A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 2 of 5 teacups

Maybe my rating comes as a surprise or even – if you care – a disappointment, but let me assure you: no one is more surprised or disappointed than I am.

I’ve had this book on my TBR ever since it appeared on Goodreads without a title, cover or description. I started reading it as soon as it became available and the array of positive reviews from my friends and strangers alike made me feel sure I would love it. But I didn’t. It is possible I expected all the wrong things from A Court of Thorns and Roses, and maybe my review can prevent others from doing the same.

Here’s what I expected: an intricate fantasy world, supernatural politics and alliances, fast-paced action, a sensual romance – perhaps similar to Cruel Beauty and other Beauty and the Beast retellings, and a flawed but likable heroine.

But this book is, if you ask me, nothing more or less than softcore erotica. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re looking for.

I personally thought that the fantasy aspect felt like trimmings around a story that was all about a romance between Feyre (the narrator) and Tamlin (a High Lord of the Fae). There are some titillating scenes where Tamlin bites Feyre’s neck and they have sex – undoubtedly the best bits of the book and I won’t pretend I didn’t feel a little hot under the collar myself. But the “ancient wicked shadow” promised in the blurb is only really a source of more romantic angst for Feyre and Tamlin.

However, I *do* like a good romance as much as anyone, so there are other reasons this book didn’t quite work for me. In order to express what I mean, I’m going to compare A Court of Thorns and Roses to Cruel Beauty, which is, in my opinion, a better book.

In CB, I felt the chemistry between Nyx and Ignifex as soon as their loaded banter started to fill the pages. They were sexy together, Ignifex was an evil ruler (which was a real problem for their relationship) with blood-red eyes, and the supernatural part of the book was creepy, weird and completely unique. Despite enjoying the actual non-PG scenes in A Court of Thorns and Roses, I never felt any real chemistry between Feyre and Tamlin or any realistic challenge to their relationship.

What makes Beauty and the Beast such a compelling romance? One that demands to be told over and over again in so many different ways? I’ll tell you what it is: it’s the obstacles, the challenges, the improbability… how can a young woman come to love an ugly beast? We ask. I’ll prove it’s possible! The author replies. That’s why readers fall in love with the beast again and again, even when he is furry and has horns like the Disney version. I loved the Disney beast.

Tamlin is not a beast.

“Even as he bit out the words, I couldn’t ignore the sheer male beauty of that strong jaw, the richness of his golden-tan skin.”

Oh my, how could a poor young woman ever love a pretty-faced, golden-haired, completely not evil Fae prince? How weird.

Maas is a good writer and the beginning – before Feyre is taken to the Fae world – made me believe a great book was on the way. When Maas writes action, she writes action really well. But there was far too little of it in this book. It came in behind the descriptions of beautiful Fae men and the Fae palace.

In short: It just wasn’t nasty enough. In truth, this felt more like an extended Cinderella retelling than what it was supposed to be. A girl lives in poverty and looks after her rather annoying sisters until one day she is swept up by a prince who takes her to his beautiful palace (after about three chapters). I just find it hard to recommend this when I think Cruel Beauty is similar and yet so much better.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

UprootedUprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

Hey! You there! Please listen. On May 19th this book will be released – on that day go to this page or this page or another retailer of your choice and download the free sample of this book. If, by the end of that small sample, you are not convinced that this book is amazing, never think of it again. BUT, I sincerely doubt that will be the case.

Because it took me ONE CHAPTER – well, a few pages really – to make me realize that this book was going to steal every bit of my spare time until I’d devoured it all. And it did. It was magical, surprising, incredibly well-written, and so very funny. And not funny in a Terry Pratchett comedy/fantasy kind of way, but just funny because these characters are so real and charming.

There are those well-drawn, vivid books that have great world-building, beautiful descriptions without being overly descriptive, and get lauded by critics. Then there are those books that are delicious chocolate-ice-cream-with-sprinkles pieces of entertainment that drag you in and just provide so much enjoyment. Uprooted is a rare beast – because it’s both.

It’s just so goddamn charming. It’s exciting and creepy with regards to the plot and world, but it’s made especially wonderful because of the character dynamics. Agnieszka and the Dragon are hilarious together – they operate with a kind of love/hate dynamic that makes for some really funny scenes and some heart-warming ones.

