every single bit of ACOWAR. About those squabbles (and here is where I will rant a bit and really throw some spoilers around, so, yea. Last warning.)
Too many loose ends. I love that this means more stories in the land of Prythian (hurray!) but I can't decide if I'm happy or annoyed that Azriel's heart is not tended to by the conclusion of ACOWAR. Cassian and Nesta were handled perfectly, neither compromising their characters to fall together by the end nor pushing the "I hate you but love you" act too far. I swear if they had died together I would have wept at the perfection of them going out together in the end...but I am so fucking relieved they didn't. Azriel, however...I feel he deserves some development and time learning to let his romantic love for Mor go. Just as Elain needs time to let her human life and love go, and we need some serious exploration into a mating bond that could be something different than romantic--what if mates were just always connected and want the best for on another, would protect one another at all costs? Lucian and Elain could choose other loves, as we saw a glimpse of how much Lucian felt for a previous love, and she was no mate. There is a conversation between Feyre and Rhysand about the flexibility of a mating bond if both parties do not choose to accept it, and I felt this was foreshadowing a bit what could be to come in future books. Aside from secondary character relationships, Mor is another loose end whose story deserves more than it got here, as well as Beron and Eris, Lucian and his lineage, Tamlin and his broken heart and court.
Long lost father. Having Feyre's father sail in with an armada was damn satisfying, but his abrupt ending felt rushed and far too neat. I felt it was a bit of a cop-out to not have to write another family dynamic into the mix...but I'm okay with it. I like that he has been redeemed, and I had some feels when Feyre realized the significance of the three ships.
The death. You know which one I mean. Once was enough in ACOTAR. I am firm in my stance that "when you're dead, YOU'RE DEAD." With Feyre in ACOTAR I made an exception, because I did feel it added to the story. Her resurrection was a good twist and at the same time believable and expected. Because of the sacrifice she made, the High Fae gave her the gift of her life back. Here, it was definitely just added in for some melodrama. HELLO, we've had plenty of torment and drama. So, here's my version of what went down on top of that rock: It's FINE if he merely tried to give all of his power, and she sensed what he was doing and stopped him, giving herself instead. Thus, "stay with the High Lord" takes a new meaning, in that she stayed with him and offered all of her power at the same time he offered his, and their combined efforts killed NEITHER of them. The End.
Lastly, THIS BOOK IS NOT YA. Additional warning: I'm about to get real word loud on this one. This book is not YA. Nor was ACOTAR. Nor was ACOMAF. I don't care if the children's division of your publishing house released this, or if the marketing team thought it would do better targeted at the YA market; a book that details war, torture, emotional and physical abuse, rape, oppression, and has every colorful form of the word FUCK in it--verb, adjective, subject, you name it--along with detailed, PAGES LONG descriptions of said fucking, IS. NOT. FOR. THE. YOUNG. ADULT. MARKET.
You want to tell me teens are mentally capable of handling mature content? They can march themselves over to the ADULT sections and find that maturity. But as I've said before, there is still and idea (merely an illusion, now) of safety around what can be picked up in the YA section. So cut the shit and put the correct label on this, so someone who is not ready for this kind of content does not find themselves immersed in it.
Okay, so squabbles done! My last thought--I am so freaking relieved that no one perished. I know, that can be unbelievable and sappy when everything is just peachy happy at the end, especially in a story about a brutal war. But these characters have suffered so much. They only just got each other back after Under the Mountain. I was terrified the entire book over who we would lose, because I knew it was a good possibility. If Maas could make me anxious until I turned the very last page and I was sure everyone was okay, then I think that's all the heart-wrenching this story needed. She made me care about every single character so much that I worried for them on every page, and that alone is a 5 star worthy accomplishment.