A Court of Side Characters and Mixed Feelings: Review of “A Court of Wings and Ruin” by Sarah J. Maas

ACOWAR_US

Official Summary: 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 Thoughts: I’ve got to be honest: I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about this book. But I think I have a good enough handle on my mixed emotions to write this review.

Before anyone gets angry over the mere fact that I bought this book, don’t be. I was given the book by a friend. I never had any intention of buying another Sarah J. Maas book after the big diversity discussion that began in earnest last year. That said, knowing how much Maas has failed us in the past in this regard (and in regard to changing her characters’ personalities and losing all control over her plot) has very much colored my enjoyment of this book.

I think it’s fair to accept that Maas overuses certain phrases and cannot write a sex scene without it being melodramatic with nonsensical phrases (I mean, velvet-wrapped steel? What the hell?). Therefore, I’m not going to be discussing those. I am, however, going to be discussing things I liked, things I didn’t like, and a few very problematic things that were said or done in this book. And, because I need to discuss a few specific things, this review will not be spoiler-free, so proceed at your own risk.

I spent a good chunk of this book thinking it was going to be a four-star read. But, because of these problematic things, I had to remove a star. The first issue is the blatant acephobia that is spewed in this book. Two characters, fraternal twins, are being scrutinized by Feyre, our protagonist. She begins pondering their sex lives (because this is what Maas values above all, apparently) and wonders if they’d somehow lost all of their passion “along with their souls.”

Now, I think the implication was supposed to be that they just happened to lose their passion and also their souls (and these characters do come across as soulless) and that Maas wasn’t thinking about asexuals at all.

But that’s kind of the problem: she wasn’t thinking about asexuals. If you’re going to make such a claim in conjunction with sex, then you have to consider the real people who may be affected or offended by this line. You have to consider what you may be implying with such a line, even if it’s not what you intend. Intention only gives you so much benefit of the doubt, and Maas wore hers thin long ago.

Later in the novel, we encounter some biphobia. This comes in the form of Helion, as Rhys explains Helion’s sexual preferences to Feyre. Rhys says that Helion prefers males and females. And that was good, fine. But then he immediately follows it up with “often in his bed at the same time.”

To make matters worse, we’re told that Helion has been after Morrigan and Azriel for literal centuries for that exact purpose, despite their lack of interest. This depiction of bisexuality relies solely on stereotypes that bisexuals have been fighting against for years.

I would think that Maas perhaps meant this to be merely a trait of the character, except that she has done this same thing before in her other series, Throne of Glass. When the character Aedion comes out as bisexual, he equates it to prostitution, implying that bisexuals are promiscuous. This also casts doubt on Maas making a genuine mistake with the acephobia, suggesting she’s relying on stereotypes there as well.

These things were so few and far between, I could almost look past them, at least enough to wait until this review to discuss and condemn them. But one scene happened that almost made me DNF the book.

First, some brief backstory: in A Court of Mist and Fury, we find out that when Mor first came into her powers, she was to be married off to Eris of the Autumn Court. It order to prevent it from happening, Mor sleeps with Cassian. Her family then brutalizes her, culminating them them (TW: violence) nailing a note to her womb declaring her Eris’ problem and leaving her in the Autumn Court. Eris decides he wants nothing to do with her and leaves her for dead. This abuse and violation is something she still struggles with 500 years later.

But then, in order to accrue much-needed allies, Rhys invites both Mor’s father and Eris to a private meeting in which Mor was present. He did not even bother to warn her ahead of time (or Feyre, who is supposed to be his equal). And we essentially witness her struggle through a panic attack as Rhys makes a deal with them both so they will ally with them in the upcoming war. This gives Keir, Mor’s father, access to Velaris, her safe place.

When Mor later confronts Rhys, tears streaming down her face, excuses are made that Eris was onto them about spying and Feyre’s powers and that Keir won’t really have full access to Velaris. To make matters worse, the entire situation winds up framed around Rhys and how he feels terrible for making what he calls “a bad call” and hurting Mor, especially knowing he would feel the same way had she made a deal to ally with Amarantha.

Feyre herself decides that what Rhys (and Azriel, because he too was part of the planning) did was ultimately the right thing. In turn, Mor is basically expected to get over the fact that she now has to work with her abusers and allow them into her home. She eventually does, but that didn’t stop the sick feeling I had when reading all this. Mor was blindsided and forced to work with her abusers and the narrative wants us to believe that her reaction wasn’t entirely warranted.

