As promised, I’m importing the A Court of Thorns and Roses recaps here from Patreon. These were originally written beginning in August of 2020, so there will be references to upcoming or seasonal events that won’t fit with our current timeline. I am not a time traveler and you’ll never be able to prove that I am. I will also include editors notes like this every now and then as we go, mostly to amuse myself but to give re-read value to those who’ve already been on this awful, awful journey with me.
Yet again, this book both impresses and deeply disappoints me. There is nothing I loathe more than wasted potential. ed.—speaking of “wasted potential,” it appears that after much speculation and rumors of Maas’s difficulty behind the scenes, the ACOTAR television show may be dead. The post announcing the show has been removed from Maas’s Instagram. Thanks to Chel from the Jealous Patrons Discord channel for the hot tip.
Feyre doesn’t want to sleep because she’s still upset about her nightmare in chapter eleven. Instead, she wanders around the castle in the dark:
A bit of paper in one hand and a pen gripped in the other, I carefully traced my steps, noting the windows and doors and exits, occasionally jotting down vague sketches and Xs on the parchment.
I’m being picky, but I would have rather seen this earlier in the book. Stealing the knife, setting up trip wires, that stuff all seemed really slipshod in terms of escape and survival. If this had happened her first night in the castle, it would have backed up all the times the author has told us, rather than shown us Feyre’s toughness and quick thinking. It’s not a fatal flaw in the narrative, it’s just something I would have pointed out if I’d been doing developmental edits on this.
Which it appears nobody actually did.
Feyre also notes hiding places and escape routes but her thinking has changed from “escape” to “have a plan for if shit goes down in the future,” which is a nice shift away from alternating between fae killer and Fae Wray for several aggravating chapters.
You know what hasn’t changed, though?
These past three days, there had been servants in the halls when I’d worked up the nerve to look at the art—and the part of me that spoke with Nesta’s voice had laughed at the idea of an ignorant human trying to admire faerie art.
That’s right! Everything is still Nesta’s fault! Even Feyre’s own thoughts! Because that’s full-on Feyre there; Nesta hated faeries. She didn’t have anything positive to say about them at all.
I get that this is incorporating a lot of Beaumont’s version of Beauty and The Beast, in which the heroine (literally named Beauty, just in case we don’t get it) has two horrible older sisters and a merchant father who loses their fortune, etc., etc. but the wicked (step)sisters trope is supposed to show us how pure, virginal, kind, and selfless the heroine of the story is, and how deserving she is of her happily ever after. Most of the time, the heroine gets her revenge at the end as a reward for her patience and humility, often in a way that protects her from the moral consequences of her tormentors’ punishment (in Beaumont’s telling, for example, a sorceress turns Beauty’s sisters into stone).
Any patience or kindness we’ve ever seen on Feyre’s behalf toward her family has been coming from a place of selfishness. To preserve her identity, which she has built around her vow to her mother, Feyre grudgingly helped her family survive. She’s the opposite of the Polly Pureheart Princess we see scattered throughout European fairy tales, but the surrounding features of the trope have remained the same. Now, the story is demanding us to cheer for and sympathize with someone who is vastly unlikeable and has no qualities that redeem her above the family she hates, simply because there are elements of familiarity.
Like, either subvert the trope or don’t subvert the trope, but don’t just toss plot and characterization into some weird demilitarized zone between the two. Or do; it’s possible that this book hit just the right sweet spot for readers who haven’t let go of the Kick-Ass Heroine as a feminist figure but who like those same Kick-Ass Heroines explicitly helpless. ed.—following this book’s popularity, the Kick-Ass Yet Helpless Heroine has become an infestation in the fantasy romance genre. They do a lot of talking about stabbing, but are about as useful as a necktie at the guillotine.
Hey, did you want to read the novelization of Disney’s Beauty and The Beast as written by someone who saw it in the theater and kind of vaguely remembers what it looked like and what the plot was? Well, you’re in luck because there are descriptions like this:
I crept down the main staircase, moonlight flooding the black-and-white tiles of the entrance hall. I reached the bottom, my bare feet silent on the cold tiles, and listened. Nothing—no one.
A breeze announced his arrival—and I turned from the table toward the long hall, to the open glass doors to the garden.
I’d forgotten how huge he was in this form—forgotten the curled horns and lupine face, the bearlike body that moved with a feline fluidity. His green eyes glowed in the darkness, fixing on me, and as the doors snicked shut behind him, the clicking of claws on marble filled the hall. I stood still—not daring to flinch, to move a muscle.
