Here follows a roundup (still 250 words average for each book) of some adventures into the world of super sexy YA fantasy. *cracks knuckles* Let’s go. Spoilers for ALL these entries abound, because let’s face it, anyone who reads this review will probably just read it to see if I felt the same as them, not if they should pick it up. (But if you like YA fantasy, DEFINITELY pick up Holly Black’s trilogy).
I had been pleasantly surprised by the fun-sexy tone of the first two ACOTAR books, especially the 2nd one (even though I complained that it committed a classic SJM trope: tank the initial love interest and go all-in on another). But as I mentioned in that post, I had stopped halfway through the third one. This is primarily because of another SJM trope: take the worldbuilding bigger and bigger and introduce an immensely powerful threat that will destroy the whole world, until you just don’t care any more because the problem doesn’t feel personal. I was all for Feyre (still an awful name) fighting to save her lover from an evil Fae queen because it had meaning to her, annoying as she sometimes was. I was even for Feyre having sexy times with a dude who appreciated her. I was quite looking forward to Feyre’s epic revenge plot against Tamlin in this book, but that revenge plot was over in like the first 25% of the book! After that, I lost interest.
I picked it up again because a friend of mine had read it and wanted to chat about it, and I was like “eh, sure, I don’t mind some fluffy reading”. I borrowed it again from the library and didn’t even have to slog through the beginning again. Was I a little lost? Sure, especially because of SJM trope #3–everybody gets a love story. But it was pretty easy to pick up again because the plot is really not complex.
Overall, it wasn’t that bad. It had some groan-worthy sex scenes that made me say WHY IS THIS YA?? (I am fine with some sex in older YA, but this is just waaaaay OTT. Like Bridgerton levels of sex. Which again, is FINE and GOOD but I need to be in the right mood). I was invested enough in most of the characters to care if they survived, yet annoyed that there weren’t really any big sacrifices. I get that she probably wants to spin this one out into a larger series and her fans would be sad/angry/whatever if she killed off their favourite character, but let’s face it. This cast is already way too big. There are too many love triangles/quadrangles/polyhedrons to keep track of.
And yet, I totally get why teens/younger people/even some older people like these books. It’s fun to ship your fav characters and it’s fun to read high-stakes drama where it’s actually super low stakes because everyone has to have a happily ever after. I am a firm believer that people should read whatever their little hearts desire without judgement, and I am definitely NOT judging anyone who loves these books. Just maybe judging the books themselves. Which is, after all, what we are doing here.
A Court of Frost and Starlight, Sarah J. Maas (2.5 stars)
And then I read the novella, because at this point, why not? Again, it was fine. Lots of fluffy conflict without a bigger purpose, because the Big Evil had finally been defeated by this point, but y’know what? I was more interested in if freaking Nesta would come to Christmas than if they’d actually defeat the baddy in Book 3, because obviously they would beat the big bad, but maybe Nesta wouldn’t come to Christmas and then everyone would be sad?? Also: I kinda dig the antagonistic will-they-won’t-they relationship with Nesta/Cassian. Way more interesting than Feyre and Rhys turned out to be.
That being said, I don’t remember too much about this one except: more OTT sex (obviously; this is a SJM book after all), I hate the Elayne storyline and the whole idea of ‘mates’. I hated it in the TOG series too. It’s gross and binary and possessive. I hate the idea that Lucien somehow has a claim on Elayne just because he had a ~~magic feeling~~. To be fair, I think SJM is also trying to criticize her own idea with this plotline, or at least showing how it doesn’t work, but I’m a cynic. And it’s not like it can be a metaphor for one-sided love or anything, because I firmly believe that you cannot truly be in love with someone if they don’t love you back. Love is a two-way feeling that builds and grows. Anything one-sided is just infatuation. (You can, of course, still be in love with someone if they have fallen out of love with you, or if they have tricked you into thinking they love you, but that’s getting into more philosophical complexities than I’m willing to discuss in the context of a SJM novella).
Will I read the next one? Maybe. I do like Nesta. Give me more a-hole women in sexy faerie fantasy.
I definitely tried to read Kingdom of Ash when it first came out but stalled halfway through because of the aforementioned SJM tropes 1, 2, and 3. Again, I tried to finish it because of the aforementioned friend. (We did have great chats about it, so it was worth the time and energy just for that!)
Sadly, this review is not going to be as fun as my hate-review of most of the previous books in this series. Mostly because I just found it pretty hard to care, if I’m being honest. There were too many characters, too many completely unnecessary romances (literally the only one I cared anything about was Manon/Dorian).
I had the same problem here as I did with the ACOTAR 3 ending: not enough people died. The only part that got me at all emotional was (SPOILERS) the deaths of the Thirteen. Manon was also one of the only characters I quite enjoyed; I found her an intriguingly complex character, one not above using trickery to get what she wanted. I could not say the same about Aelin. While I commend SJM for writing a character with serious trauma and depression, I found myself running into the same problem as in the other TOG books. I just do not like Aelin as a character. I do not like Rowan as a love interest. There is literally nothing about them that interests me.
Also, most of this book is just a long battle, which is decidedly not the way into my heart. I have only read one book that was Mostly Battle Scenes that I actually enjoyed, and that was A Memory of Light, which had 13 previous books leading up to that battle. It certainly felt like a more epic culmination.
After spending so much time complaining about SJM books, I am delighted to report: I freakin’ LOVED The Wicked King. I thought the first one was a lot of fun too, but the second was even better. Lots of delicious court/political intrigue (always my favourite), good family conflict, and a really fun romance. It was perhaps a little sexier than the first one, but still nowhere near SJM territory. Jude is a fantastic main character and I loved her serving as the power behind the throne, fighting to get Cardan to show any sense of responsibility. I continued to enjoy Black’s version of the Fae far more than I did SJMs: they feel far more dangerous, and I love that Jude uses her humanity–and her ability to lie–as a weapon, that she doesn’t need to become magical like they are in order to fight.
Unfortunately, I don’t remember too much about this one or the next: one of the perils of waiting six months before reviewing. I do remember there being some great betrayal moments and a nice look into the water-Fae realm that expanded the worldbuilding a little more. And of course, the ending, a great plot twist that made it impossible not to immediately continue the series. (The benefits of reading after all the books are out).
I borrowed the first two in this trilogy from the library, but after finishing The Wicked King, I immediately bought The Queen of Nothing on kindle: I didn’t want to wait. This one didn’t have quite the same spark as the second, and it felt rather rushed, but it was still engaging and quite fun. I continued to love the conflict with her family: her adopted father as the main villain, her protectiveness of her twin sister despite their complicated relationship, and especially the role her sort-of-stepmother plays, one much different than the stereotypical evil stepmother figure. There continued to be the interesting political intrigue that got me into the series to begin with. My one complaint is that I wanted more Cardan–but I could see how otherwise, it might have been difficult to keep the plot going forward without rehashing too much of the romance elements from the first two. I appreciated that it actually deviated from the sexy-romance for most of the book and gave Jude some heavy lifting to do, although I think the resolution of the conflict that ended the 2nd book was a little too easily solved.
I can tell that this trilogy is going to be one of those fun re-reads I do at some point in the future when I just want a light read without too much thought to go into it. Maybe as an audiobook to listen to while I sew or puzzle, something where I have less brain power to spend on listening.
Reviews 4-8/? of my ‘try to write some damn reviews by the end of CBR12’ endeavour.