This is a book I’ve been avoiding reviewing because I have so many complicated thoughts and feelings about it; it’s overwhelming. Does SJM not provoke complicated feelings in everyone? I feel like she’s very divisive, and it’s not always clear where all the animosity is coming from* (or rather, ‘why’ it’s coming; people who hate her and her books are VERY loud about it, so in that sense it’s very easy to see from whence said animosity is being hurled). And yeah, Maas makes some, er, choices, but hatred? It just makes me want to roll my eyes real hard. Just like, don’t read her books!
*Even during the week and half it has taken me to write this review, some intrepid SJM hating enthusiasts appear to have dredged up an article from 2015 where she talks about visiting Israel, among other things, and are using it to accuse her of being a Zionist, and urging people to boycott her books. It is . . . bizarre???? I don’t know what’s happening anymore.
I haven’t ever revisited any of SJM’s books (and will never do so for Throne of Glass), but I had a good time with ACOTAR when I read it (it’s just easier to type the acronym! Also, she def should have thought of a better title for the overall series). I was actually pretty excited when she announced the three follow up novels to the series that were set to be sort of standalones following characters other than Feyre. I’m not really super excited for the other two, to be honest, but this one, Nesta’s book, I was sooo curious about. I love Nesta. She’s so prickly and difficult, and interesting. There was a lot left on the table with her at the end of the original trilogy, so I’m glad SJM came back to give Nesta her chance in the spotlight.
I’m going to try and balance the scales here by doing alternating Pros and Cons. Hopefully this will illustrate the soup of conflict happening in my brainpan re: this book.
CON: This book is 800+ pages long.
PRO: I finished this 800+ long page book in two and a half days.
CON: The sex scenes, every single one of them, are SO UNBELIEVABLY UNSEXY. I mean, it sort of makes me uncomfortable when I read unsexy sex scenes, because I feel like it’s a window into what the author likes, and I’m just like sort of silently passing judgement on them and wondering if they are okay? Every sex scene in here is just sudden and semi-violent and thrusting and crashing mouths together and weird metaphors and there is almost never any intimacy, which is what I like about sex scenes. And no variation! They are all the same. People have different moods! Honestly, I just skimmed through them after the first one. Lady can create interesting drama but cannot write smut.
PRO: Nesta loves reading smut! There’s a runner in this book where Nesta is obsessed with reading this universe’s equivalent of romance novels, and I love this for her. She gets her friends to start reading them too, and it’s like a smutty sex-positive book club for traumatized ladies. Two thumbs up.
CON: Cassian . . . is so boring as a love interest. I feel nothing for him, and honestly, I do not think the book needed this to be a romance. It would have been cool if SJM would have just made them sexy friends and no romance. That would have been refreshing. I liked how he helped in her recovery, and the training, but that’s about it. I just, he’s fine? I don’t know. I just don’t care about him at all. The only one of Rhysand’s boy band I find interesting is Azriel, and that is because, like Nesta, he is complicated.
PRO: Nesta’s girl band! I loved seeing her slowly grow and reach out to the other ladies in this book, and watch them build community and heal together. It was so heartwarming. I love friendship in books, where it’s really a significant part of the characters’ emotional lives.
CON: The “plot.” There was all this nonsense that, to be frank, I cannot really remember right now involving the cauldron? And a bad guy? And some quests? Ish? It just felt like filler. I’m sure there were other ways that Nesta’s recovery could have been pushed along that didn’t feel quite so shoehorned in. It felt like SJM knew she was obligated to continue the storylines from previous books and show consequences? But it was confusing and ultimately distracting from the main point of the book, which was Nesta. The politics of this world are not important to me. I did like the prison sequence. This was hundreds of pages.
PRO: Nesta’s arc in general! I can quibble with details, but I think that overall this book did Nesta justice. I loved seeing her do the hard work both physically and internally to overcome both her own inborn faults and her past trauma, and to learn to accept herself where she doesn’t need to change. I think the book did such a good job wrestling with Nesta’s emotional complexities, and though some of the characters were douchebags about it, I don’t think the book itself passes judgment on Nesta for being a difficult woman. I think SJM knows how special Nesta is, difficult nature intact.
CON: It’s been several years now since I read the original trilogy, but I remember liking Rhysand and his minions at the time. I found them insufferable in this book. So patronizing and self-righteous. I don’t know what happened. And it’s not all because we’re seeing things from Nesta’s POV. They act objectively worse here.
PRO: The house! Nesta accidentally (literally) makes herself a friend by unconsciously casting a spell on Rhysand’s house and it becomes sentient and starts giving her presents. It’s so great. It might have been my favorite character by the end. This is actually the first of two books I’ve read so far this year with sentient dwellings in them, and it was great both times. There should be more sentient buildings in books.
CON: What the fuck with the entire baby plot. SPOILERS It doesn’t make any sense that these magical beings couldn’t figure out a way to do a magical fucking C-section! END SPOILERS
PRO: I liked the conflicts that arose from the Illyrians shitty cultural beliefs, and I did like their weird ritual being the climax of the book.
CON: Fuck Rhysand sideways, and all the rest of his boy band and assorted minions along with him, for SPOILERS keeping from Feyre critical fucking information about HER pregnancy and HER body and HER baby inside of it. She should 100% have left him over that bullshit. It’s character assassination, is what it is. He does have a history of keeping things from her he shouldn’t, but nothing so critical as this END SPOILERS. Also, fuck Rhysand and his patronizing behavior not just towards Nesta, but towards Feyre as well. SJM absolutely failed here to walk the alphahole line. He failed as a good character here. He is the bad guy. Feyre did not get mad enough, and the other characters did not get enough of a comeuppance for this plotline to work.
I actually have a lot more thoughts about this book, but I’m going to stop myself here, save only one more miscellaneous thought spoiler-tagged below. Overall, I enjoyed my time reading this book. It entertained me, even when it was pissing me off. And my love for Nesta and her growth and her plotlines that it’s enough to make it so that the stuff that sucked doesn’t matter as much. Obviously I wish those parts didn’t suck, but we don’t live in that corner of the multiverse. Bring on the next two! I’m sure I will be conflicted about them as well.
SPOILER People seem to care a lot that Nesta gave up her power at the end? Why? I wouldn’t fucking want it either! I actually think this was really smart on SJM’s part. She had an overpowered character, and she handled her well. A superpowered Nesta that everyone is scared of isn’t narratively interesting in the long term. We already have Mor. And that much power was a burden for Nesta, for anyone. At the end of the bday, she’s still fae, she’s still badass. She doesn’t need it END SPOILERS.
[3.5 stars, rounded up]