And the fact that yup, he’s injured from going out and killing the thing that tried to kill Feyre? That’s pure Disney. That part isn’t from Beaumont or Villeneuve. I went through a pretty heavy fairy tale phase in the ’00s and I can’t remember a version with the wolf attack or any kind of rescue. There’s a Spanish version where a wolf rescues the heroine. Or maybe not. I’m getting old and I smoke a lot of pot.
But I’m sorry, you saw Disney’s Beast with his cape swirling and snow behind him bursting through some castle doors. And you saw Belle sneaking through the foyer. If you didn’t, you may be less picky and suspicious of big-name YA authors than I am.
Dripping blood all over the floor, Tamlin changes his form to the human-y one.
No sign of the baldric, or his knives. His clothes were in shreds—long, vicious slashes that made me wonder how he wasn’t gutted and dead. But the muscled skin peering out beneath his shirt was smooth, unharmed.
So, he came in limping and bleeding, he’s now transformed and his skin is smooth and unharmed. Is this an indication that transformation heals him? Or that wounds sustained in one form won’t carry over to the other form?
I bet you think that will be somehow explained, don’t you?
I admire the endurance of your hope.
“Did you kill the Bogge?” My voice was hardly more than a whisper.
“Yes.” A dull, empty answer. As if he couldn’t be bothered to remember to be pleasant. As if I were at the very, very bottom of a long list of priorities.
When I was reading this chapter the first time, I actually got to those lines and stared out the window and just went to this totally blank, peaceful place in my mind where I transcended the limits of human consciousness just to protect my sanity and reason.
Let’s break it down:
Did you kill the monster who tried to kill me?
Could you make me feel more special and valued when you answer that question?
What the fuck does she want?! He’s bleeding! He’s bleeding so much he’s leaving trails behind him on the floor (while still having super hot, unblemished flesh beneath his shredded clothes). And Feyre feels slighted because she’s not his priority.
And because he’s not pleasant enough.
While he’s bleeding.
I was so furious just writing this that I had to take a break and go on Twitter and complain about Feyre.
And it’s not like I’m overdramatizing the bleeding thing, okay? Feyre notes yet again that there’s blood actively spattering on the floor and that his hand is covered in it. And he’s so injured and weird acting that Feyre wonders if he actually knows he’s injured. He’s supposed to be in super bad shape here. In fact, when Tamlin asks Feyre about the map she’s drawing, this line interrupts the dialogue:
Drip, drip, drip.
As in, blood audibly dripping while he talks about the map and Feyre is trying to point out that he’s losing huge amounts of blood.
But Tamlin has to do some quick thinking to throw the Mouse’s lawyers off the scent, so he talks over Feyre to point out that she can’t write. See? Sure, he’s a beautiful man cursed to be a beast and he just went out to kill the thing that almost murdered the heroine during her escape attempt and now his hand is injured but this is way different because instead of him not being able to read, it’s Feyre who can’t write.
I wouldn’t make fun of this section so much if it hadn’t been such blatant fanfic. I love fanfic, but it’s a totally different medium from a novel, so to have some AU just plopped into the middle of the book is jarring.
Feyre asks Tamlin if she can help him with his hand and he leads her to an infirmary.
But as I followed him there, avoiding the blood he trailed, I thought of what Lucien had told me about his isolation, that burden, thought of what Tamlin had mentioned about how these estates should not have been his, and felt … sorry for him.
Wow, and only for like the third time, too. And believe me, I’m as shocked by this revelation as the ellipses demands.
There’s a section break followed by strong evidence that an editor left a note like, “Why do they have an infirmary if they can heal themselves with magic?”
The infirmary was well stocked, but was more of a supply closet with a worktable than an actual place to host sick faeries. I supposed that was all they needed when they could heal themselves with their immortal powers. But this wound—this wound wasn’t healing.
I think there’s a minimum number of ellipses and em dashes required in every Fantasy-Lite YA. I mean, I love ’em, you know I do. Use ’em all the time. But holy cow, the unnecessary drama, the unwarranted build-up of the end of that sentence. We know the wound isn’t healing. He’s been dripping blood all over the place.
Belle cleans and binds the Beast’s wound, though she’s initially hesitant to touch him.
But his claws remained retracted, and he kept silent as I bound and wrapped his hand—surprisingly enough, there were no more than a few vicious cuts, none of them requiring stitching.
He was bleeding like a faucet but he wasn’t really hurt? And none of this is explained, by the way. There’s no, “huh, why isn’t he all slashed up where his shirt is slashed up?” or “why isn’t this wound healing,” or even, “Wait, he was literally trailing blood across the floor, how does he only have a few cuts?
