I would like to ask Maas–how do you manage to turn even an adult book in a massive YA trope? A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas is a novel that held many promises, one that I firmly believed I’d give 5 stars by the time it was over, and yet, I find myself disappointed and frustrated because it didn’t live up to the expectations I had in store. Maybe that’s my bad, but I wonder how other readers feel about it, characters aside.
Image from Amazon
⭐⭐⭐/5: I could’ve liked it more
So, there is a LOT to unpack but I’ll try to keep my review short. Sort of/kind of.
I went in expecting maybe too much from A Court of Silver Flames considering how disappointing the other books were. But I gathered that this was supposed to be an adult book and it’s about Nesta instead of Feyre, so I thought, this has to be good, right? Right?
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is still a better story than all the nonsense that preceded it. The first reason is the POV–no first-person, not only one POV, granted it’s not a multiple POV either but it helped. The writing matured or so it seemed, in the sense that I spotted fewer repetitions and better-crafted sentences. However, this is still a book with a good amount of cringe terms and wobbly narrative, and while I thought it wouldn’t bother me as much (you’d think after four Court books I’d get used to it), it ended up making me eyeroll.
What rating to give this book? I don’t know. I thought I would give it 4 or 5 stars at the beginning but there are just so many things that are wrong with it that I can’t. Let’s see if I can section this.
So, the story begins with Nesta drinking herself stupid every night and sleeping with whatever male fae she finds. Okay, that’s one way to cope with the fact that your nameless father died in front of you after years of doing smack for you and your sisters, and I’m not going to judge the drinking and sexing. What completely left me gobsmacked is the moment when Nesta is stripped from her free will and locked inside the House of Wind because she spent too much money on things that embarrass Rhysand, Feyre, and their clique, and somehow, this is shown as mercy, care, and love for Nesta.
Okay, did we all forget when Tamlin forbade Feyre to even breathe outside the Spring manor “for her own good”? Because she was so sad, and broken, and shocked it was better she stayed away until she felt better? Did the fandom who renamed Tamlin into Tampon forget the biased hate Maas pushed on them through Feyre’s POV for four damned books? What happens to Nesta here is the same thing that happened to Feyre, but if it’s Feyre doing it and not Tamlin, then I guess it’s okay because Feyre is a self-insert character.
Nesta’s problems seem to be rooted in several events. One, the fact her mother never loved her as a mother would but saw her as a potential socialite. Two, the fact her father was a useless moron who one day brought an army to save the daughters he couldn’t feed only to die in front of Nesta. Three, the attempted rape she fought against. Four, being thrown into the Cauldron and Made fae. Five, having to live in a world where she doesn’t feel at her place.
So, Nesta never solves her mommy issues, quite the contrary. What she learned from her mother ends up being used in the Court of Nightmares to woo Eris of all people, AKA someone who is already an ally to the Night Court. There was no point doing that, it was just for the drama points and the half-assed love triangle.
The daddy issues are solved after a five-day hike in the Illyrian mountains when she tells Cassian why she can’t stand the sound of crackling logs in the fire, and as much as it was supposed to be this big turning point, all I could think of was the fact that Nesta’s dad never even had a name. He appeared maybe three or four times total in this series, and I just can’t see him as a character worth PTSDing for.
Now, the Cauldron thing and the feeling-out-of-place are just thrown at Feyre and Tamlin, but mostly Tamlin. Just in case the reader had some doubts still on whether to hate Tamlin or not, Maas goes back to the “essential” Tamlin slander by rewriting her own narrative. Nesta says that the fae world is Feyre’s world, that it’s her fault she and Elain were Made, yadda yadda yadda. But when she meets Tamlin in the Spring lands, it’s his fault now. Oh, he’s “a piece of shit” and someone who “never deserved Feyre.” It’s not like she had a roof over her head and warm clothes and a house thanks to Tamlin. It’s not like Tamlin allied with Hybern because Feyre (who was supposed to not know how to read or write) sent him *a letter* that could’ve very well been forged instead of being the mature High Fae she always claims she is and tell it to his face that he’s a damned piece of shit.
