Discussion: A Court of Wings and Ruin (and the two books before it)

Posted May 9, 2017 by Ellen in Discussion Post / 8 Comments

Warning: This post contains SPOILERS! Turn back now if you don’t want the entire trilogy spoiled for you.

Remember when Sarah J. Maas debuted with Throne of Glass? It was a self-indulgent, kinda crappy fantasy book. We all know it. It was. But she’s come a long, long way since that debut. Her collection of short stories for the Throne of Glass series did a lot to improve her credibility as a writer. And her full-length books have become better-written and more complex as the years have passed.

There are still readers, myself included, who aren’t interested in the Throne of Glass series, despite how far they’ve come. Maas’s Court trilogy, however, has most everyone excited.

A Court of Thorns and Roses came out in May, 2015.

A Court of Mist and Fury was released in May, 2016.

Finally, A Court of Wings and Ruin launched this May, 2017.

These books have their flaws, but they are fun storiesAnd that twist romance — woah!

A Summary of A Court of Thorns and Roses

The series follows Feyre Archeron, a young woman living in a land where moral humans are separated from a magical wall from immortal fae. As the series begins, Feryre’s human family is destitute. Her father, once known as the Prince of Merchants, lost everything on a risky shipment.

To keep him and her two older sisters from starving, Feyre takes to the woods to hunt for their food. One day, Feyre kills an otherworldly wolf in the woods. For some reason this wolf was, like, so important to Tamlin, the fae High Lord of Spring. So he sneaks through a hole in the magic wall and kidnaps Feyre in revenge.

This first book, A Court of Thorns and Roses, has five primary characters:

  • Feyre, a human girl, caught up in the weird world of the fae.
  • Tamlin, the fae High Lord of Spring who can shapeshift into a beast.
  • Lucien, the youngest son of the High Lord of Autumn. He’s been cast out of the Autumn Court and resides with Tamlin as his best friend.
  • Amarantha, the villain of the first book. She’s an immensely old and powerful fae who has taken over the fae kingdom and enslaves all the Courts. She’s sick and twisted.
  • Rhysand, the High Lord of Night, who serves as Amarantha’s sex slave.

During the first book, Feyre befriends Lucien and falls in love with Tamlin. The story follows a Beauty and the Beast structure loosely. Having fallen in love with Feyre in return, Tamlin releases her back into the human world. Feyre returns home and sees that Tamlin has restored her family to wealth.

Unable to forget him, Feyre sneaks back into the land of the Fae to discover that evil Amarantha has taken Tamlin to her lair, Under the Mountain, and has made him her consort. Feyre travels there to save Tamlin. When she arrives, Feyre realizes how outclassed she is. Amarantha decides to put Feyre through some impossible trials before she kills her.

First, Amarantha gives Feyre a tough riddle that, if solved, will bring instant victory to Feyre. Amarantha then tosses Feyre into the lair of the Middengard Wyrm for the entertainment of her Court. Shockingly, Feyre defeats the massive, disgusting Wyrm, but not without being wounded. Because the Wyrm lived in a huge maze of shit, Feyre’s wound gets infected.

In her cell, dying, Feyre is visited by Rhysand, the High Lord of Night and Amarantha’s sex slave. Feyre has met him twice before at the Spring Court and believes him to be truly evil. But Rhysand heals her wounds, in exchange for one week of Feyre’s company a month should she survive Amarantha.

For her second trial, Feyre almost fails because she is illiterate. Rhysand, however, projects the correct answers into her mind. For her third trial, Feyre must murder two humans in front of Amarantha’s court. She does so, with great agony. Then, she must stab Tamlin. With grief, she does so, but Tamlin’s fae healing powers saves him from death.

Irate that Feyre beat all three of her trials, Amarantha begins to kill Feyre. Just before Amarantha snaps her spine, Feyre correctly answers the riddle. Too late, though. She’s dead.

