Genre: New Adult, Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy
This review was brought to you in high-definition and surround sound by Crystal Anne with An E. Crystal is a Hufflepuff who works as an autism consultant by day and goes to Library School at night. She reads a lot, she cross-stitches a lot, and is always ready to make someone a reading list.
CW/TW: The protagonist of this book has experienced significant trauma, including sexual assault. Stay safe, my friends.
So in recent years, I’ve discovered that I have a certain fetish, especially when it comes to sci-fi/fantasy. It started a couple of years back, when Pierce Brown published the “10 years later” sequel to his Red Rising series, and I learned that I love learning what happens after the big battle, when everyone is supposed to live happily ever after. Because usually after that big battle, A LOT of shit is broken, and now all of these people that have spent usually hundreds, often thousands, of pages doing the breaking are now in charge of the pieces.
Oh, there’s so much story to be had there. “Winning is easy, young man. Governing’s harder.” I want to read all of that.
Quick note: if you haven’t read the ACOTAR series, you might be lost. Go read it, I’ll wait. Scratch that, you’ll be reading thousands of pages, I’m not waiting, have a great time, come back when you’re done.
[Ed. note: I started with Silver Flames and was able to figure out backstory pretty quickly, but I can see why having read the first series deepens understanding of the character motivations and sympathies. TL;DR, your mileage may vary. Do what works for you!]
So when she announced a follow-up series that would focus on some of the other characters, I did this.
So this book centers around Nesta. Nesta was present throughout the ACOTAR series, but primarily through the gaze of her sister, Feyre, and their relationship is highly fraught. Nesta is the eldest in the family, but it was Feyre, the youngest, that took on the burden of keeping their family alive during some extremely rough years.
In ACOTAR, Nesta is cold, distant, and snappish. She’s also forced into becoming a High Fae, a people she honestly does not have a surplus of use for, and she fights the process every step of the way.
That said, we see hints of intense loyalty, and a readiness to fight for those she loves.
So as A Court of Silver Flames opens, we begin to experience Nesta from Nesta’s perspective. The opening scene involves her being summoned by Feyre and Rhysand, and it is not a summons she can ignore.
Since her experiences in the ACOTAR series, Nesta has been drinking, shagging, and partying her brains out. She’s doing everything she can to turn down the noise in her head. And there is a lot of noise. It’s the noise that you get when you have been assaulted, transformed, and fought, and also spent a great deal of time telling yourself that you’re a monster. And you were telling yourself that even before you were turned into something that you don’t understand and are frightened of.
This book is Nesta finding her way out of the dark. Because, believe me, in the beginning, her head is in a dark place. She does everything in her power to hurt herself, because she believes that she deserves it, and she hurts those around her, because lashing out at those she loves and those that would love her has become her default setting.
The story begins with those around her setting some boundaries, because they have tried giving her space and time, and watched her become worse. She is given a job, and she is put in a place where if she wants to continue to destroy herself, she’s going to have to climb down thousands of steps to do it, which she is in no physical condition to do.
That said, her family very sneakily found ways to put her in places and with people that were going to give her the space and safety to heal. Her job is in a library, where she is around other women that have experienced trauma and sought refuge. She gravitates initially toward other women that have experienced trauma and assault, and are themselves still healing from those experiences. She and these women bond over their love of romance novels (imagine that) and begin to train together, eventually forming a formidable and cohesive combat unit. One of the best scenes in the book involves Nesta, and her now BFFs, Gwyn and Emerie, having what basically amounts to a grown-up sleepover in which they eat sweets and see how many weird things they can get the House to make for them.
Ah, the House. I would be remiss in not giving special attention to the House. The House has a massive library, and is a sentient being in its own right. The House will make you dinner, clean itself up, draw you a nice bath, and drop a selection of its favorite romance novels at your bedside. It has opinions, a sense of humor, will make recommendations, and always has chocolate cake ready. I want to go there. This is approximately the face I make when I think about the House:
She trains with Cassian, who has been in love with her almost since the moment they met. Initially, she rejects his advances, still believing herself unworthy, but frankly, they’re not going to resist each other for long. They often antagonize each other, right before doing the sex stuff on various surfaces (which does not go unnoticed by their housemate, who just rolls his eyes and eats his stew while shaking his head about these horny little bunnies he’s currently sharing a house with).
