A Court of Wings and Ruin is the third book in Sarah J. Maas’s fantasy ACOTAR series. The first book, for which the series is named, is called A Court of Thorns and Roses. The Second, A Court of Mist and Fury.
All the ACOTAR books, while written principally from the same character’s perspective and following the same chain of events, seem to have different predominant vibes. ACOTAR (#1) had the strongest fairytale remix vibe. ACOMAF (#2) had a predominantly fantasy-romance vibe. ACOWAR (#3), this one, certainly had the most brutal, strategic, war-like fantasy vibes of the series so far. Story-wise, it was probably the most exciting so far.
I can’t help but think, though, that one of the series’ strongest selling points on the market is the sexual content, and in that regard, the sex in the first two books was a lot more exciting than the sex in ACOWAR. This is relevant because it speaks very much to Maas’s skill as a storyteller. In my reading experience, there were two main reasons the sex in book 1 and 2 were so interesting. First, it was faerie sex. The non-humanness of the characters, the fact that they have body parts which ordinary human beings don’t have, adds an interesting dimension to sexual activity. How does intercourse change when you’re dealing with a shapeshifter? When claws, fur or highly sensitive wings are an option? Vampires are certainly not as physically/sexually interesting as ACOTAR faeries. Secondly, the impact of many of the sexual scenes came from an accumulation of relationship development and sexual tension, strung out for pages and pages before they reach—metaphorically speaking—a climax. Without that skill of gradual development, if the sex scenes were to have occurred in greater isolation, they would not have read as half as interesting as they felt in the moment. I don’t think it detracts from the appeal of ACOWAR that the sex wasn’t as exciting, though. The third book had different priorities, and for what this story demanded, I think it was all executed splendidly.
(In related but auxiliary news, Rhysand has been the love of my life from the moment he first appeared in the first book.)
With three books in the series down now, I’m convinced of what I think is Sarah J. Maas’s strongest suit: her character development is off the chain. Without spoiling, I can tell you that I went from thinking the main character, Feyre, was an incredibly stupid girl in book 1, to someone who showed surprising promise in book 2, and by book 3, I was like, “OMG, she a badass!” As the series progresses, the same characters hardly get old because as you discover more about them, your previous perceptions of them are constantly challenged. There is incredible expertise involved in making you love a character when they’re presented as one thing and continue loving the character even more fiercely when they’re presented as the complete antithesis of that one thing. And it takes phenomenal talent for the same writer who could do that, to leave you thoroughly shocked when some other character is not what you expected.
I read ACOWAR to provide a distraction from my own thoughts and feelings, and honestly, it was a splendid choice. It was immersive enough to have me thinking about nearly nothing but the characters and stories, even minutes or hours after I’d taken a break from reading.
Although I haven’t yet read any of Maas’s Throne of Glass books, from what I’ve seen of ACOTAR, I think I stand by my opinion that Maas writes a very feminine kind of high fantasy. This is absolutely not derogatory. It doesn’t detract at all from the drama or the action or the spectacular messiness of everything, but the prioritization of the personal, emotional and individual aspects of characters and story evokes in me a personal investment that I don’t think would exist otherwise.
The femininity also doesn’t detract from the gravity of the story/content, but rather adds something crucial to it. Whereas I think masculine fantasy is often preoccupied with war and murder and slaying things and dangerous quests, fantasy like ACOTAR is not afraid to handle the difficult topics. Sex, the expression of sexuality, sexual orientation, sexual abuse, gender-based violence, toxic masculinity, feminism and choice, (the fantasy equivalent of) racial prejudice, honor and protection of minorities and the oppressed, relationship trauma, abusive parenthood, you name it! I promise they go far beyond the reach of Brienne of Tarth or Arya vs. Sansa Stark. There are so many incredibly important things about the human condition that I think too often male authors are not writing about. I also think high fantasy is one of the best places to explore some of these topics, because it provides an avenue to step out of the world you think you know so that when you come back to it, you can see it in a clearer light. I’m so glad that Sarah J. Maas addresses these topics in a way that does not entirely make me cringe!
If you read the first book and you think it’s a bit cliché and are unimpressed, I would personally encourage you to keep going. Because it gets nicer. It gets so much nicer.
-Akotz the Spider Kid