Not only was this horrifying, but it made no sense for Rhys’ character. All throughout ACOMAF and this book, Rhys is the champion of the abused. He even gives them a safe haven in his own home. He also values choice, and yet he gave Mor none. Lastly, Feyre is his High Lady, his equal, and yet he didn’t let her in on this plan. It wasn’t just a horrible way to treat a victim of abuse, but it was totally out of character for Rhys.

I had issues that weren’t related to problematic things as well. First of all, too much of the novel was devoted to talking and planning. For the longest time, this was the most boring war I’d ever read about. Occasionally there was some action (and Feyre’s vengeance plotline was just delicious), but it was mostly just discussion and arguing. Don’t get me wrong, I like some political intrigue, but it almost felt like too much.

The other thing I disliked was the character development (or lack thereof) of our main characters, Feyre and Rhys. It almost felt like Maas was so focused on making them Feyrhys the Power Couple™ that she forgot to develop them as Feyre and Rhys. There were a few scenes where they felt like the characters they were or where they had some growth (namely the scene where the Inner Circle finally shows who they really are and Rhys tells everyone of his abuse at the hands of Amarantha, which was a very powerful scene).

Feyre’s big moment of character growth occurred in a scene we didn’t even get to see. Feyre tells us later that when she looked into the Ouroboros she saw herself in all her badness and goodness. She summarizes how she reacted, and yet we don’t get to actually see it happen so the character development feels unearned.

All right, now that I’ve exhausted everything I didn’t like, it’s finally time to talk about what I did like. First of all, we get some great character development for the Inner Circle, Feyre’s sisters, and Lucien. I was especially impressed with Nesta and Elain’s development. I feel like they, out of all the characters, grew the most. After all, it was them that took down the King of Hybern. I’d actually say that the side characters were my favorite thing about this book.

I also adored the entire final battle. It had a sense of urgency and terror that the previous battles did not and had me on the edge of my seat, terrified my favorite characters wouldn’t survive.

I also appreciated Maas finally challenging the mate system she seems so fond of, seeming to imply that Elain may very well reject the bond in favor of someone she truly has a connection with. Feyre and Rhys are even implied to be a bit of an anomaly, or at least a best-case scenario. I’ve had a lot of problems with the mating bond, so it was nice to see that it doesn’t have to be the be-all-end-all.

I also appreciated the ending. Things weren’t all wrapped up in a little bow and there was still work to be done, but it still ended on a hopeful note. It was the kind of ending I love: bittersweet and open-ended.

Now, let’s talk about the diversity: I’ve already addressed ways in which Maas failed on this front, but I can still see her making an effort elsewhere. The world is now full of different races, many explicitly being described as having brown skin. This extends to the Illyrians, which clarified some of the ambiguity of ACOMAF.

There are also a few same sex couples, one of which is a mated couple. And yes, all these characters are side and background characters, but it did add a layer of realism that was missing from Maas’ world.

And yes, it’s too little, too late. But at least it made sense and it seems like she’s at least trying to listen. Given her track record, I don’t think she’s necessarily doing diversity well, but I will give her that at least the world as a whole makes more sense, even though the specific characters were portrayed abysmally.

But one character really stood out to me in this regard and has wound up meaning a lot to me because of this: Morrigan. Mor admits to Feyre that she prefers women (something she has hidden for years out of fear of her father). She goes on to explain that, while she is attracted to both men and women (no, I am not using males and females), she only falls in love with women. And this is exactly how I have felt for years. I suppose the correct terminology is a bisexual homoromantic because Mor (and myself, I suppose) fits this to a T. Having a character with my exact sexuality and romantic inclinations means a lot to me and makes me feel represented. I am very grateful for Mor.

And, despite how I can articulate all this, I still can’t quite determine how exactly I feel about this book. I had some serious problems with it and my dislike of Maas definitely colored my reading, but I also really enjoyed it and found it very addicting. It even earned back half a star after the point I almost DNF.

I guess the only conclusion I can come to is: this was a good book to end my years of reading Sarah J. Maas on. I can fill in my own blanks on how it continues and retreat into the world of stanning headcanon over canon. Still, I think I will always love these characters and they will always have a special place in my heart. But I bid this world, and every other world of Maas’, adieu. And move on to bigger and better things.

Trigger Warnings: Abuse victims forced with their abusers, graphic depictions of violence, discussion of sexual assault

My Rating: 3.5/5

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5 thoughts on “A Court of Side Characters and Mixed Feelings: Review of “A Court of Wings and Ruin” by Sarah J. Maas

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