The fae High Lords take this chance to revolt. Tamlin slaughters Amarantha. The others defeat the Attor, monsters who served her. After their victory, Rhysand convinces all of the High Lords to combine their powers to raise Feyre from the dead. They do so, and Feyre is brought back to life as a high fae. She returns to the Spring Court with Tamlin.

A Summary of A Court of Mist and Fury

Some time has passed since Amaratha’s death, and Feyre and Tamlin are engaged. Feyre, however, is traumatized by what she was forced to do Under the Mountain. She begins to waste away. Complicating matters is Tamlin’s misbehaviors. He restricts Feyre’s movements and keeps her in the dark in regards to the fae political climate.

On her wedding day, Feyre decides she doesn’t want to marry Tamlin. She cries out for help in her mind and Rhysand appears. Calling in on their bargain, Rhysand whisks her away to his house in the Night Court.

There, he teaches an embarassed Feyre how to read. He also makes her practice raising her mental shields to block their mental link. Rhysand explains that the link was forged because of their bargain. Rhysand also suggests that in bringing her back to life, the High Lords each gave her some of their power. He tries to encourage Feyre to wield those gifts, but Feyre sticks to Tamlin’s warning to suppress the powers and keep them secret.

When she’s returned to the spring court, the wedding is postponed and matters are tense. Another month and another visit to the Night Court passes before things come to a boiling point. Tamlin and Lucien are set to go on an excursion somewhere secret. Feyre begs to go, but is brusquely rebuffed. Frustrated, Feyre tries to leave the house, but Tamlin casts a spell locking her inside. Douchelord. With rage andpanic, Feyre’s powers manifest in an explosion of emotion, and she blacks out.

When Feyre comes to, she finds that Mor, Rhysand’s cousin, had come to rescue her and they are now at the Night Court. Furious with Tamlin, Feyre turns her attention towards Rhysand and his operations. Putting his trust in Feyre, Rhysand reveals his greatest secret — the incredible hidden city of Velaris, Court of Dreams. There, he introduces Feyre to his Inner Circle:

  • Mor, Rhysand’s cousin, born and raised in the Court of Nightmares, and and nearly murdered by her family.
  • Amren, a hideous, ancient beast trapped inside the body of a small woman and made to have human emotions.
  • Cassian, commander of Rhysand’s armies and part of a race of bat-winged warriors called Illyrians.
  • Azriel, the reserved spymaster, a manipulator of shadows, and another Illyrian warrior.

 

Feyre agrees to work for Rhysands court — for a paycheck. He immediately puts her to work in saving the world.

Amarantha’s equal in evil, the King of Hybern, is up to serious trouble. Hybern has been raiding temples and Rhysand needs Feyre’s help to understand why. Together, they find out that Hybern is searching for the three legs of the Cauldron — the source of all immortal life. To combat the Cauldron’s power, two halves of a magical Book of Breathings must be put together. One half lies with the fae, at the Summer Court. One half lies with the mortal Queens.

Rhysand, Feyre, and Amren travel to the Summer Court, where they locate the fae half of the book and steal it. After, Rhysand, Feyre, Azriel, and Cassian then visit Feyre’s old family to see what can be done about the human half of the book. Because Tamlin had made the Archerons rich again, Feyre’s sisters, Nesta and Elain, have connections. They promise to send a letter to the human Queens, asking about the Book of Breathings.

One day, Rhysand and Feyre are using Rhys’s Illyrian wings to fly, when cronies from the Spring Court shoot them down. Feyre slaughters the cronies using her fae gifts, but Rhysand has been poisoned by the arrows. The omniscient Suriel tells Feyre how to heal Rhysand, but also lets it slip that the two are mates. The mental link between the two is not forged by a bargain, as Rhysand had said, but by a mating bond.

