Genre: Young Adult, High Fantasy
First off, quick disclaimer, that wine (classy as ever with the ice cubes) ended up being for display purposes only. Sadly, I googled ‘can wine go off’ and realised I probably shouldn’t be drinking wine I first opened about 6 months ago which has been in and out of my fridge depending on the room I had there.
So I’m listening to The Life of Pablo as I write this book review after finally peeling myself away from the spot I’ve been in on my rather uncomfortable sofa for the past 2 days whilst I’ve devoured this book.
Feyre is immortal.
After rescuing her lover Tamlin from a wicked Faerie Queen, she returns to the Spring Court possessing the powers of the High Fae. But Feyre cannot forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people – nor the bargain she made with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court.
As Feyre is drawn ever deeper into Rhysand’s dark web of politics and passion, war is looming and an evil far greater than any queen threatens to destroy everything Feyre has fought for. She must confront her past, embrace her gifts and decide her fate.
She must surrender her heart to heal a world torn in two.
Now, this is the second book in the series, and I actually reviewed the first a couple of years ago which can be found here. And that review is spoiler free.
I picked this book up months ago now but never got around to reading it (sound familiar?) then I started to read it and realised I’d forgotten everything that had happened in the first book. I tried reading a re-cap of the novel but it didn’t jog my memory enough, so I actually ended up re-reading A Court of Thorns of Roses before I read this book.
I ended up re-kindling my love for the characters by doing the re-read first and it helped me to become as gripped to this novel as I was. Whilst I first picked up the novel a couple of weeks ago and read it on my lunch breaks at work, last weekend I sat down with the book and utterly devoured it. Honestly. I did an 8 hour sitting, I nearly forgot to eat. And I’m so glad I did.
The novel begins where it left off, back in the High Lord Tamlin’s Spring Court along with his beloved Feyre, our protagonist in the novel, and his wonderfully sarcastic and quick witted right hand man, Lucien. After the horrors of Under the Mountain, and the eventual death of Amarantha, things look to be a little more serene. Evil has disappeared from the novel and Tamlin is dealing with healing the lands from the few threats that remain. Feyre, meanwhile, is sheltered in the beautiful, serene manner, kept company by willing and loving servants and friends as she plans her wedding with the help of the priestess, Ianthe – a trustworthy character appointed by Tamlin. Oh, and of course, Feyre is also a High Fae now and is entertaining the thought of becoming Tamlin’s High Lady through their marriage.
How serene this all sounds – but Feyre, the strong, free spirited Feyre who has fought for her life for many years, fought to stay alive, fought to eat, is not so happy and content. And, as this becomes apparent we are re-introduced to my favourite character in the series – the delightful High Lord of the Night Court, Rhysand.
Rhysand previously branded Feyre, bargaining with her to spend a week per month at his castle if he, in return, revived her and saved her life whilst Under the Mountain. He branded her with a tattoo matching those his court is renowned for, and this brand has formed a bond between them, meaning they can communicate down the thread that joins them. And Rhysand hears Feyre’s hesitation on her wedding day, hears her shouting ‘No’ as she approaches her husband to be in the over the top dress selected for her by Ianthe. And swiftly, Rhysand, with a smirk on his face and amusement in his voice removes Feyre from the situation, calling upon the deal they made. Feyre is furious and terrified and assumes he did it because it was her wedding day and there is bad blood between Rhysand and Tamlin. But Rhysand is a refreshing male character in the novel and, strangely, demands Feyre learns to read for her own benefit. He begins teaching her this and how to shield her mind as he guesses at the powers she possesses from her resurrection. Powers that have begun to show but Tamlin denied Feyre from discovering, deeming it too dangerous for his beloved, now immortal wife to be.
There is a second visit to the High Lord of the Night Court’s realm the following month, and by this point we have met Mor, Rhysand’s cousin and a second strong willed female that verbally spars with Rhysand along with Feyre.
The first novel persuaded the reader to hate Rhysand, his slimy way with Feyre, getting her drunk and making her dance in front of him night after night Under the Mountain, in front of Tamlin who is helpless to stop the actions, tethered to Amarantha and worried for his life as well as Feyre’s. But in this instalment of the series, we see a different side to Rhysand, and this is what I loved most about the book. His wit appears instantly, making Feyre write sentences such as ‘Rhysand is the most handsome High Lord’ to aid her teaching and to maintain his position as a bastard.
Maas is fantastic at character development, really concentrating on her characters histories before layering different elements of their personalities on top of one another and giving you small glimpses of what they are capable of – in Rhysand’s case it’s his ability to selflessly protect whoever he can that surrounds him – mainly the city of Velaris. And what we see of Rhysand in his early – and eventually continuing interactions with Feyre – is his belief in her and his encouragement for her to take the freedom she is offered – telling her to bow to no one and nothing as she is her own woman. Clearly a metaphor for the patriarchal society that women, even in a world of High Fae, are faced with. A feminist male? No way! And he is the exact opposite to Tamlin, who I quickly came to resent, even though I swooned for him in the first novel.
Feyre, eventually leaves Tamlin – there’s a pretty scary breakdown as Tamlin physically locks her in his home as he leaves for business, and she is eventually saved by Mor. And thus begins the more tumultuous affairs of the novel. Feyre struggles emotionally with her abandonment of Tamlin, acknowledging that his actions were to protect her because he is in love with her whilst acknowledging that she cannot live like that. Rhysand works to both encourage her and distract her at this point, and we realise who the good guy to the core really is. Whilst Tamlin is far from evil within the novel, Feyre’s hesitation reinforces that patriarchal society and the property that Tamlin begins to treat her as. He also becomes violent towards her whilst trying to protect her – Maas is touching on some really important and realistic points through both Tamlin and their relationship. It is very well and subtly done, and thankfully Feyre comes out on top, projecting the ever important feminist message that can easily get lost in the high fantasy novel with attractive and powerful High Lords.
