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Review: A Court of Mist and Fury

Review: A Court of Mist and Fury

Title: A Court of Mist and Fury
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Published: 2016
Length: 626 pages

My star rating: ★ ★ ★

Three months after breaking the curse on Prythian and being resurrected as a High Fae by its High Lords, Feyre is haunted by her traumatic experiences as Amarantha’s prisoner. She flees north when her plans to marry the now unsupportive and oppressively overprotective Tamlin fall through thanks to the bargain she struck Under the Mountain with the High Lord Rhysand. There, in his mysterious Night Court, she discovers freedom, a kind of healing, and her own strange new abilities, but also that Amarantha may only have been the beginning of Prythian’s troubles. As the fearsome King of Hybern prepares for war, Feyre must attempt to make peace with her past, train herself for battle…and to make sense of her growing feelings for Rhys.

It’s been, um, a few months since I last wrote a proper review. Oops. I’ve got a lot to say about this particular book, though. Because of how rambling I suspect this review will be, here’s a quick summary:

  • Biggest Strength: Some nice world-building and plot points
  • Greatest Weakness: Deeply and unnecessarily purple prose; poor pacing
  • Mixed Bag: Character development–some good, some God-awful

And as I said in my first review of this series: this book is not really YA. It includes strong language, fairly very explicit sexual content, and a significant amount of graphic violence. As long as we’re all clear on that!

This is the sequel to A Court of Thorns and Roses (which I reviewed here). It suffers from Loss of an Editor Syndrome; we’ve seen it all too often before (think Harry Potter, where the books suddenly ballooned from ~300 to 600+ pages). The series hits it big, and suddenly the author can write whatever they want and none–or not enough–of it will get cut from, or at least revised in, the final product, even if cutting it would’ve made that final product better.

That said, I didn’t dislike ACOMAF. My reading habits have been terrible lately, and it held my interest. One of my two major issues with it, however, was the writing style.

I thought Sarah J. Maas’ prose in Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR) was, while often over-descriptive, quite beautiful. But I found myself impatiently skimming over entire paragraphs of unnecessary descriptions of clothing, rooms, and sometimes even furniture in Mist and Fury. Halfway though, I was rolling my eyes every time Feyre starts talking about her damn outfits–which is at least once per chapter! (In one, she spends three full paragraphs describing her hair, her dress, and  her makeup.) Feyre also repeats herself and rehashes her conflicted thoughts and muddled emotions a lot, which I understood…up to a point. But when on page 450 or so I was reading what sounds exactly like a passage from three hundred pages earlier, just get on with it. That’s how I felt about a large portion of ACOMAF, actually: the unnecessary, elaborate prose (I’m not exaggerating when I say she sometimes uses two or three adjectives per object per sentence) kept getting in the way of the actual story, and it frequently slowed both the plot and the character development to a crawl. Feyre constantly narrates in sentence fragments and clarifies where clarification isn’t needed.

But his face–which looked perhaps like a human man in his forties…Blandly handsome. To hide the depthless, hateful black eyes that burned there. 

Not a sentence!

The High Lord of the Night Court sniffed at his wine–white, sparkling–and I wondered if he was trying to piss them off by implying they’d poisoned it…

This sentence is long and clumsy; the idea could’ve been expressed in half the words. She refers to him as “Rhys” just one sentence prior, yet then feels the need to use his title because…reasons? All of it is stylistic choice, sure, but why not “Rhys sniffed his sparkling white wine”…that’s just so much less clunky?!

In fact, most of what I dislike about the writing may just be Feyre’s voice, but I don’t remember it being nearly this disjointed in the first book. And for someone whose prose is so thoroughly the color of eggplants, Maas does a lot of telling (rather than showing) throughout the entire book. Feyre doesn’t let anything sink in without hammering her ideas, images, and meanings home with a sledgehammer in case the reader missed them. For instance:

I remembered–remembered what I was supposed to know, to have experienced. […] A pulse of surprise, of wicked delight against my mental shields, at the dark, membranous wings I knew were now poking over my shoulders. Every icy kiss of rain sent jolts of cold through me. Sensitive–so sensitive, these Illryian wings.

Everything about that paragraph irks me.

A better title for ACOMAF might have been “A Court of Ellipses and Dashes” or “Six Faeries in Search of an Editor.” For the amount of actual action and plot it contains, the book could easily have been 426 pages instead of 626! And don’t get me started on the ludicrously bad sex (and again, explicit) scenes in the first couple of chapters that only added to the book’s bloat. Even the later ones, er, aren’t great. (Twice, Feyre describes her body as being “taut/tight and loose”–simultaneously…) I’ve waxed on way too long about this issue already, (hypocrite that I am). I know: get on with it, right?!

With all that out of the way, I’ll say again: I am interested in this universe and in (most of) these characters, which is why I powered through writing that half the time left me cringing or skimming. The most intriguing character from ACOTAR–Rhysand, High Lord of the Night Court–has a much more expanded role in this volume, and the most boring–Tamlin–has a mercifully truncated one (I actually did take some issue with that…more on that in a bit). I was sad to see so little of one of my other faves, Lucien; the supporting characters introduced here are all right, though.

