An enchanting sequel (4.5 stars)
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 11 October 2020
Having survived the terrifying ordeal she went through Under the Mountain, Feyre is now safely returned with Tamlin to the Spring Court. Yet she is unalterably changed, and not just because she is now Fae. Night after night she relives the horrors of what she went through, an emptiness gnawing away at her, guilt at the blood on her hands consuming her. Will Feyre be able to find her way out of the darkness?
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series and was eager to see how the story continued in this one, and was glad to find that I wasn't disappointed. Maas' world-building steps up in this second volume, and where the first was very much a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, threaded together with this story of the Fae, I thought A Court of Mist and Fury very much had its own identity and lore. That being said, there were still elements of mythology entwined in to Maas' tale, the story this time loosely based on that of Hades and Persephone, and I enjoyed this nod to the Greek myth.
I liked that we got to see much more of Prythian and some of the other Courts, specifically the Night Court, which was depicted so vividly. The scale of the story seemed larger too, and there were a whole host of new colourful characters introduced in this second book.
Indeed, I think the characterisation was probably the best thing about the book. Beginning with our lead character, Feyre may now be High Fae, but Maas depicts her as humanely as ever. I thought it was really to her credit that she shows the impact of events that transpired at the end of the last book on Feyre, and that despite a seemingly 'happy ever after ending,' the horrors of those events are enduring. Not only has Feyre changed because of what she went through, but so too has Tamlin, and because both are struggling with their own separate traumas and neither can communicate it well to the other, the impact is also seen upon their relationship.
I commented in my review of the last book that I felt in the last section, the bond between Feyre and Rhysand almost seemed to eclipse that of Feyre and Tamlin, though given the overall time spent developing the latter relationship in that book, it was still the one I was more invested in as a reader. I did wonder at how the relationship dynamic between the three would be developed in this book, however, I actually feel it wasn't even a question of that in the end. For me there was no love triangle in this story, rather Maas explores the now changed relationship between Feyre and Tamlin, a relationship that has become unhealthy and which breaks because they are no longer compatible. Through the course of the book Maas allows Feyre to grieve for what she has lost with Tamlin and come to a slow acceptance of it, even as she begins to find herself drawn towards Rhysand.
I have read in others reviews quite a lot of criticism that Tamlin underwent a complete character change in this story. Personally I don't agree. I liked Tamlin in the first book, and his relationship with Feyre there was sweet. However, it was also always quite paternalistic, with him as her protector and High Lord, and she the weak human girl who he could cosset. Tamlin was also never the best communicator, even in the first book, and with events that transpired, I feel those traits are just heightened in him.
Coming to now Rhysand, could Maas possibly have made him any more endearing? I loved Rhysand in the last book, even when he came across as arrogant and mysterious, and I couldn't quite understand him. In this book, Maas slowly peels away the layers to his personality, or rather removes the many masks he wears, so that you get to see the real him, and the truth is he is just too precious. I like that he still has that dark edge, that charm and wit and humour, but you also get to see his vulnerabilities, his huge capacity to love and give. I loved how he supported Feyre throughout this book, always treating her as an equal, loving her but never smothering her, and always allowing her to make her own choices at every step. The slowly evolving relationship between the two was a joy to behold, with all the teasing and banter, as well as the more tender moments.
As mentioned there are lots of new characters in this second book, and the whole of the Inner Circle were a joy to get to know, and I look forward to seeing more of them in the next book. Other characters from the first book, such as Lucien, don't feature as much in this story, but the new characters more than made up for it, and to be quite frank I found myself a bit disappointed in Lucien in this story, though again I don't think he acted out of character, as he was always portrayed as a bit weak-willed even in the first, with his loyalties very much to Tamlin. Feyre's sisters also make a return in this story too, and I'm interested to see what Maas does with their characters in the next book.
Overall, this story more than anything else, is about Feyre finding herself, and choosing who she wants to be. It is about her learning to accept the traumas she has endured and move on despite of them, to find hope and meaning in life again. Of course Feyre is now Fae, and not just any ordinary Fae. We learn that the nature of her 'making' has gifted her extraordinary powers, and through the course of the book she learns to slowly master them. This book was very much a feminist tale, and I thought Feyre was so much stronger as a personality by the end of this book than she was in the first, and it is hard not to root for her as she kicks ass.
There is of course a new threat, this time in the King of Hybern, and a plot that Feyre and her new friends must try to thwart. There are a number of small adventures along the way as they have to obtain certain items, which takes them on a detour to the Summer Court, and also interactions with some mortal Queens, all building to the main action at the end.
As with the last book I did find the pacing a bit uneven, with long stretches that are much more character-driven, and then lots of action at the end. The book ends in an intriguing place, almost a cliff-hanger, such that I'm certain to move onto the next immediately.
Again as with the first novel, Maas can be a bit heavy on the exposition at times, though I did like the back stories of a lot of the characters, especially the members of the Inner Circle. With regards to the Inner Circle, I do wish we got to see more of them using their own powers. Cassian and Azriel, were afforded decent opportunity to display their skills, but Mor, Amren and Rhys himself, I felt Maas constantly held back. She repeatedly tells us how powerful they are, and then especially with Rhys, constantly makes up excuses for why he can't use his powers in any given situation, at times at which feel more feeble than others, like when he just forgot he could erase the minds of the Summer Court soldiers, so as not to raise the alarms. It often felt very much a ploy needed to drive the plot and was done clumsily, other times it was as if she had to have Feyre shine at every single opportunity with her powers, and whilst I enjoyed Feyre mastering her powers, I didn't think it needed to be done at the expense of everyone else. I hope Maas gives some of the others a chance to demonstrate their powers more in the next book, as when you've got such a great ensemble, it doesn't need to be completely a one woman show.
Overall I loved this book and thought it was a real step up from the last, and fell in love with the characters. There were just some quips for me personally that made this short of a five star read.
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