Furious, Feyre heals Rhysand then takes off for one of Rhysand’s mountain homes. There, she paints and reflects upon her relationships with Tamlin and Rhysand. She realizes that her love for Tamlin was real, but the relationship was unhealthy. Rhysand, however, has only ever made her more confident and strong. She realizes she loves him.

When Rhysand finds her, he confesses everything and Feyre accepts him.

Now a mated pair, the two put their minds to the issue of Hybern. Back at Feyre’s sisters’ house, an emissary Queen has arrived. The Queens are refusing to hand over their half of the book, but the emissary Queen smuggles it to them anyway. The complete Book of Breathings reveals the spell to nullify the Cauldron. Rhysand, Feyre, and the rest of the Inner Circle plan to invade the King of Hybern’s castle to make sure the Cauldron’s tremendous power isn’t used against them.

When they go to the Hybern’s castle, they discover many things. Hybern has already used the Cauldron to reincarnate Jurian, a human warrior from the past. Hybern is also in league with Tamlin and Lucien. Tamlin, in exchange for Feyre’s return, helped kidnap Nesta and Elain, Feyre’s sisters. The human Queens are in cahoots with Hybern as well, and want immortal life from the Cauldron. Hybern will dip Nesta and Elain into the Cauldron first, to prove its safety to the Queens.

The book ends with Rhysand’s Inner Circle being brutally wounded, but escaping with the now immortal Elain and Nesta. However, Tamlin takes Feyre for himself. The Inner Circle is furious with Rhysand for allowing this to happen, but he confides that he has made Feyre the first High Lady in fae history — the High Lady of the Night Court. She will be a spy in the Spring Court and bring ruin to their enemies from within.

A Summary of A Court of Wings and Ruin

At the Spring Court, Tamlin is thrilled to have his bride back. But Feyre’s heart is a pit of snakes. Having been treated so well by Rhysand, she sees Tamlin’s temper and possessiveness for what they are. Feyre manipulates scenarios that display’s Tamlin’s faults in front of his guard, sowing dissent amongst them. She also gets information about Hybern’s plans and movements.

When the moment is right, Feyre intends to fake her own death to send Tamlin’s people over the edge. But her plans are interrupted when, during her escape, she discovers Iolanthe, Tamlin’s priestess, trying to rape Lucien. Feyre frees Lucien, maims Iolanthe, and slaughters two of Hybern’s minions before taking off with Lucien.

Because she’s been poisoned with faebane, Feyre can’t use her powers. She must travel on foot with Lucien through the Autumn and Winter courts back to Rhysand in Night. In Autumn, Lucien’s cruel, older brothers pick up their trail and attack in Winter. Feyre and Lucien are almost done for, but Cassian and Azriel show up and winnow both of them away to the Night Court.

Feyre and Rhysand are overjoyed to be reunited. Feyre’s meeting with her sisters goes less well. Elain has been gifted by the Cauldron and is now a seer. Nesta stole power from the Cauldron, and is now a witch. Both are very upset and disagreeable. Lucien, who had realized at Hybern’s Castle that Elain was his mate, is devastated to know that Elain still pines for her human fiancé. After staying in the Night Court for a spell, he leaves to find the lost queen Vassa for her aid in the coming war.

Meanwhile, Rhysand and Feyre know that Hybern is wanting to take down the magic wall between the human world and the fae. To fight against this, they recruit the help of various monsters.

Then, Hybern attacks the Summer Court. Despite the bad blood between the Night Court and Summer, Rhysand and Feyre ultimately save the day after a bloody battle.

After the fight, Rhysand and Feyre arrange a meeting for all of the High Lords. Everyone shows up, even the incensed Tamlin. Centuries of unresolved drama flare up at the meeting, but most of them agree, tenuously, to work together.

The Night Court is shaken when Hybern sends a force to steal Nesta right in the heart of Velaris. The minions almost succeed, but Feyre traps them inside a pit with the monster, Bryaxis. Afterwards, Rhysand’s Inner Circle understands that Hybern’s Cauldron won’t work right with Nesta having taken some of its power. Hybern wants Nesta to restore the Cauldron to its full strength, they figure.