Fuck worldbuilding, Feyre has to get the kind of fluttery and erotic tension Fantasy-Lite YA heroines don’t pick up on. You know, like his gaze burning her because he’s watching her every move, the room seeming too hot and too small, describing his skin as “an inferno,” but not linking any of that to being attracted to him.
Here’s a real “Uh…what?” moment for ya:
I was almost at the open door, stifling the urge to bolt back to my room, when he said, “You can’t write, yet you learned to hunt, to survive. How?”
What does writing have to do with hunting? Is she supposed to leave a note to the animals? “Don’t run too fast, I need to shoot you. XOXO Feyre.”
I don’t recall ever even taking a pen out hunting, let alone writing anything while I was out there. What kind of “hunting” is Tamlin doing?
Anyway, Tamlin tells Feyre that she isn’t what he expected for a human and she walks out and we get to another section break. It’s the next morning, and Feyre is finally gonna be able to look at some of these amazing paintings, until she hears Lucien and Tamlin arguing and goes to snoop.
Through the space between the hinge and the door I could glimpse the two of them standing almost face-to-face. On Tamlin’s nonbandaged hand, his claws shone in the morning light.
So, things are tense. Lucien is all, what do you think you’re doing, Tamlin is all no, what do you think you’re doing?
“Me?” Lucien put a hand on his chest. “By the Cauldron, Tam—there isn’t much time, and you’re just sulking and glowering. You’re not even trying to fake it anymore.”
By the cauldron, I cannot take any more of this shitty worldbuilding. I will straight up die from shittyworldbuilditis. Throught this book, characters talk about things being hell, tell each other to go to hell, but there is no fucking concept of Christianity or Judaism or Islam anywhere in the fucking book. At all. Anywhere. But Maas throws “by the cauldron” in there so that’s good enough. No reason to think of why you’re including the fantasy elements you’ve chosen.
My brows rose. Tamlin turned away but whirled back a moment later, his teeth bared. “It was a mistake from the start. I can’t stomach it, not after what my father did to their kind, to their lands. I won’t follow in his footsteps—won’t be that sort of person. So back off.”
I guess the topic of conversation is supposed to be mysterious but I’m gonna take a wild guess here and say Lucien is probably talking about how Tamlin should kill Feyre. Maybe not, I mean, the rest of the conversation escalates into an argument in which Lucien points out that a bogge got really close to the house and the woods are full of bad fae things and there are no barriers between courts, etc. But the whole thing about “their kind” and “their lands” sounds like something to do with humans?
Look, at this point, I can’t honestly tell what’s going to happen. Not because this is a tensely plotted thrill ride but because this book is trying to be nine hundred different things at once. It’s trying to be epic fantasy and swords-and-sorcery fantasy and a fairytale all at the same time. It’s a pastiche of distinctly different subgenres that just isn’t working.
Feyre tries to piece together the conversation the same way I’m trying to, but like, so much of the dialogue reads so vaguely that it really just feels like the author wrote this scene and went, “eh, I’ll try to work that into the plot later.”
Which is fine like, on Wattpad or AO3. But not necessarily in a book that I’ve seen hailed as one of the greatest fantasy novels of all time.
But this is what Feyre comes up with:
The blight. Perhaps it was contained, but it seemed it was still wreaking havoc—still a threat, and perhaps one they truly didn’t want me knowing about, either from lack of trust or because … because I was no one and nothing to them.
Yup! That’s right! The entire conversation, like the entirety of the cosmos, this universe and all the infinite universes outside it, the very mind of God and the collective consciousness itself REVOLVES AROUND YOU.
I leaned forward, but as I did, my finger slipped and softly thudded against the door. A human might not have heard, but both High Fae whirled.
Then why didn’t they hear your footsteps when you came up to the door?
Feyre tries to play it off like she’d just casually been looking for Lucien. She asks if he wants to go out riding and he’s like, nah, but Tamlin does.
I bet you’re wondering what Tamlin’s baldric has been up to:
His usual baldric was armed with more knives than I’d seen before, and their ornate metal handles glinted as he turned to me, his shoulders tight.
I did a Kindle search and it looks like Tamlin’s baldric is really the star of the show here. The longest it goes between mentions is fifty pages. Then it just drops off the planet somewhere around page 296 so I’m on the edge of my seat to see what tragedy befalls it that it just vanishes from the story like 3/4 of the way in.
Tamlin is like, okay, we can leave for this ride whenever.
No. I almost said it aloud as I turned pleading eyes to Lucien. Lucien merely patted my shoulder as he passed by. “Perhaps tomorrow, human.”
Alone with Tamlin, I swallowed hard.
He stood there, waiting.
