A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

ACOFAS-us.jpgReleased: May 1, 2018
Pages: 272 pages (hardcover)
Theme(s): Holiday bonding, family togetherness, peace after war, dealing with grief
Genre(s): New Adult / Fantasy / Fiction
Age Group: 14+

★★½

Narrated by Feyre and Rhysand, this story bridges the events in A Court of Wings and Ruin and the upcoming novels in the series.

Feyre, Rhys and their companions are still busy rebuilding the Night Court and the vastly changed world beyond. But Winter Solstice is finally near, and with it a hard-earned reprieve. Yet even the festive atmosphere can’t keep the shadows of the past from looming. As Feyre navigates her first Winter Solstice as High Lady, she finds that those dearest to her have more wounds than she anticipated – scars that will have a far-reaching impact on the future of their court.

Preface

It feels like a bit of an understatement to say I have a complicated relationship with Sarah J. Maas’s work. I first read Throne of Glass in the summer of 2015, and after laughing my way  through the book at how bad and derivative it was, I found myself really gobsmacked by the ending. I think the sequel was on sale, so I decided to keep going. It became a pattern that I struggled through mediocre first halves of the book to find myself in awe at the terrific endings.

Reading Heir of Fire and A Court of Thorns and Roses one after another really marked a turning point for me in that I was on-board for anything SJM had to offer. Since then, my experience has been that her books are occasionally remarkable and more often guilty pleasures. I was seriously disappointed by Tower of Dawn last year and had higher expectations of ACOFAS, since this series has been superior to the Throne of Glass series from the outset.

Before you go any further, you might want to know I rated this book 2.5 stars. It seemed to harsh to give it just 2 stars, even though I thought it was just ok. I thought this would be a page-turner I could read in just one sitting, but I found it hard to keep my focus on the story with all the changing perspectives and skimming past the smut (which is hard to read when you’re not in the mood for it).

My Thoughts

…I have to create, or it was all for nothing. I have to create, or I will crumple up with despair and never leave my bed. I have to create because I have no other way of voicing this…

My rating is low for a few reasons that I will address before anything else. I was disappointed there was no real story uniting this novella. Looking back at the summary, I suppose there is nothing misleading about it. It is truly just about Feyre & Co. navigating the Winter Solstice holiday together and finding where they all are physically and psychologically after the final battle in ACOWAR.

If there’s a narrative thread to be found, I suppose it can be in either the “mystery” surrounding why Nesta is distancing herself from the family or in Feyre coming to terms with buying an art studio from a Rainbow victim of the Hybern attacks. I would have been interested in better development of the former thread, as the second fell flat for me.

The only quote I could think to pull from the novel was spoken by an Rainbow artist who was widowed by the war. As I was reading, I knew I was supposed to feel more moved by her story, but in reality I was a little exasperated. I feel like the Feyre-struggling-to-justify-art-after-trauma subplot was already done in ACOMAF when she found healing after Tamlin’s abuse in her art. The addition in this novella was severely lacking for me.

It was pure joy to see the family all thrown together and having fun. The “fanfiction”-like scenes of the story are actually what made this novella at all worth it for me. I actually thought it would be a lot more fluff rather than the angst (feeling like it was for angst’s sake). I think something I’d really like to see Maas improve on is better, more authentically characterizing grief in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s thrown in so we can respect the characters.

Craft

It was hard to think of what I should say about this novel with regards to craft, as I don’t think many of Maas’ works are terribly good, yet alone good enough to sift for craft tips. But there is something there that makes her writing so addictive and a guilty to pleasure to read, so I will attempt to explain what works and doesn’t work for me, in this novel specifically.

ACOFAS coasts on the good relationships established between the characters in the earlier books. The quirks are played up to high degree in this book as we see what each character gets and gives as solstice gifts to one another. It’s fun to see them shop and spend time together, teasing and whatnot. Is it worth writing an entire book of this kind of fluff? Maybe not, but it does keep readers wanting more in between big gaps in the proper series novels.

One thing Maas has always been bad at is showing moments of down-time when characters are all alone. Seeing the magnificent beast of a character Amren doing JIGSAW PUZZLES when the world is not in mortal danger. I suppose it’s supposed to be cute, but I find it troubling and emblematic of the problem with a lot of Sarah J. Maas’ writing: she loves imagining her characters are these extraordinary people but she has no idea how extraordinary people truly think or spend their down-time.

They don’t enrich themselves or have unique or interesting hobbies that bring their life meaning outside of being chess pieces in the world of Sarah J. Maas. They are LAZY. They love to read or love to play the piano or love to paint or love to ride horses. They are privileged upper class snobs living in a faerieland (literally) while lesser people do the hard work that makes the world go round.

Or they spend allllll their time trying to show how charitable they are by helping rebuild what they’ve inadvertently helped destroy in the process of saving the world. Feyre is always willing to put aside her own health and happiness to help others, which sounds like it should be an admirable character trait. But in writing it makes her a Mary Sue.

In A Ring of Endless Light, which I read and reviewed recently on Betwined Reads, there’s a part that speaks to my problem with Maas’ excessively charitable characters. The grandfather says, “There is a kind of vanity in thinking you can nurse the world. There’s a kind of vanity in goodness.” Almost every scene of kindness in Maas’ books from a person in a high position of power to another, often down on their luck, poor, and or struggling, reads like vanity.

If you’re someone who wants to be a writer, don’t accidentally make your goodie goodie characters come off so vain. That could be done by having the characters address it by acknowledging their guilt (if they have it) or maybe even their vanity (if that’s what is specifically motivating them). If they’re literally doing good for the sake of good, I don’t think they would comment on it, not to length Feyre does in ACOFAS, anyway…

Final Thoughts

Sorry if this review is a bummer or puts you off wanting to read it. If you are not a very critical reader, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it just fine. I find myself looking back at the review that convinced me to buy it and can tell that I’m just a lot more difficult to please. I’m always expecting more from this author. I feel like at this point I have finally learned I need to just accept SJM for what she more consistently offers.

In case you have already read this novella and disagree with me on any of the points I make, feel free to start a dialogue below. Also, if you haven’t already, do read the Acknowledgments at the back of the book because I do wonder how much SJM’s writing might have been negatively affected by her father’s sudden heart attack. (I would sooo read an autobiography from this author, she is a fascinating person and I’d love to know more about her writer’s life behind-the-scenes.)

Have you read ACOFAS? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
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