Thoughts at a glance: ***** (It was amazing!)
Eros and Psyche... Beauty and the Beast... and now Feyre and Tamlin...
A Court of Thorns and Roses is yet another rendition of the old, old tale of a man bounded by magic, who must win the love of a human girl to survive.
If that girl were Katniss Everdeen.
Feyre's life consists of hunting and hard labor - anything she can do to feed her father and two ungrateful sisters. One day she kills a wolf who is actually a faerie soldier in disguise, and when the High Fae (prince/lord/dude), Tamlin, demands her life in exchange, she has no choice but to go with him.
In this world, humans and faeries have a long history, one fraught with violence and servitude - humans were once slaves in this book's universe. Their lives are full of fear and hatred for these magical beings that took pleasure in torturing humankind. It's no wonder that Feyre instantly starts planning her escape, stealing weapons when she can and setting up snares at her bedroom door.
But as Tamlin wins her trust and eventually her affections, she learns that all of faerie-kind (and by extension, humankind, because we have no magical powers to defend ourselves) are being threatened by some scary dark force, and guess what... it will eventually fall on HER to save everyone.
Okay, so I did seriously think of Katniss Everdeen when the book started, since it opens with Feyre hunting in the woods with a bow and arrow, desperate to put food on the table for her family, who lost their fortune and their rank years ago and now depend solely on her to run the household. She gets little support from her uncaring family, which includes a father who is too injured and down-on-his-luck to do anything more than carve wood, and two older sisters who refuse to lift a finger to help keep the house running. But Feyre pushes on, because of a vow she made to her dying mother to take care of her family (which is an unfair thing to ask of an 8 year old, if you want my opinion).
She kills a wolf in the woods, thinking that if it is a faerie in disguise, then she's doing a service to their entire village. (Spoiler: it is.) Faeries are believed to be cruel, heartless beings who only want to enslave humans or possibly eat them, and given the long history of violent servitude under faerie rule, no humans are willing to take any chances around them. So Feyre kills him with two shots, skins him, and sells the pelt for money.
Not long after, a huge, scary beastman (literally - a dude in beast form), who could only be some sort of faerie, practically rips their house open looking for the person who killed his friend. Seeing no option for escape or avoidance, Feyre agrees to give up her life in exchange for the one she took, hoping that it will prevent any further harm coming to her family. The scary beastman surprises her by telling her that he would be willing to let her live out her days on his land, separate from all the other scarier, more frightening faerie folk that roam the Seven Courts. Rather than actually killing her, or even treating her like a prisoner, he tries to take care of her instead. Thus begins this Beauty and the Beast story. Note: "Feyre" is pronounced "Fay-ra" in the story, but of course "Feyre" looks like it could be pronounced "fair," and "fair" is often used as a synonym for "beautiful," so... a beauty, and a beast.
The scary beastman ends up being... a really beautiful guy. Or, she thinks he might be a beautiful guy, but he's got a mask (like, a masquerade mask) permanently stuck to his face. His entire household does, as the result of a curse that he can't really tell her anything about. Which makes this whole love story kinda creepy, because Tamlin has that mask on for the ENTIRE STORY. (Even when they make love for the first time.) And when he gets mad, he has sharp teeth and claws that extend out of his knuckles like Wolverine or something.
I liked that this was a love story that wasn't just about the love story, but about some other crazy faerie stuff that was going on, and I thought it was a really creative take on a classic tale. ALL of the faeries in the seven lands (the Courts of Spring, Summer, Winter, Autumn, Day, and Night) are under the oppressive rule of this evil-to-the-extreme faerie queen named Amarantha, and the only way to break this curse is for Feyre to fall in love with Tamlin. BUT WAIT: Because Tamlin specifically had once said some things to Amarantha that really pissed her off, the exact terms are that it can't be just ANY human girl who falls in love with him; it needs to be a human girl who hates faeries so much that she kills one of his dudes in utter hatred, and he needs to get her to fall in love with him even though he has a mask creepily stuck to his face, and then she has to declare her love for him... before the end of the 49 year deadline.
Of course, as fate would have it, that's exactly how Feyre came into his life. But also, as fate would have it, even though she does fall in love with him, she does not actually say it to him (no one was allowed to tell her that she had to say it out loud), so the curse does NOT get broken in time, and Tamlin gets hauled off to the evil queen's evil mountain lair.
And this is where the story really kicks it into high gear, in my opinion. Because THIS is where our beloved Belle goes all Katniss in order to save not only the man (fae) she loves, but the entire free (fae) world: she has to complete three deadly and difficult tasks, OR she can solve a riddle. Failure would mean an eternity of torture. (Spoiler: she succeeds.)
If you're looking for a fairy tale where the girl 1) kicks ass and saves the world AND her man, and 2) exhibits realistic complexity, vulnerability, thoughtfulness, and smarts, then this is the book for you. Feyre isn't a superhero, but she is extremely strong. She's driven by love - not just romantic love, but also love for her family, who are also in danger. She's physically strong from all the hard labor she's had to endure, and she's mentally strong from having to take care of her family, despite the fact that she's never learned how to read. She can also sometimes be reckless, with an insane disregard for her own safety. She's no singing Disney princess; she's a survivor.
Speaking of not being a Disney princess, Feyre is no maiden. She doesn't just have magical true-love sex with Tamlin, but before him, she had a casual sexual relationship with a guy in the village, and it's no big deal. She's not ashamed of it, and the only person who shames her for it is her self-righteous older sister, whom we're not supposed to like. (At least, not right away.) I liked this. I like that it's no big deal, that two mutually-consenting adults can have a no-strings-attached arrangement, and it's not treated like this taboo, morally-reprehensible thing. It just is what it is.
The faerie politics can get kind of convoluted, but it's not so bad. Just know that Tamlin and his Spring Court are part of the nice guys, and there are other faerie beings who are more happy to side with the evil queen. (If you love anti-heroes, you will love Rhys. Which is a name I happen to love.) It's quite a compelling alternate universe! I wasn't quite sure how/where/when to place this story in terms of setting, but maybe that's the point. Maas does a good job of creating a completely separate world from ours, and maybe we're not supposed to link it to any familiar places or histories. I loved all of the visual descriptions - Feyre is a painter, and she talks a lot about how she sees things with her artist eyes. Lots of swirling colors :)
I definitely enjoyed this book, and am curious to see where this series goes next. Goodreads shows at least two more books to come, so I will eagerly be awaiting the sequels.