We are so excited to discuss Sarah J. Maas’ new book, A Court of Mist and Fury, the second installment in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. Allison recommended the series to you on Wednesday, so if you haven’t read any of the books yet, go check that out.
Remember, in a Coven Chat, we definitely reveal spoilers, so if you haven’t read either book yet, you might want to hold off on our discussion!
Nicola: Although I enjoyed ACOTAR, it was probably my least favourite of Maas’ books, perhaps because of my long-standing attachment to Celaena, or perhaps because I was rather lukewarm about Tamlin as a love interest, and the romance between him and Feyre forms the core plot of the novel. ACOMAF, on the other hand, is quite possibly my favourite. I love the world of Prythian, the human queens and glimpses into their world, the new characters, everything.
Allison: I agree, 100%. The second I was finished I wanted to read it again. Maas has a talent for creating stories like this. The ToG series is one of the few that I’m willing to re-read multiple times as well. I plan to read ACOTAR and ACOMAF again in the very near future.
Alyssa: Yes, I’ve re-read Maas’s series multiple times as well–usually every time a new book comes out. I re-read ACOTAR right before ACOMAF’s release and I was really rooting for Feyre and Tamlin, even though I was intrigued by Rhys too. I assumed Tamlin was Feyre’s true love, with Rhys challenging, but not breaking, their bond. I was worried about a love triangle in ACOMAF, even though I also had faith in Maas’s ability to avoid such cliches, or at least do the unexpected with them.
Allison: Yes, I worried a little about the love triangle as well, even though I don’t always mind it. It does have a tendency to feel a bit predictable these days.
Alyssa: Now I’m really curious to see how different my next reading of ACOTAR will be since I’ve read ACOMAF. Will I like Tamlin less or view him as being more possessive in ACOTAR, or will I still see him as Feyre sees him and fall for him again? At first I was a little worried about Tamlin’s shift in character and how ACOMAF heads in such a new direction. But it didn’t take long for me to really like that ACOMAF shows Tamlin in a different light and demonstrates, through Feyre and Rhys’s mating bond, that true love is equal partnership–about each person having freedom and choice–not about one person having control over the other, no matter the situation. Maas is really good at changing her main characters’ love interests in her books in a very satisfactory way. I’m surprised by how much I fall in and out of love with these love interests and I’m okay with that. It doesn’t feel flighty or inauthentic.
Nicola: Aye, me too, and I think it’s so satisfactory because it all comes down to solid character development. Feyre changes immensely between the latter part of ACOTAR and the early chapters of ACOMAF, and Tamlin changes, too, and that doesn’t mean their relationship wasn’t real before, but it does mean it’s over now. We discussed this with QoS, but I love how Maas doesn’t fall into the “MC meets her true love in book 1 and they’re together the rest of the series” mould; while it can work well, it can stifle character development as well, and neither Celaena nor Feyre would grow as much as they do if they were tethered to their early loves.
Allison: I love that we get to see Feyre struggle with this. That even though Tamlin locking her in the house is a breaking point for her, she still mourns their relationship. I appreciated the fact that though she feels murky about things when Mor first rescues her, it’s clear she’s done and won’t go back, even if she doesn’t know what to do next. I also really appreciate the way that Maas stages this. Feyre leaves Tamlin’s court twice before Mor steps in the final time. Even though it’s a part of her bargain with Rhys, we can see her relief in not being in Tamlin’s house, even when she feels eager to return, that feeling is complicated by a growing feeling of dread at being in Tamlin’s presence.
Nicola: Agreed. I think a part of her reluctance is that she knows she did something unforgivable in killing those fae for Amarantha, and the only way it’s possibly acceptable is if she did it for her true love, but if she doesn’t love Tamlin, it means she’s just a murderer.
Speaking of romantic relationships, I love how Rhys’ parents’ relationship shows that even with the magical mating bond, love isn’t assured. It’s still a choice. Tamlin and Feyre didn’t fail to make things work because Feyre was someone else’s mate, but because Tamlin became controlling and abusive. Likewise, Feyre and Rhys don’t end up together because they’re mates, but because they respect and challenge each other.
Allison: Yes! This was a cool way of showing that Feyre does love Rhys and that the bond doesn’t affect that. She’s free to love him or not. This also brings up how amazing it is that Rhys is so committed to giving Feyre a choice.
Nicola: Aye, and it makes it so clear how Tamlin wasn’t letting Feyre make choices even in minor things, with the way he cloistered her inside his manor to keep her safe. Tamlin kind of reminds me of Edward Cullen in this book, with the way he controls Feyre ‘for her own good’. The key difference, of course, is that this book emphasises that that is NOT okay, and that Feyre has the RIGHT to freedom and autonomy.
Allison: I am so glad to be rid of Tamlin as the love interest.. I had this feeling by the end of ACOTAR that something was up with him that wasn’t so great. It was clear that Maas was putting Rhys in a position to be a complication and that his character was more complex than Feyre originally perceives. Though I was still rooting for Tamlin and Feyre, I was really interested in seeing how things with Rhys played out. I’m pleased with the shift.