Meanwhile, Hybern’s forces are on the move after shattering the magic wall that protects the humans. Night, Summer, and Day send troops to engage. A vicious battle ensues and good is winning… But then, a large part of Hybern’s forces mysteriously disappear. To find out where they’ve gone, Feyre discovers, with the Suriel’s help, that Nesta can use her power to discover the Cauldron’s location. Where the Cauldron goes, so does Hybern. Nesta rolls stones and bones only to discover that Hybern’s forces are collecting on human lands, near the Archeron’s old home.

To retaliate Nesta’s magic use, the Cauldron uses its power to kidnap Elain. Azriel and Feyre go to retreive her in Hybern’s camp. They barely succeed, and only do so with Tamlin’s help. It seems Tamlin was pretending to be on Hybern’s side all along.

The High Lords and Feyre then make a plan. They will evacuate the humans, and then strike Hybern. They will send Amren, Feyre, Nesta, and Elain to nullify the Cauldron.

When they attack, every Court shows up to fight against Hybern. Jurian, the reincarnated warrior, has turned against Hybern as well.Two other people, called Miryam and Drakon also show up with armies. I have no idea who they are. Lucien has found Vassa, and they show up, too. What a party. Despite this united front, the Cauldron is powerful and can turn massive chunks of the opposing army into ash.

Amren leads the women to the Cauldron, but prevents them from entering it, saying she lied about how the Cauldron was to be combated. Instead, she jumps into the Cauldron, becoming her true form (light and fire) and decimating Hybern’s armies before disappearing.

At the Cauldron, Hybern arrives and kills Feyre’s father. But Elain and Nesta use Azriel’s and Cassian’s respective weapons to kill Hybern for good.

The Cauldron breaks, unstable, and Rhysand tells Feyre that she must use her power to forge it anew. She does so, not realizing that Rhysand gives her all of his magic to do so, killing him.

Distraught, Feyre manages to convince all the High Lords to bring him back to life, just had Rhysand had once done for her. On his way back to life, Rhysand finds Amren in the beyond and returns her, too. Basically, everyone lives except Hybern and Feyre’s father.

After the battle, everyone returns home and vows not to have a disaster like that for at least five hundred years.

What Will the New Courts Series Be Like?

At the end of A Court of Mist and Ruin, Maas says that more stories need to unfold in this world and 2018 will bring a continuation novel.

Well, since Maas is so prolific, I think both Nesta and Elain deserve two books each. But after everything this fantasy world has been through, I don’t know what other great disasters can befall them. OH WAIT. Shit, I forgot about the Queens. (I’ll get to them later.)

I mostly want to see what happens with Nesta and Elain in their personal lives. They always had such terrible relationships with Feyre. How will things turn out there? As for the romance aspect.. Cassian and Nesta could do great things together, being such firecrackers. Troubled, sexy Azriel would be awesome with the ethereal Elain. It would be interesting to see a romance that defied a mating bond. Lucien, who?

Then Mor revealed why she’s been leading Azriel on for centuries. It’s because… Mor is secretly gay and didn’t want anyone to find out! I think in the following books, she needs to step out of the closet, stop being manipulative, and romance a nice (or not so nice) girl.

There really is a ton of stuff left unresolved.

The Main Weakness of Maas’s Courts Series

Here are questions I still have about this series:

  • Why do the humans have so many Queens? What, did they solve sexism?
  • Why did Hybern bring Jurian back from the dead in the first place?
  • Who is Hybern? Where did he even come from? Was he a fan of Amarantha, or no?
  • Who are Drakon and Miryam?
  • Who is Vassa?