I don’t want to say too much about Rhys’ character for fear of being spoilery (I’m going to pretend I’m not the last one to read this book), but he remains almost as compelling as in the previous book. I do feel that Maas may have worked too hard to make him likable–dare I say, almost to woobify him–as though she felt the need to win over any lingering Tamlin lovers. As though we couldn’t love him even if he were Not Quite a Good Guy or even a Borderline Bad Guy. (Sigh.) Still, he’s a good character, even when he approaches Mary Sue territory here and there (i.e., he’s the most powerful High Lord in history as Feyre reminds us about a thousand times). A lot of info-dumping goes on in regards to Rhys and his past. As a result, a significant portion of the mystery and darkness that made him so appealing in ACOTAR fades away. Sometimes what you don’t know about a character is as powerful and as important as what you do. I certainly felt that way about Rhys every time new details about his past and/or facets of his personality are revealed. Still, he remains very much my favorite character of the series.

Speaking of Feyre…oh, Feyre. I understand that she’s “broken”–probably suffering from PTSD; I mean, she literally died in the first book–but I’m afraid that I liked her character better when she was a human. Despite her mental and emotional struggles, things comes so easily to Feyre in ACOMAF. She seems to master everything, from reading to rare mind-magic, with little discernible effort. Because…magic, I guess? Her struggles in ACOTAR, as a human in a fae world, were just more interesting to me. In brief, she definitely also has her Mary Sue moments.

In my review of the first book, I said: “…being stuck in her head got old after 400+ pages. She has a tendency to make extremely rash, uninformed decisions […] (Also, I have never–thank God!–read about an MC who is nauseous/almost sick/actually sick more than this one.) I wanted to like Feyre, but something about her didn’t jibe with me, or even feel very consistent.”

Sadly all of this still applies to Feyre in ACOMAF. Feyre’s narration is even more grating this time, and she continues to make rash decisions. And yeah–she still pukes all the time.

Lastly, Tamlin, the hero and love interest of ACOTAR, the one for love of whom Feyre sacrificed all her morals and ultimately her life–boring as he was, he had chemistry with her, and he had the occasional charming moment. Even at his worst and most possessive, he genuinely cared about Feyre, about Feyre’s human family, about his people…

Forget that Tamlin. Maas straight-up assassinates the character I just described. Many of Rhys’ negative traits, or at least negative behaviors, get explained away through various means: trauma, instinct, playing a part, whatever. But Tamlin? Forget it. Forget that he, like Feyre and Rhys, could very well be traumatized and “broken.” Everything he does and says is contrary to (or, at best, a gross exaggeration of) his character as established in the previous book and/or is used as an excuse by Feyre to fall out of love with him. Don’t get me wrong–I’ve always found Tamlin lacking, and Rhys is by far a more interesting partner for Feyre. That said, Maas spends the entire book dragging Tamlin’s name through increasing amounts of mud until everything Feyre felt and did for him in ACOTAR has been totally undermined. Like ACOTAR itself has been undermined, because Feyre’s love for Tamlin was so fundamental to ACOTAR and its plot. For all I complained about the writing, the graceless transformation of Tamlin’s character from a well-meaning but flawed love interest to a jealous and duplicitous jilted lover is this book’s biggest shortcoming.

Because of the bargain Feyre struck with Rhys in the first book, I had also been looking forward to seeing her try to strike a balance between her life in the Spring Court and her life in the Night Court, to live with a foot in both worlds, trying to understand her growing feelings for Rhys and what they meant for her current relationship with Tamlin…but no. From the beginning of ACOMAF, Feyre–traumatized or not–behaves like she never truly loved Tamlin. The bargain is therefore of middling importance at best. It’s just a waste of an intriguing idea.

Mist and Fury, to its credit, includes a bit more world-building than the last book, albeit still less than I’d hoped for. I appreciated venturing beyond the Spring Court. Honestly, I’d just love to read a tour of all the courts. (If I have to read Feyre’s long-winded descriptions, can’t they be about the courts and not about her thousands of dresses???) Maas also introduces some intriguing new concepts and creatures here, too. But I still have a lot of questions about the way this universe works, and this book raised more than it answered.

And the plot? It’s fine. As in ACOTAR, the pacing of that plot is more a problem than the plot itself. It takes a long time for anyone to get anywhere or do anything of significance. I liked the love story well enough, but I definitely wanted more plot and less romance. Maas throws in some twists that surprised me, some that I enjoyed, and others that are meant to shock, I’m sure, but that I didn’t care about. The ending, though–she definitely whetted my curiosity about A Court of Wings and Ruin. I will say, however, that I hope that the fantasy elements in the finale are a bit more fleshed out–a bit more challenging for Feyre in particular. Again, everything magic-related seems to come easily, too easily, for her in ACOMAF. Even if there are plot-related reasons for that, it gets a little boring to read about. So did hearing about “the bond” and Feyre and/or Rhys communicating “down/across/through the bond.” Honestly, though, that’s just me nitpicking.

Overall, I liked A Court of Mist and Fury. I liked Rhys more than any other character from the first book, and I still do, and fortunately he’s in a lot of this book, tooOther than the lack of editing (or Maas’ stylistic choices…or both?) and what’s done to Tamlin’s character, I think this middle installment is pretty solid. Some others have even suggested seeing ACOMAF and its sequel as a duology and kind of forgetting ACOTAR ever happened, and you know what? I might just do that.

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