Nicola: You know, it’s funny you should say that. When I finished ACOTAR I didn’t really notice anything wrong with Tamlin, and I was rather dreading Rhys’ involvement in ACOMAF, because it felt like Maas was setting up one of those horrible ‘girl falls for abusive and manipulative jackass’ love triangles. I really should have had more faith in Maas, given the nuanced and thoughtful way she’s handled Celaena’s relationships. In this case, she subverted the cliché, so that Feyre realises Tamlin has become abusive and only falls for Rhys once she’s finished grieving that relationship.
Allison: There was something about Rhys’ frustration with Tamlin that made me wonder. Yes, he objectifies Feyre, but he also helps her in a way that is out of character for his persona. It made me wonder why Maas was putting Rhys in Feyre’s way and how his inauthentic behavior reflects on Tamlin. Basically, I figured if Rhys was willing to get vulnerable with Feyre in ACOTAR, that there might be something off about Tamlin.
Nicola: That’s a good point. I’m really excited to re-read ACOTAR soon now that I’ve read ACOMAF and see how it changes my perception of the characters.
Alyssa: I love how good Maas is at shifting our perspectives of her main characters’ relationships. But she also doesn’t create stereotypical love interests who are blatant manipulative jackasses. Instead, we experience the good and the bad of these relationships from Feyre’s or Celaena’s perspectives and our feelings towards their love interests change accordingly. I also like that Feyre’s shift in romantic partners–her falling in love with Rhys and falling out of love with Tamlin–doesn’t dominate ACOMAF.
Nicola: Aye, there’s so much going on in ACOMAF that I love and the relationships feel like such a natural extension of the characters’ interactions with each other and their development through the other plot points. There’s an interesting parallel between the romances in ACOTAR and ACOMAF. In ACOTAR the romance is primary, the faerie war secondary, while in ACOMAF the threat of the Hybern king is primary, and the romance with Rhys secondary. What this also means is that right from the start, especially knowing that ACOTAR was based on Beauty and the Beast, I was rooting for Feyre to fall for Tamlin not because of him, but because of the change in perspective that represented: her acceptance of the fae.
With Rhys in ACOMAF, I hated him at first, then began to respect and even like him, and by about two-thirds of the way through the novel I was convinced he and Feyre were perfect together, but I didn’t really root for the two of them like I did Feyre and Tamlin, simply because there’s so much else going on and, whether they’re friends or lovers, they share a relationship based on trust and respect that lends them the strength to face the king of Hybern, the human queens, and whatever else the brewing war throws at them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty certain I squealed with delight when they admitted their feelings for each other, but I wouldn’t have been unsatisfied with them deciding they were best as friends, either.
Allison: I agree, I also would have been fine with them staying friends, even though I think they’re really great together as a romantic pair. The first time Rhys takes Feyre, to save her from her wedding day, I was thrilled. I love the way they fail to have a “romance.” He’s not wooing her and she’s not being courted by him, things just develop. The fact that he becomes her friend, even though he knows they are mates, is kind of amazing to me. It’s the best gift he can give to someone whose choices have been repeatedly stripped from them and it comes from a place of real empathy, because he knows what it is to lose your agency. I think understanding the way he avoids enacting the bargain for months in order not to interfere in her life is important. He only takes her at her wedding because she is literally begging someone, anyone to save her. When he sees that she’s being abused he reinstates the agreement between them.
One of the things I really appreciate about Feyre and Rhys, versus Feyre and Tamlin, is that they are both so complicated (and honestly, a bit difficult in terms of personality). Tamlin wants Feyre to be simple and the more difficult she becomes, the more he stifles her. Rhys, however, seems to revel in all of Feyre’s “difficult” personality traits. He likes to see her stand up for herself and creates spaces for her to do that.
Alyssa: Yes, agency! So important. I think with ACOTAR, we can lose sight of the fact that Feyre doesn’t have agency in her relationship with Tamlin because we’re swept up in the Beauty and the Beast-like romance. I agree with Nicola’s point that it’s easy to root for Feyre and Tamlin, not because of Tamlin, but because of the change in perspective that the fairy tale symbolizes. But when the curse is broken, Feyre realizes that she must have agency and Tamlin is not willing to grant her that. I like that even though my feelings towards Tamlin have changed at this point and I am so happy that Feyre left him and I wouldn’t want her to go back, I feel for him more than I hate him.
He becomes the monster again and his own worst enemy. His behavior is inexcusable, but it’s realistic. I don’t like it, but I can understand how and why this is happening. He becomes more and more of a manipulative jackass, but I don’t think he sees (or wants to see) himself that way. And I think he’s motivated by love, even if it’s an abusive and destructive love. He seems to really believe in that mythic romance, too, of saving Feyre from a curse and seemingly abusive relationship with Rhys. I’m very interested to see what happens next with Tamlin’s character arc. I guess it’s less about me hating Tamlin for the way he is and more about really championing the way Feyre gains agency in ACOMAF, and not just through her friendship turned romance with Rhys.
