I have a lot of feelings about this book and, unfortunately, they’re not all positive.
Be warned that this review will contain spoilers for A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury – my spoiler free review of those two books can be found here. In this review you can see pictures from my unboxing of the Celebrate Books box in which I got this book and several awesome goodies.
Goodreads synopsis: 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.
My rating: 3 stars.
This book was and wasn’t what I expected. I liked A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas less than the first two books in the series. Maybe it really is worse; maybe the spell that these books put me under was broken (an aphobic sentence within the first three chapters will do that to you). Because really, the first two books weren’t that good; my high ratings were mainly based on how much I was drawn into the story. Maybe, if I ever reread them, I would give those books 3 stars instead of 4 too.
Part of the way this book let me down was the problematic content, but I’ll get back to that in a moment. The story itself, unfortunately, did not meet my expectations either. A Court of Mist and Fury ends with Feyre returning to the Spring Court, the place she hates, the place where she is constantly reminded of the abuse she went through. It’s heartbreaking and made me crave the sequel. I expected the first chapters of ACOWAR to do a lot of things: one, to deal with the abusive past, and two, to show the intrigue of Feyre gathering intel in the Spring Court without being discovered. It did the first thing a little bit, though I felt like Feyre was able to overcome and hide her emotions more easily than I’d expected. As for the intrigue… There’s not much of it. I felt like there was too much telling and too little showing. Feyre was thinking about her plans all the time, but we don’t really see them work much. We just see her predictions and a few results. And then at other times I felt like I wasn’t told enough information, being unable to even guess how Feyre’s plans would work out and then just seeing that they do work.
In the end I felt like the part of the book spent in the Spring Court was too short, but too long at the same time. I hadn’t realised Feyre was finished with her plans when she decided to leave – again, she just says it’s time to go back to the Night Court and the reader is just to assume that she’s done what she’s supposed to do. You hardly even see the result of her actions later on – there’s just a little bit of information confirming that her plan has succeeded, but how it all went down is unclear.
This is the first time I found the start of a book in this series slow. I’ve heard people complain about both ACOTAR and ACOMAF that they started off slow, but I didn’t feel that way about either – I was interested in what would happen next, and I was engaged in every chapter. I couldn’t put those books down, but with ACOWAR it was more trouble to pick it up. Even when Feyre is back at the Night Court, things go slowly. They’re preparing for war with Hybern, which is a complicated affair, I’m sure, but I’m also pretty sure it could have been told in fewer words. It could definitely have contained fewer sex scenes.
Perhaps because this book felt so much slower to me than the others, or perhaps just because I had enough of it after two books, I was much more annoyed by the repetitiveness in Maas’s writing. There are so many words and sentences that are completely overused. I already noted ‘male’ and ‘female’ in my review of the first two books – it just looks awkward to replace those words with ‘man’ and ‘woman’ and I’m pretty sure it’s transphobic too. This time ‘even as’ really got on my nerves. It’s such an awkward construction and it can always be replaced by something shorter that makes more sense. Then there’s the sex scenes – I reached my limit of euphemisms for vagina before the first one had ended. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure whether she was talking about her vagina or not – in one sex scene I was pretty sure that that’s what she meant by ‘core’ but then later on Azriel said she needed to train her core and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about her vagina. At some point it just becomes laughable – I mean, either go explicit, or just don’t write the sex scenes at all. (And why is it okay to say ‘cock’, but not ‘vagina’ or another word for it that’s actually used in conversation?)
Luckily, by the end the book finally picked up. I really think the events before could have been condensed to a lot fewer pages, to make the whole book exciting and not just the last chapters. I’m not against a slow pace, but there are good ways to do it and bad ways. The end of ACOMAF was thrilling and really called for a sequel; that makes it strange to start the next book off so much slower. But the end saved this book from a two-star rating. It was thrilling, exciting, and everything happened at once. By the last 100 pages, I couldn’t stop reading, just as I was used to with the first two books in this series. I absolutely loved Elain and Nesta throughout the book, and their role in the final battle is amazing – and that’s all I’ll say about that.
[SPOILER PARAGRAPH IN ITALICS – AND I MEAN HUGE SPOILERS ABOUT THE VERY END OF THE BOOK (a row of pictures marks the end!)]
Two things bugged me about the very end of the war against Hybern. One: Rhys dies. And then comes back to life. It’s completely unnecessary – he’s saved by the High Lords (and Lady), but doesn’t get anything from it the way Feyre did. It’s just a moment of despair, that isn’t even really felt because, come on, we all know Rhys isn’t gonna die. Then, or rather a little before that, Amren sacrifices herself – her previous form is unleashed, she destroys the army, she disappears. (And I have to say, CALLED IT! When S J Maas said not everyone in the Inner Circle was going to make it out unscathed, this was my first thought.) But then, guess what, she returns! And she’s not a monster any more! Just… why? Her self-sacrifice was a great moment, and it finished off her arc beautifully. Why did she have to return? Apparently Maas can’t kill her main characters. And she completely threw everyone off with that comment about someone from the Inner Circle not making it out – everyone thought someone was gonna die, or in Amren’s case, disappear. We were all prepared for that, so why raise everyone back from the dead? It completely nullifies both moments of self-sacrifice.
[SPOILER PARAGRAPH END!]
Now, back to the problematic content. The previous books were already incredibly heteronormative and the use of ‘male’ and ‘female’ alone shows that there’s no escaping the gender binary here. In this book that doesn’t really change. It seemed like S. J. Maas tried to add more diversity – there’s one gay character, one bi character, a story about a lesbian, and one possibly lesbian, possibly bi character who comes out in this book. First of all, that’s not a lot of representation in a series with so many characters. Second, why did it take three books for them to show up? And lastly, even this small amount of representation is problematic at times. Just read this sentence about the one openly bi character in the series:
[Name] favors both males and females. Usually together in his bed.
Reinforcing harmful stereotypes? What? In case you didn’t know: being bisexual doesn’t mean you have threesomes all the time. That’s a stereotype bi people have been fighting against for years, and are still fighting against. So if you have one bi character in your book, don’t let them also be the one character who enjoys threesomes.
The character who comes out as lesbian (possibly bi) also reinforces some problematic stereotypes. Personally, from her story I would gather she’s bisexual and homoromantic (she says she enjoys sex with men, but can only feel a ‘deeper connection’ with women), but those terms aren’t used in this series, so it’s difficult to label anyone. But the problem is in this sentiment:
But if I slept with him, even once, just to try it, to make sure…
She’s slept with men before and knows she prefers women, but with this guy she would have to make sure? Having sex with a man, no matter how much you like him as a friend, isn’t going to make you fall in love with him, and it sure as hell isn’t going to change your sexual identity. Not after hundreds of years of knowing exactly what your sexual identity is. I mean, if this character was a teenager, I might have bought it. It would still have been a harmful statement, but at least I would have thought it possible for that character to think that way. Now it’s just homophobic.
Then, the segment you’ve probably heard about, if you’re in any way active in the online book community.
Not a blink of interest toward the beauty who often made males and females stop to gape. Perhaps any sort of physical passion had long ago been drained away, alongside their souls.
Talk to me about context all you want, anyone on the asexual or aromantic spectrum, and any good ally, will read this and think ‘so apparently asexual people have no souls’. It relates lack of sexual attraction to being soulless, and even if there’s no literal cause-and-effect, the phrasing does make it sound that way.
In the end, this book was okay. Maybe even pretty good. Though the ending saves this book from receiving a very low rating, the slow pace and problematic content definitely bring it down. I’d say it just reaches 3 stars.