Following Feyre’s ‘rescue’ by Mor and eventual decision to stay away from Tamlin, more characters, mainly Rhysand’s inner circle are introduced. Amren, Azriel and Cassian, all with their own quirks but a deep layered and true friendship with each other and with Rhysand. The five of them (including Mor) make a team to be reckoned with, and after some adjustment, Feyre fits right in.
Let’s not beat around the bush here with one of the integral elements to this instalment of the series – Rhysand and Feyre have a strong sexual tension through most of the novel – flirting and teasing, and many, many images sent between that thread that bonds them together. I really enjoyed this element to the novel because Maas doesn’t rush it, which is something I have seen many a time in books of this genre. She draws it out as long as she can to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. I was hoping for them to get it over and kiss for chapters upon chapters, but it must be over halfway through the book before anything physical actually happens between the two – and it is only hinted at but is solely down to Feyre’s decision. Maas really concentrates on empowering her females in this novel, giving them devastating backgrounds (Mor and Amren included) but giving them the inner strength to build themselves back up and survive – and this is another reason I loved sitting down and reading this. At no point does Rhysand ever touch Feyre inappropriately in this novel, and actually apologises for his actions in the previous instalment. As the reader comes to know him as a character, I think he’s pretty easy to forgive.
We get some well written steamy sex scenes between the two but – much to my own and Rhysand’s annoyance – Feyre constantly compares him to Tamlin. She also considers how her actions – moving on from Tamlin and embracing the attraction she has to Rhysand – may be viewed. The rivalry between the two is a factor adding to this worry however, upon reflection, the theme in itself is arguably an examination of the culture of ‘slut-shaming’ that women are so exposed to in today’s society. Again, Maas is touching upon important and feminist subjects. Whilst annoying, it was well touched upon as Feyre eventually realises other people’s opinions do not matter, what matters is her love and her allegiance to Rhysand who is ultimately trying to make the world a better place. Being within the fantasy genre, it is of course somewhat unrealistic, but I am of the opinion that it worked very well.
Tangled in their love story is a long and ancient web of political ties and lies and Rhysand is working to change the order, to give freedom and safety to both the Faerie and the Human race. Rhysand acknowledges the need for radical change and, what we didn’t see in the initial instalment, is his ability to build this utopic environment and his constant need to protect it. Men and women are equal, the land is safe and Rhysand is just like one of the locals. Class doesn’t matter and he is beloved by his subjects because he treats them as individuals and works hard to protect them and their freedom. The novel continues the battle against the force of Amarantha as Rhysand battles the King of Hybern, a supporter of Amarantha, and the newly resurrected Jurian, along with a group of mortal Queens who care little for the subjects under their charge and rather for their own gain in the situation. Hybern has a complex history with Amarantha, and it is eventually discovered that she was a test to see if he could, essentially, concur the world.
Rhysand and his inner circle really show their colours through this consistent battle and are slowly developed as individuals and a group as they stand up for what they believe in – equality and freedom – and attempt to overthrow and destroy the dark magic enabling this evil that has been slowly brewing and building, readying itself for an attack. The novel is full of small events whilst concentrating on the end goal – defeating Hybern, and begins to touch upon the essential political alliances that inevitably surround rulers of a land.
Rhysand and Feyre, it turns out, are ‘Mates’ – which being English confused me slightly to begin with – but it’s basically the primordial bond between two animals, as you would see in the animal kingdom, and in their case, soul-mates also. This pleased me to no end because I’d been willing it to happen for half of the narrative. However, I will say it was potentially a little over done, Feyre a little dramatic when she discovers Rhysand knew this before she found out from a magical creature – a Suriel – in the woods as she tries to heal him from a narrow escape. It also ties back to the annoyance from Feyre’s constant debate as to whether she should not could be with Rhysand because of her past with Tamlin. It takes Feyre a hell of a long time to accept that Tamlin’s actions were out of order and that Rhysand is actually encouraging her individuality, never holding her back because of her gender.
The novel ends with a plot twist that I wasn’t quite expecting. After battling to retrieve some items in order to subdue the power that the King of Hybern has, Feyre and Rhysand come face to face with Tamlin and Lucien who have struck a deal with Hybern; capture and return Feyre to Tamlin in order for Hybern to use their land next to the mortal realm to break the magic wall and eventually invade.
Rhysand and Feyre are torn apart – after some quick scheming from Feyre’s side, which again demonstrates her strength as a character, in order to try and save her court and those she loves, just as Rhysand has done. But their bond does not disappear and we know that their story is not over as Feyre leaves with Tamlin, feigning her unwilling involvement with Rhysand all this time. And my heart broke for Rhysand because god damn I was invested in that character.
I may have mentioned before my affinity to become attached to characters in a book and all but fall in love – this was no exception. Rhysand is a loving, complex and deep character who one can only dream of (novels, eh?) and I adored him. I couldn’t put the book down because of him. To the point that I actually finished the novel this afternoon and instantly left to go and buy A Court of Wings and Ruin which I started this afternoon. I’m currently around 200 pages into it, my lazy eye is blurry because I woke up at 8am after reading until past midnight because I was so excited to keep going – isn’t it fantastic when a book does that to you? And now I’m about to retire to bed, read a few more pages and nod off.
I’m sure I’ll have a review of A Court of Wings and Ruins in the following days. And I’m positive forcing myself to concentrate on work whilst the book is sat in my bag will be close to impossible…
Write you soon,
*NB – this was published a week after I finished the book and I’ve almost finished the next installment