Ohhhhhh feeeeeeel that awkwardness. Feeeeeeeeeel it. Because then, Feyre has to admit that she doesn’t want to go hunting. And I’m like, cool, but you just asked about going for a ride, nobody said shit about hunting. Either way, Tamlin asks her what she wants to do.
After a section break, Tamlin and Feyre are walking down a hall, and Feyre notes that he’s acting differently:
No trace of the hollow, cold warrior of the night before, or of the angry Fae noble of minutes before. Just Tamlin right now, it seemed.
But Feyre’s like, nah, don’t trust that. He still killed that bogge thing and that means he’s real super extra dangerous, which is true but also it’s pretty clear that he’s severely anemic and can be killed by a papercut from a thick-enough envelope.
He flexed his bandaged hand, studying the white bindings, stark and clean against his sun-kissed skin. “I didn’t thank you.”
“You don’t need to.”
That’s a trap. Don’t fall for it, Tamlin.
Tamlin mentions that the bogge’s bite slows healing, so that’s why his hand was still injured. Doesn’t explain the conveniently shredded clothes, but whatever. We had to know about his skin. Feyre tells him she wrapped his hand the way she would have done hers, so she could still pull a bowstring. Which is for some reason amazing to an immortal being.
He was quiet as we turned down another sun-drenched marble hallway, and I dared to look at him. I found him carefully studying me, his lips in a thin line. “Has anyone ever taken care of you?” he asked quietly.
“No.” I’d long since stopped feeling sorry for myself about it.
HAVE YOU THOUGH, FEYRE?! HAVE YOU?! BECAUSE WE’RE AT NEARLY 30% OF THIS BOOK AND THAT IS ALL THE FUCK YOU HAVE DONE.
“I’m curious,” he said casually. The amber in his green eyes was glowing. Perhaps not all traces of that beast-warrior were gone. “Are you ever going to use that knife you stole from my table?”
I stiffened. “How did you know?”
We just went from “they heard my fingertip nudge a door while they were shouting at each other” to “how did he realize I stole a piece of cutlery?” Okay. Let’s just ride this broken rollercoaster straight to hell at this point.
Tamlin says he figured out the knife thing because he smelled her fear. But it’s okay because her attempts to murder him are amusing. ed.—This is also a feature of several popular fantasy romance books now. The hero finds it cute and infantilizes the heroine when she threatens and/or attempts to harm him.
He gave me a crooked smile, more genuine than all the faked smiles and flattery he’d given me before. “Regardless of the Treaty, if you want to stand a chance at escaping my kind, you’ll need to think more creatively than stealing dinner knives. But with your affinity for eavesdropping, maybe you’ll someday learn something valuable.”
Probably not, because yous all are so vague when you’re talking an eavesdropper can’t get a crumb of context.
Feyre figures since he already knows she was eavesdropping, there’s no reason not to ask what Lucien meant about running out of time.
“I’m an immortal. I have nothing but time, Feyre.”
He said my name with such … intimacy. As if he weren’t a creature capable of killing monsters made from nightmares.
I’m going to start calling this entire genre “ellipses fantasy”
Tamlin goes on to explain that some bad fairies might keep coming, since they know they can get onto his lands now.
If the borders between the courts were gone, though, as I’d heard Lucien say—if everything in Prythian was different, as Tamlin had claimed, thanks to this blight … Well, I didn’t want to be caught up in some brutal war or revolution.
Yeah, it would be fucking terrible if something exciting finally happened.
Tamlin strode ahead and opened a set of double doors at the end of the hall. The powerful muscles of his back shifted beneath his clothes. I’d never forget what he was—what he was capable of. What he’d been trained to do, apparently.
What? Open a door?
This paragraph tripped me up because of the word “shifted.” Because he’s literally a shapeshifter-type creature, my brain thought he’d shifted back into Beast form. Something to think about when you’re writing. That was one of the hardest things to remember when I first started, that words might be perfectly fine in a sentence, but the context of the story might cause a reader’s brain to do something strange. ed.—For example, I removed a line in my werewolf book that referenced a character “knotting his tie.”
Now, I bet you can’t guess what’s behind these big doors. Because if you said, “a library”
“As requested,” he said, “the study.”
You’d be wrong. See? Totally different.
So, Feyre requested to go into the study, I guess?
I saw what lay beyond him and my stomach twisted.
But she doesn’t want to be there?
I have to say, I read ahead because that was the chapter hook and I was like, wait a minute, is the chapter hook really just me being confused about why Feyre would be upset to find herself in a library, sorry, study, if she asked to go there?
If you haven’t read the book, I hope you come back and get as big a laugh as I did about what it is that Feyre can’t stomach about the library.