And the sexual assault? Yeah, that flew out of the window, and Nesta “kind of forgot” about it.
Nesta and Cassian’s relationship
Now, these are characters that I love, don’t get me wrong. They had great potential, they are different from the rest of the cast, and frankly, they’ve got nice chemistry. The smutty scenes were less cringe compared to Feyre and Rhys’ and though every time faes have sex it sounds like two animals rutting, what I liked here was the fact that Cassian had Nesta’s back most of the time, even in front of the rest of the Inner Circle, even when she was acting like a total ass.
It was fun to see Cassian squirm at the possibility of Nesta preferring Eris but that subplot was too underdeveloped for me to further care about it and she chose Cassian so fast it felt like a soap opera.
Gwyn and Emerie, and the sorority of the Hunger Games
A huge part of this book focuses on Nesta’s training and her forming meaningful relationships with two other faes who went through a lot of crap. I truly liked Gwyn and Emerie and the way they were both introduced, and I enjoyed the scenes where they trained as Valkyries. My problem with the whole Valkyrie thing was when it culminated with a whole lot of lazy world-building and the copy-paste of the Hunger Games.
I had gotten over the fact that Illyrians were just some bat version of the Greek-slash-Balkan Illyrians, and I had gotten over the failed retelling of Beauty and The Beast or even Hades and Persephone. Maas’ world is basically a big mashup of a bunch of history and myths mixed with other series and even cartoons. The Valkyries are given a sloppy backstory where they fought alongside the Illyrians at some point and I thought there would be more since Gwyn plays the assistant to some higher-ranking priestess who is studying the Valkyries like crazy but guess what? Nope, that doesn’t happen. We get some pieces of meditation, some training from Azriel and Cassian, and then the three Valkyries are thrown in the Blood Rite to fight and slay and travel the same path as the men they say they loathe. I lost it at the chapter where someone says, “Valkyries,” and Nesta answers, “Hell yes.” Hell, yes?! Are we in high school?
At least, during the Hunger Games of Illyria where the girls use a rope to bind themselves to trees and doze off without falling off (hi, Katniss, it’s been a while), we get to see plot armor personified. Some random dude named Balthazar helps them hide from famished beasts only to disappear forever afterward. Still better than when Feyre and Lucien had a cave magically appear before their eyes when they were about to freeze in the Winter Court.
Things Maas needs to let go of, namely Feysand and character assassination
I originally liked Rhysand. I loved his character in the first volume, and I thought he and Lucien carried the book by themselves because they were neither good nor bad. I also liked him in most of the second volume, and although I don’t appreciate the fact that Feyre’s “empowerment” happened through him, I didn’t hate him. But I feel like the author began to mishandle this character somewhere in the third and fourth book, and in ACOSF, he’s entirely replaced by another person, pretty much like what happened with Tamlin.
The Rhysand in this book is a despicable male. He is patriarchal, manipulative, and both things are washed clean (like all the stuff he did to Feyre Under The Mountain) because “Rhysand cares” or because “Rhysand is the most powerful High Lord” and… no. In the past, he already had fights with Feyre when he hid things from her and the girl dumped him in the mud for that, but now he can hide the danger of her pregnancy from her and all is fine.
I also don’t understand how anything related to Nesta needs to become a thing about him. For example, when they found out Nesta’s connection to the other Made items, Amren goes on this rant about how Nesta is there to make Rhys powerful enough to become High King (because “King” isn’t enough, let’s add “High” before it). Just–why? How? Nesta alone with the power of the Cauldron and the Trove can shatter Rhysand. But he needs to consider becoming High King? Maas has her set of favorite characters, and it’s a bit too apparent because it weakens a story that could’ve been formidable.