Allison: I agree with this so much. Yes, Tamlin turns into an abuser and I think he had the predisposition to be over-protective and stifling to begin with. Nicola is right, he’s similar to Edward Cullen in that way in the first book. There’s something really cool about the way Maas sets up that kind of behavior as seductive, but that can easily turn from problematic to abusive under the right circumstances. I have a hard time forgiving Tamlin for this though, because Rhys went through so much worse Under the Mountain, AND was dealing with the mating bond, and still he fights against his response to protect Feyre at all costs.
However, I appreciate the thoroughness with which Maas reinforces in ACOMAF that being Under the Mountain changed all the characters. I like that Tamlin isn’t wholesale proved to have been an abusive partner from the beginning, but that life circumstances changed him into someone who couldn’t hear Feyre’s point of view anymore. This feels realistic to me. Tamlin, Rhys and Feyre all have pretty severe PTSD from having been Under the Mountain and it was bound to make their relationships change.
I am so pleased that Maas “went there” and points out repeatedly that Amarantha was raping Rhys and that it might have an effect on how he views sex and trust. I think it’s almost taboo to talk about men being raped by women, especially as adults, and I feel that Maas’ treatment of the issue was sensitive and moving. I also love the way Rhys’ character develops in this book. I think there were lots of hints that Rhys was playing a part Under the Mountain in ACOTAR and that he was more complicated than Feyre believes him to be. What I was fascinated by in this book is that he is somewhere in the middle. He’s still a bad boy and arrogant as hell, but that arrogance is explained and his deeper insecurities reveal him to be a whole person in this way that was really satisfying for me.
Alyssa: Yes, definitely. Maas is really good at creating complex and morally ambiguous lead and supporting characters who are likable and usually relatable, despite being arrogant and aggressive. I think Maas’s series demonstrate that these qualities not only mask insecurities, but they are not bad per se. When we are in the heads of arrogant, somewhat villainous or frightening characters (even heroes), these characters are so real and we can accept how they think and act in ways that we would not in our everyday lives.
Allison: One of the things I’m liking about these books in contrast to the Throne of Glass books (although that series remains one of my all time favorites) is that they are so completely character driven. Maas writes amazing characters, overall, but Throne of Glass’ focus on the larger political drama takes center stage, while ACOTAR has a similar theme of a world in turmoil, but the books stay very close to the main characters, allowing us to know them in a different way. The first person POV allows for this in a different way, but we get to know Rhys, Mor, Cassian, Azriel and Amren pretty well in this book as well. Maas is really skilled at creating scenes that both move the plot and help us know the characters in deep, meaningful ways.
Nicola: Agreed. I’m particularly impressed with the way she manages to give nuance to Feyre’s relationship with her sisters, even though they rarely appear after their rather unflattering introduction at the start of ACOTAR. And yet I can see why Feyre forgives them for their complacency and why she loves them. And, honestly, I rather admire Nesta, in spite of her ill-treatment of Feyre.
Allison: I am really looking forward to seeing who Nesta becomes as a result of her transformation. She’s already so formidable and that moment when she exited the Cauldron felt heavy with foreshadowing Nesta’s potential for being a scary badass as Fae.
Nicola: Yes! Me too. I think she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with, not unlike Mor. I knew from the moment she was introduced that Mor would be a formidable woman, because Maas knows enough about mythology to know the connotations of naming her character Morrigan, and yet it’s also clear right from the start that she’s warm and kind. She’s willing to befriend Feyre, a woman who loathes the person who matters the most to Mor, because she can see that Feyre needs a friend. And yet I would not want to get on her bad side.
Allison: No kidding! It’s interesting to watch how she and Amren go through almost opposing developments from Feyre’s perspective. She sees Mor as approachable and warm from the start and then grows to understand that she’s a potentially terrifying powerhouse, while Amren scares the crap out of her from the start, but gentles somewhat as time goes on… Though to call Amren gentle at all is probably a mistake.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how all of their relationships grow and change in the next book. I’m definitely hoping for some more of the dual perspective. I liked hearing Rhys’ thoughts at the end. What are you two looking forward to?
Nicola: Yeah, I’d love to see more scenes from other characters’ perspectives, though I’m not sure how feasible multiple characters would be with a first-person POV. And this book totally upended my perception of so many characters, so I can’t wait to see how they and their relationships develop further.
Alyssa: Yes, I’d love more multiple perspectives, even though I agree it’s likely more difficult with a first person POV and might mean trying to do too much in a trilogy. But her multiple narratives is one of my favorite aspects of her series. And, of course, all of the sexy scenes too. 🙂
Allison: Thanks to you both, as alwasys, for this lovely talk. Dear readers, please tell us what you think in the comments!