I was already poised to like this book, past feelings about Sarah J. Maas aside. It’s a Beauty and the Beast/Ballad of Tam Lin hybrid retelling, and unless you make some sort of grave mistake, you’ve already got the outline of the story ready to go (tried and true over hundreds of years and variations), and it’s pretty hard to mess that up. And she doesn’t!
I thought the story worked well as a combo B&B/Tam-Lin/original elements mish-mash. The first half is mostly Beauty and the Beast (more the traditional fairy-tale than the Disney movie, with elements like her father being a merchant, her two sisters, their loss of wealth, nods to the Beasts fantastic garden, etc.), and about midway through, the Tam Lin inspiration, along with SJM’s own stuff, takes over. The last third is DARK and weird. (This book was definitely mis-marketed. I feel it’s not YA, just straight up fantasy.) In this world, hundreds of years before, human and faerie societies split. Faeries had been keeping humans as slaves for thousands of years, and humans fought a war to be free. Now all the humans on the continent live below a wall, and all the faeries above, a Treaty keeping the peace between them.
Feyre hunts the winter woods around her family’s cottage, her skills practically the only thing assuring their survival. Her father was broken and crippled years before by the loss of their wealth, the death of his wife, and the creditors who literally shattered his leg in a savage beating. Feyre’s sisters seem to be unwilling to lift a finger as well, one too self-willed, the other too oblivious. One day while stalking a rare deer, Feyre comes upon an enormous wolf, and unsure if it’s a faerie or not, kills it anyway so she can take the deer for her family. She skins the wolf and sells the hide at market the next day. Soon after, a gigantic beast comes to claim her. She killed a faerie, she now owes her life to them in repayment.
This is when she goes to live with “the beast”, aka Tamlin, a faerie lord. It’s a romance, but it’s clear pretty early on (or at least it was clear to me) that their love story was not the focus. There was actually a lot of worldbuilding, development of other side characters (like Tamlin’s emissary, Lucien), and of Feyre herself. I thought it was interesting to watch her go from having no interior world whatsoever, to figuring herself out now that survival wasn’t the only thing she was constantly thinking of. The book was also pretty explicit, but very sex positive. There is absolutely no fuss made about Feyre’s lover, Isaac, back in her village. She openly acknowledges that they were just making time to get some pleasure out of their miserable lives, and nobody shames her for it.
Some of SJM’s repetitive phrasing did annoy me, always. Seriously, I just want to tell her to stop the unnecessary repetition. It gets old really fast. (The phrase ‘huffed out a laugh” is now ruined forever between this and Throne of Glass.) But I think it’s worth noting that the writing here works so much better for me than in her other series, and I think it’s because it’s in the first person. Pretty hard to get purple-prosey when your narrator is an illiterate nineteen year old.
The first part of the book was a little slower, but I liked it. I liked spotting the nods to B&B and the differences.
I was never all that attached to Tamlin, though, which is good because I’m totally spoiled and I know that she ends up with Rhysand. Which is good! She has so much more chemistry with him. Tamlin is like, her starter boyfriend. Someone kind and beautiful and in need of help, but SJM didn’t do much work developing his personality. (It almost read like she’d already moved on in her head to Mr. Tall Dark and Broody instead.)
I’m really excited to read the next two books, which feels super weird, can I tell you. I’m so used to feeling simultaneously annoyed and intrigued when I read an SJM book, I almost don’t know what to do with myself when I genuinely enjoy one. More like this, please!