And once the two start letting their guard down and enjoy each other more, it gets really, well…
The most significant accomplishment of this book, to me, is that it is a sensitive portrayal of mental illness, how trauma can trigger or exacerbate the symptoms, and how that illness can profoundly carve someone’s self-image. In addition to Nesta’s self-destructive behaviors being a not-particularly-healthy coping mechanism in and of themselves, those behaviors have also contributed to her belief that she is unworthy of love and forgiveness, both from others and herself.
In addition, we see her do the work. We see her begin to engage in physical activity and learn to defend herself, which helps with the feelings of helplessness caused by past assaults. We see her get a job that is interesting and even fun for her, which gives her purpose and the opportunity to meet others with whom she has things in common and can befriend. We even see those around her find ways to support her, whether it is Cassian agreeing to train her privately and later agreeing to train her friends alongside her, or the House snarkily responding to her requests for wine with a nice cold glass of water (the House believes in proper hydration). We see her learn to meditate, turning down the noise in her head.
And we eventually see the culmination of the protective nature that was hinted at in ACOTAR, as she stands ready to go into battle to save those she loves.
Also, while I don’t always love the idea of “interventions”, as they can be incredibly damaging if not conducted in a sensitive, safe manner, I could understand why her family finally gave her the ultimatum they did. I think the book struck a nice balance between honest about how frustrating and hurtful Nesta’s behavior had become and them truly wanting to support her and help her become healthier, while also not sanding down some of the sharp edges of her personality. Nesta gets healthier, but she’s also still a snark queen, and she will probably always have a tendency toward being temperamental. And that’s okay. She can still be loved that way.
I could continue, because this book is nearly 800 pages, so there’s a lot here, but I think you get the idea. I have not even addressed the Dread Trove, the Valkyries, or a few moments where some very deserving dudes got every square inch of their asses kicked (Bad Men Getting Shanked happens to be another one of my fetishes). I’m not sure Maas’s writing works for everyone, but God knows it works really well on me. So go forth and read it, and then you can join me in pining for a House of Wind of my very own.
Grade: B+ (the sex scenes got a bit repetitive and squishy for my tastes, especially the early ones. I liked it more once they started to like each other more).
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I’ll preface this by saying, I have read all the books in this series. Loved #1 and #2, #3 was okay, 3.5 was a complete waste of time, and #4 would have been improved by being a quarter to a third shorter. Maas writes great epic plots and trauma recovery narratives and the rest of it? Meh. Maas doesn’t seem to know what to do with characters after they’ve recovered from trauma—they all seem to have a complete inability to extend empathy to anyone else. I also was hoping for some development of Lucien, Elain, and/or Mor’s stories, but alas no.
I also had serious problems with the pregnancy plot point—Feyre is pregnant and the main characters all know she is almost certain to die in childbirth and they don’t tell her! For a series that’s about trauma, autonomy, and reclaiming your physical and emotional self, this felt like a really jarring note. There is zero mention of abortion as a possible solution and the disregard for Feyre’s own ability to make decisions about her body and her life (!!!) left a bad taste in my mouth.
I anticipated this greatly and like the series (book one was good two was great three was bonkers and this one was a B because of serious misogyny.)
Love me a difficult protagonist and the housr was whimsical and enjoyable although discordant with the tone of the book. My gripe is the misogyny in the series.
Book 3 Rhys sacrifices his power, dies, is resurrected and equally powerful as before. Amren sacrifices her ancient and terrifying power and winds up a grumpy mostly powerless fae with a fuckboy sidekick.
Book 4: feyre is going to die in childbirth and no one tells her because she doesn’t need body autonomy she is fulfilling her maternal role and if she dies because of some hand wavy transfiguring pelvis thing. Why tell her a little thing like that? And Nesta has to sacrifice her power to save her sister, and unlike Rhys who was celebrated and restored to full power she remains effectively castrated and uses the last of her power to transfigure her own pelvis for healthy Illyrian childbearing in a super icky statement that all she can and should wish for in the way of power is reproduction.
I loved parts of the book but could not take the mounting evidence of sexism. Rhys is my book boyfriend until this one when he decides to be paternalistic and stupid and doesn’t treat his mate as a full person deserving of self determination.