What a magical, though strangely honest and thoughtful book. I’m avoiding saying too much about the story because the blurb is deliberately vague for a reason, but I will give you a little something. Uprooted opens in a village where once every ten years, the Dragon (actually a man and wizard who rules over the land) comes and picks a seventeen year-old girl from the village and takes her to his palace. Nobody knows what happens to them, but they are not seen for the next ten years and they always come back changed.

It made me smile because it sounds a little like the premise for Cruel Beauty (which I loved) and A Court of Thorns and Roses (which I didn’t love), but it’s better and different than either of those. There’s a touch of the romantic (and the heart-poundingly sexy), but Novik is both a tease and someone not concerned about being PG – which made the book infinitely better on that front than either of the other two mentioned.

Also, one of my favourite things was the creepy Wood – a literally evil forest that is alive with a dark corruption that will claim you if you ever enter it, or get touched by one of the monstrous beings that come out of the Wood. How weird and creative and scary… I LOVED it.

No one went into the Wood and came out again, at least not whole and themselves. Sometimes they came out blind and screaming, sometimes they came out twisted and so misshapen they couldn’t be recognized; and worst of all sometimes they came out with their own faces but murder behind them, something gone dreadfully wrong within.

I can’t praise this book highly enough. I’m desperately trying to string together the right combination of words to make other people pick this up. I just hope I’ve been successful, because it was truly a magical, entertaining experience.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

An Ember in the AshesAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
My rating: 5 of 5 teacups

“This life is not always what we think it will be,” Cain says. “You are an ember in the ashes, Elias Veturius. You will spark and burn, ravage and destroy. You cannot change it. You cannot stop it.”

I think a lot of people will understand me when I say that the best kind of books are those that provoke strong emotions in you. My favourites are made up of books that filled me with happy excitement or, alternatively, books that ripped my heart out and made me cry. An Ember in the Ashes, however, made me angry. No, not angry – furious. I raged. I panicked. I hated. And damn, it was amazing.

You know those rare books that just make your heart pound? Those that take you so far out of the real world that you have to remind yourself afterwards that it’s all fiction, or else you won’t be sleeping? For me, this was one of those books. Everything about it was gripping, from the godawful but mesmerizing setting to those two bloody love triangles (love square?).

Yes, that’s right. I don’t even care that there were love triangles. That seems like too simplistic a term for this complex web of relationships, anyway. It isn’t about choosing between hot dude #1 and hot dude #2, there’s far bigger things at stake here and every character is so well-developed that you genuinely wonder and care what their fate will be.

This fast-paced story is told from two perspectives. Laia is one of the Scholars – now ruled over by the Martial Empire – many of whom are poor, illiterate and even enslaved. When her brother is arrested and presumably tortured by the Masks (masked soldiers), she seeks out the Resistance for help. However, they will not help her for free and demand that in return she must enter Blackcliff Military Academy as a slave in order to spy on the Commandant. Elias – the son of the Commandant – makes up the other perspective in this book.

Initially, I drew some comparisons between this and Legend, but though I liked the latter, I still don’t think it’s anywhere near as compelling, interesting, fast-paced or evil as this book. And despite the similar premise, this book branches off in many very different and exciting directions, including the arrival of creatures believed to only exist in myth.

I mentioned my fury before and I’m going to elaborate a bit. This book is nasty. This world is nasty. The Commandant is an evil hellbitch and complete sociopath. There’s torture, child abuse and the threat of rape (none of it is really graphic but it’s effective just the same). But it works. The stakes are higher; it made me actually afraid for Laia when she was sneaking about and spying on the Commandant. It’s hard to not grind your teeth at the unfairness and simultaneously feel powerless to stop it. It’s been a while since I’ve read such an evocative novel.

So, I enjoyed pretty much everything about this book. I liked the varied cast of characters and that Laia wasn’t a typical badass heroine but a scared girl going against her every instinct to save her brother. I loved the use of prophecies and the way Elias has to try and understand what they mean in order to do the right thing. I loved the Augurs – a bunch of hooded holy men who claim to deliver prophecies. Such a great read and I can see people eating it up and being desperate for more.

The book is rounded off well and is supposed to be a standalone, but there’s room for more here and I’d love to see the author revisit this story and these characters. *fingers crossed*

“Life is made of so many moments that mean nothing. Then one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after.”