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A Court of Silver Flames: Bad Smut, Worse Fantasy


R E V I E W – N O V E L


Adrita Zaima


I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that almost all readers who keep an eye on the goings-on in the book community are more or less aware of fantasy author Sarah J. Maas and her slew of bestselling Fae books, and have come across the onslaught of conflicting opinions that seem to inundate the community whenever any work of hers is published. Whether it be due to abrupt cover changes, accusations of lack of representation, or glorification of blatantly misogynistic characters, no book release of hers are ever unaccompanied by equal cries of outrage and defence. And that seems to be the exact case now that she has put out the fifth instalment in the fan-favourite A Court of Thorns and Roses series. 

For those readers who absolutely despised the protagonists from the original trilogy —  Feyre who was the embodiment of hackneyed heroine-like qualities and the-magnificent-bastard-turned-godly-hero Rhysand — the good news is that A Court of Silver Flames follows Feyre’s bitch-y (and yet somehow much more bearable) sister, Nesta. It picks up from where A Court of Wings and Ruin left off and explores Nesta’s emotional journey as she struggles to find her place within the Fae World while trying to come to terms with herself and her trauma after the events of the past war. 

Despite her less-than-kindly attitude towards everyone around her, Nesta had always struck me as one of the only likeable characters in the series because her anger and cold emotional shield seemed to be real human features that I could sympathise with, especially when I compared her to the infallible portrayal of all the other characters that made up the menagerie of good guys. So, I was looking forward to delving deeper into her as I started this book, only to be severely disappointed by this 729 paged monstrosity that is a minefield of triggers and just purely bad writing.

The book did have some good bits. Nesta’s development in the first part, her dealing with self-hatred and grief by using one-night stands and alcohol as coping mechanisms, is truly touching. The fact that she is portrayed as being vulnerable without being weak is appreciable, and some of her emotions regarding her trauma and inadequacy resonated with me. Even the utter alienation of the side characters due to the focus on Nesta could have been forgiven if the book had just stuck to these good parts and built upon them.

However, Sarah J. Maas throws all that out the window when, just a few pages into the book, she brings in slut-shaming, stripping of individual rights, and toxic masculine possessiveness poorly veiled in protective caring. The cruel behaviour of some characters towards Nesta, a trauma survivor, is inconsiderate and meaningless and while it is true that just because someone has PTSD, they cannot be excused from criticism — the things that Maas makes her previously glorified characters do are so out of the depth of what we know of them that it feels as if the author forced them to do these things just so she can weave Nesta’s future growth around their actions. Moreover, she ruins Nesta’s strengthening as an independent woman with a detached romance and drives all hopes of redemption to the ground by playing the finding-a-love-interest-and-suddenly-healing and proving-goodness-through-sacrifice cards for plot convenience. 

The Queen of Fantasy, as her fans like to call her, also makes an attempt at making some of her new one-dimensional side characters more likeable and relatable by giving them devastatingly traumatic backstories of sexual and physical assault (which she does not feel the need to give trigger warnings for). However, that is all abruptly forgotten when said characters simply determine to recover by making themselves physically stronger. She further breaks apart whatever semblance of girl power she was working upon by taking her long-held theme of male ownership over a female to a wholly new level by not only giving one of her male characters the right to make decisions about his love interest’s body and life, but by also defending his choices. 

Sarah J. Maas is infamous for her sprinkling of intimate scenes and she herself has described the A Court of Thorns and Roses series as a place where she can entwine guilty pleasure in fantasy. However, in A Court of Silver Flames, she is not even pretending that it is anything but a smut book that is very, very sheerly covered in the gauzy threads of fantasy. The previous books at least had a tangible story. However, the plot-line for this is nearly non-existent, or at least focuses on things that the author herself seems to care so little about that she barely puts any effort into them, rather preferring to build character and relationship depths through redundant graphic scenes. She tries to cover up for this through needless conflicts that end up being a hot mess and by saying that the “stakes are very high”. But the monopoly of the characters on the page count and the half-baked explanations of plot points and world-building left me uncaring. 

Honestly, one could skip the whole story and not miss anything. And that would have been okay because I doubt the fans even read these books for anything other than the steamy scenes between the characters they ship. However, all character development sputters, coughs, and dies midway through. The smutty scenes become dull and boring since they all read the same with their repetitive and melodramatic descriptions, limited usage of words, confusing environmental metaphors for physical interactions, and one-word sentences meant to put unnecessary emphasis. And they are numerous beyond reason since even fan-service cannot justify a smutty scene every two pages in a high fantasy book. They don’t add much to the actual plot, and I daresay, Sarah J. Maas is treading a very dangerous line between adult fantasy and erotic fantasy.

Badly written dialogues, superfluous verbosity, the unforgivable disregard for mentally ill people through a lack of trigger warnings, and the things already mentioned above — these are but a few of the problematic aspects that seem to be the basis of Sarah J. Maas’s new book. I think it suffices to say that Maas took one of her few good characters and mutilated her story. Fans who have long been hoping for Nesta’s redemption arc and a re-visit to their beloved characters are definitely going to be let down, because A Court of Silver Flames is merely a failed shot at writing a relatable book by using mental health as a weapon.

 


Zaima is an anaerobically-respiring, bibliophilic bacterium who spends her free time weeping over bad author decisions in YA. Tell her shitty plots are okay at [email protected]

 

3 Comments

  1. Never read the series but gosh can’t believe it’s the FIFTH book. Quite the engaging review xD sorry you had to read this monstrosity.

  2. I love how you didn’t mention how she was taken to the House of Wind because she spent an absurd amount of her sister’s money on alcohol. And the whole “they cured their trauma by getting physically stronger.” Good job not mentioning that their trauma wasn’t cured, and that they were learning to defend themselves so they couldn’t be harmed that way again…

    Really, just good job skipping every plot point of the book and ignoring everything that goes against your opinion. Amazing—definetly *not* biased—review.

    1. Finally someone with common sense, you can really tell the person who wrote this article came into this book looking for every flaw possible. Half the shit they said never even happened in the book. They were really grasping at straws here.

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