To say Maas’s plots are intricate would be giving them too much credit. They’re really just populated with a lot of peripheral characters that I don’t care about. Also, we get an explanation of each thing once and it’s expected to just stick with us. For me, that doesn’t happen. I know the Miryam and Drakon thing, and everything else, was explained in monologues, but I don’t remember who gave them or when or why. I wish the plot was introduced more organically than just someone explaining backstory in a speech.

Call the Fire Department… Again!

I remember being kind of shocked in the second book by the explicit nature of the sex. There were no fade-to-black moments. Instead, Maas gave us descriptions. There were positions. It was awesome.

What shocked me was that this book is being sold as YA. Usually there isn’t explicit sex in YA books. Even explicit cuss words are limited. Maas goes to town with both of those things in this series. I’ve read a lot of YA, and this series is hands down the porn-iest Young Adult books I’ve come across (published by a print publisher).

There were some steamy, steamy moments in this book. I can think of two scenes, specifically, that were like whoa… I’m going to remember that. Feyre and Rhysand get plenty adventurous. There’s oral sex galore and positions that my mom once told me “are for animals.” They even jokingly-seriously talk about having a devil’s threesome. That was a bit of a throwaway line, but still I was like holy shit. I guess when you’re a top-selling YA author like Maas, you can write that and get it published under a children’s imprint. Damn.

I Had One Prediction, and It Kind Of Came True and Kind of Didn’t

My sole prediction for this book was that Maas would redeem Tamlin. Note: I didn’t exactly want that to happen, but I thought she would go there. After all, in the last Throne of Glass book I read, there’s one love interest who becomes a huge dick out of nowhere and gets knocked out of the running. Now, he’s getting his own book! So, I thought Maas would make Tamlin do something good, have his behavior explained, or somehow be a love contender again.

Well. Tamlin definitely does not become a contender. Rhysand and Feyre are locked in as a couple. However, Tamlin is revealed to kind of be in “deep cover” with Hybern, pretending to be sympathetic to get the four-one-one on his plans. Tamlin eventually breaks this cover to help Feyre, Azriel, and Elain escape from Hybern’s camp. Yay.

Throughout the story, however, Tamlin acts like a huuuge douche. I wanted to throw tomatoes at him so many times. He behaved like a child, especially at the High Lord’s summit. So, even though he did an okay thing, I still hate him.

The Second Book Was the Best

A Court of Wings and Ruin wasn’t a bad book by any means, but it was plot-heavy instead of character-heavy. Characters are Maas’s strength. Plots are not. And absolutely nothing can beat how Maas so skillfully operated a romantic twist in A Court of Mist and Fury. Who, after reading the second book, wasn’t on Team Rhysand? On Team Feyre? That change of heart, and Feyre becoming empowered, was so fun to see. I had a blast reading Mist and Fury. 

With Wings and Ruin, I think maybe Maas was leaving a lot of character development for the follow-up books. So, I wound up feeling like Nesta, Elain, Cassian, Azriel, and Mor were just spinning their wheels, going nowhere. How many freaking times was Nesta on the brink of a breakthrough, but tamped it back? That was frustrating. Elain made no decisions. Azriel was split between two women. Cassian did so much work for nothing. Mor isn’t happy. None of them got laid. Isn’t that the jist of it? None of them got laid.

As for Thorns and Roses, I think a lot of people will do what I did — go back and read the Rhysand parts and ignore the Tamlin bits. The first book was solid, but it stands now as more of a set-up chapter. I love the parts where Feyre beats the Middengard Wyrm and interacts with Rhysand, but the rest is cringe-y, knowing what we know now.

The Bottom Line

I really enjoyed this series, and I’m happy it will continue on (hopefully with new narrators). I still have problems with Maas’s writing, most especially her pile-on plots. She can have repetitive elements, too, like backstory monologues. But I can forgive those things because of her strong women, great characters, and satisfying drama.

Ultimately, A Court of Wings and Ruin was a good ending for Feyre and Rhysand, but it left too much up in the air with its supporting characters for it to be a truly satisfying series closer.

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