Nesta’s ending and this stupid need to always have kids
Nesta’s ultimate scene is when she throws herself in front of Death to save Feyre and her baby… and Rhysand. Yes, because suddenly, Rhysand is the caring brother who could’ve throttled her whenever she was sad and tortured, but he only locked her away for her sanity. Nesta ends up giving up the Cauldron’s power so that Feysand and their babe can live, and amidst all the crying and begging, apparently Nesta asked the Cauldron to change Feyre’s anatomy and hers as well so that when she has little Illyrians with Cassian she won’t die.
Because what’s important even in the fae world, with so many wars ahead, is to have winged babes without shattering your pelvis. I guess Nesta knows Koschei and whoever else wants to try to kill them all next are as weak as Stryga, the Bone Carver, the Crone, and Hy-freaking-bern. Papercut miniature villains without backstories, motivations, or even decent power and politics, anyway. I see why she doesn’t need the Cauldron’s powers but a wider womb instead.
So this review is way too long but I don’t like giving ratings without some reasoning behind it. I guess I’ll give ACOSF 3 stars because that’s the average I gave Maas’ novels.
And as a conclusion, I don’t think her books are problematic. They are just poorly written and it saddens me to say this because the premise of each book was good. The characters had so much potential but the plotting is straight-up lazy. It’s literally always the same: starved girl being sad, some dude training her to be less sad, a magical item hunt, plot armor, a war that is maybe coming, one or two subplots that pause the war, endless monologues from non-POV characters so they can have a little bit of personality, weird smut where characters chuckle at each other’s intimate parts, a war or a battle that ends in five seconds with some irrelevant character dying in the process, lots of crying, happy ending, and a Feysand fanservice scene.
I believe Maas can write an adult book and I am looking forward to the day it happens. But the story needs to be more about the people she created, and less about her or her favorites, or the fans’ favorites.
Final thoughts on the MaasVerse
I think Sarah J. Maas and her writing need a category of their own. This stuff doesn’t belong in fantasy, sorry, not sorry. The writing doesn’t fit, and when you think it finally can, we are back to simplified versions of things that already exist. There is no originality, not even in the narrative since Maas took what she already wrote for Feyre and rearranged it to fit Nesta’s story. This doesn’t make me want to pick up her other books, namely the Throne of Glass series and whatever came later on… (Crescent City? House of something and blood?)
Final thoughts on the ACOTAR Madness
They say there is always something to learn from successful people and successful books. And that much is true. Reading Sarah J. Maas’ novels made me understand a few important things (no sarcasm):
- Publishers and editors, no matter how big and famous they are, are just as clueless as any debut author or small/indie press: this series was advertised and marketed for a YA audience while these are themes for at least new adults and later on adults. Even if the writing doesn’t match the audience, you can’t market this to teenagers when you need to do a lot of critical thinking to assess the situations told in the first person or close third person. I also feel like a lot more edits were needed considering how the books are structured in such a chaotic way.
- If you have great marketing, you can write garbage: I don’t think a lot of effort or creativity was put into these books. I’m sure Maas is passionate about writing and creating worlds and characters, you can feel it because you always find one or two characters you enjoy and rave about. However, I like to see a book for its entirety, for all it has to offer, and even if I, for example, love Nesta’s character, I can’t unsee the evident shortcuts the author took to write this story. But it doesn’t matter when you can release a Rhysand artwork and have a gazillion of fans drink your bathwater.
- Giving in to your fans’ desires is gonna make you money, but it doesn’t necessarily make you grow: at the end of the day we all need bread and water but I don’t think Maas was broke when she was halfway through the ACOTAR series. There is just so much fan service going on in her books that you can see she wanted to please her readers more than give her characters a three-dimensional, complex personality or even aspirations that go beyond the white picket fence.
ACOTAR is a great example of how much communities impact and drive a business in the writing world. Authors are often introverted individuals, but if we want to grow a reader base, we might want to connect with readers a lot more. Take bits and pieces from the success of Maas and her books, and stay realistic and pragmatic about your own work.