I really liked this book and glommed on all 800 pages in one weekend. But where I do think Maas missed the mark was an attempt to shove the beginnings of a save the world plot in with the exploration of Nesta’s healing.
I am looking forward to the next book. I had stopped reading Maas and still have the last two TOG books to read, but reading ACOSF brought back everything I love about her writing.
@Lara—I had many of the same responses to you to the resolution of that plot point! It was infuriating on so many levels. (Also, totally agree with your assessment re: Amren.)
Most of my feelings have been summed up by @FashionablyEvil and @Lara already, but I want to add that this book really did not need the action adventure/save the world plot shoved into it at all. Nesta’s a compelling enough character that her recovery arc would have stood by itself without that extra stuff. Like…it’s nice that she’s a badass warrior now, and she’s killed some evil queen whose motivation is horrendously shallow, but I don’t know if that’s what Nesta needed as a character. A smaller, quieter story would stand out as part of the series and be a nice breather after the massive stakes of the previous books, even with ACOSF’s heavy subject matter.
There’s probably an amazing book in here somewhere, and as I read I kept thinking about all the ways you could tweak things ever so slightly to improve character agency or make the tone more cohesive, even if you didn’t want to cut out all the epic action stuff. (And deal with some of the absolute rubbish mentioned by the above commenters.)
I still think this is a pretty decent book, and it’s the most I’ve enjoyed one of Maas’ novels in a while.
My note from my reading journal: “Start Date: Feb 16 [the day it came out]. Was really looking forward to this Nesta/Cassian sequel, but the sprawling scale and heavy-ass lore is a bit too much right now. Skipped ahead to first make-out scene and now taking a break for some lighter fare.” And it’s still at DNF, and now that I know about this nonsense pregnancy plot element, it might stay there? Which sucks, since they were my favorite pair from the original books.
I second what Lora and FashionablyEvil said, but I didn’t really enjoy much about the book at all. I liked the action and adventure in the earlier books, and this story bored me to tears with all the breathing exercises and the whole “I’m noticing my thoughts and letting them go” thing. Feyre and Rhys were patronizing buttholes to Nesta despite having both struggled with trauma in the past. I have PTSD and found their treatment of her kinda triggering–so much shaming!
I really, really enjoyed this book. For perspective background of my take on the series: I thought #1 was decent, I *loved* #2, and thought #3 was just okay / borderline bad / too many plot holes that made no damn sense.
Buuuttttt, even tho I thoroughly enjoyed it, the above comments are totally true. I feel like that not even a single soul from the inner circle not telling Feyre about her high-risk pregnancy felt rather out of character. It didn’t really bother me since it was a rather minor plot point (until it definitely wasn’t). I also felt that the book was rather repetitive. While totally accurate when dealing with trauma in real life, doesn’t make the most exciting storytelling in certain parts. Overall, I feel like if you enjoyed the series or are generally a fan of Maas, you’ll enjoy it even with all the questionable choices.
I enjoyed the fact that Maas seems to be leaning even more into writing fantasy romance and not just romance-heavy fantasy, and her sex writing has REALLY improved, but like other commenters I was extremely disturbed by the entire pregnancy plotline. Even beyond the fact that its absolutely unacceptable–like, leave the marriage unacceptable–for Rhys to collude with Feyre’s friends to hide the truth from her, I have a hard time in general with any plotline that requires a highly advanced society to have no ability to intervene in fairly basic obstetric situations. I’m sorry, Rhys and Feyre both have basically godlike power and I’m supposed to believe that no one can figure out how to do a safe c-section??? Similarly, I found it ludicrous that no one thought terminating the pregnancy was an option. Feyre is like 20!! She could get pregnant again! The entire plotline really played into a bunch of SUPER harmful narratives about prioritizing the life of the baby over the parent as a matter of course and nonsense about pregnancy being somehow uniquely risky as a medical situation, when it’s like any other risky medical situation that can presumably be managed by people who can heal mortal wounds. I almost had to stop reading the book.
Love this review so much! You put into words so perfectly how I felt about Nesta’s journey. This book’s portrayal of mental health was my favourite part and really resonated with me.