This review was brought to you in high-definition and surround sound by Crystal Anne with An E. Crystal is a Hufflepuff who works as an autism consultant by day and goes to Library School at night. She reads a lot, she cross-stitches a lot, and is always ready to make someone a reading list.
CW/TW: The protagonist of this book has experienced significant trauma, including sexual assault. Stay safe, my friends.
So in recent years, I’ve discovered that I have a certain fetish, especially when it comes to sci-fi/fantasy. It started a couple of years back, when Pierce Brown published the “10 years later” sequel to his Red Rising series, and I learned that I love learning what happens after the big battle, when everyone is supposed to live happily ever after. Because usually after that big battle, A LOT of shit is broken, and now all of these people that have spent usually hundreds, often thousands, of pages doing the breaking are now in charge of the pieces.
Oh, there’s so much story to be had there. “Winning is easy, young man. Governing’s harder.” I want to read all of that.
So Sarah J. Maas decided to do this as well with the A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR) series, of which I was already a huge fan (mmmmm, Rhysand) giving us what happened after their battle with the King of Hybern.
Quick note: if you haven’t read the ACOTAR series, you might be lost. Go read it, I’ll wait. Scratch that, you’ll be reading thousands of pages, I’m not waiting, have a great time, come back when you’re done.
[Ed. note: I started with Silver Flames and was able to figure out backstory pretty quickly, but I can see why having read the first series deepens understanding of the character motivations and sympathies. TL;DR, your mileage may vary. Do what works for you!]
So when she announced a follow-up series that would focus on some of the other characters, I did this.
So this book centers around Nesta. Nesta was present throughout the ACOTAR series, but primarily through the gaze of her sister, Feyre, and their relationship is highly fraught. Nesta is the eldest in the family, but it was Feyre, the youngest, that took on the burden of keeping their family alive during some extremely rough years.
Backstory and context for Nesta ahoy, but it’s a spoiler
In ACOTAR, Nesta is cold, distant, and snappish. She’s also forced into becoming a High Fae, a people she honestly does not have a surplus of use for, and she fights the process every step of the way.
That said, we see hints of intense loyalty, and a readiness to fight for those she loves.
So as A Court of Silver Flames opens, we begin to experience Nesta from Nesta’s perspective. The opening scene involves her being summoned by Feyre and Rhysand, and it is not a summons she can ignore.
Since her experiences in the ACOTAR series, Nesta has been drinking, shagging, and partying her brains out. She’s doing everything she can to turn down the noise in her head. And there is a lot of noise. It’s the noise that you get when you have been assaulted, transformed, and fought, and also spent a great deal of time telling yourself that you’re a monster. And you were telling yourself that even before you were turned into something that you don’t understand and are frightened of.
This book is Nesta finding her way out of the dark. Because, believe me, in the beginning, her head is in a dark place. She does everything in her power to hurt herself, because she believes that she deserves it, and she hurts those around her, because lashing out at those she loves and those that would love her has become her default setting.
The story begins with those around her setting some boundaries, because they have tried giving her space and time, and watched her become worse. She is given a job, and she is put in a place where if she wants to continue to destroy herself, she’s going to have to climb down thousands of steps to do it, which she is in no physical condition to do.
That said, her family very sneakily found ways to put her in places and with people that were going to give her the space and safety to heal. Her job is in a library, where she is around other women that have experienced trauma and sought refuge. She gravitates initially toward other women that have experienced trauma and assault, and are themselves still healing from those experiences. She and these women bond over their love of romance novels (imagine that) and begin to train together, eventually forming a formidable and cohesive combat unit. One of the best scenes in the book involves Nesta, and her now BFFs, Gwyn and Emerie, having what basically amounts to a grown-up sleepover in which they eat sweets and see how many weird things they can get the House to make for them.
Ah, the House. I would be remiss in not giving special attention to the House. The House has a massive library, and is a sentient being in its own right. The House will make you dinner, clean itself up, draw you a nice bath, and drop a selection of its favorite romance novels at your bedside. It has opinions, a sense of humor, will make recommendations, and always has chocolate cake ready. I want to go there. This is approximately the face I make when I think about the House:
She trains with Cassian, who has been in love with her almost since the moment they met. Initially, she rejects his advances, still believing herself unworthy, but frankly, they’re not going to resist each other for long. They often antagonize each other, right before doing the sex stuff on various surfaces (which does not go unnoticed by their housemate, who just rolls his eyes and eats his stew while shaking his head about these horny little bunnies he’s currently sharing a house with).
And once the two start letting their guard down and enjoy each other more, it gets really, well…
The most significant accomplishment of this book, to me, is that it is a sensitive portrayal of mental illness, how trauma can trigger or exacerbate the symptoms, and how that illness can profoundly carve someone’s self-image. In addition to Nesta’s self-destructive behaviors being a not-particularly-healthy coping mechanism in and of themselves, those behaviors have also contributed to her belief that she is unworthy of love and forgiveness, both from others and herself.
In addition, we see her do the work. We see her begin to engage in physical activity and learn to defend herself, which helps with the feelings of helplessness caused by past assaults. We see her get a job that is interesting and even fun for her, which gives her purpose and the opportunity to meet others with whom she has things in common and can befriend. We even see those around her find ways to support her, whether it is Cassian agreeing to train her privately and later agreeing to train her friends alongside her, or the House snarkily responding to her requests for wine with a nice cold glass of water (the House believes in proper hydration). We see her learn to meditate, turning down the noise in her head.
And we eventually see the culmination of the protective nature that was hinted at in ACOTAR, as she stands ready to go into battle to save those she loves.
Also, while I don’t always love the idea of “interventions”, as they can be incredibly damaging if not conducted in a sensitive, safe manner, I could understand why her family finally gave her the ultimatum they did. I think the book struck a nice balance between honest about how frustrating and hurtful Nesta’s behavior had become and them truly wanting to support her and help her become healthier, while also not sanding down some of the sharp edges of her personality. Nesta gets healthier, but she’s also still a snark queen, and she will probably always have a tendency toward being temperamental. And that’s okay. She can still be loved that way.
I could continue, because this book is nearly 800 pages, so there’s a lot here, but I think you get the idea. I have not even addressed the Dread Trove, the Valkyries, or a few moments where some very deserving dudes got every square inch of their asses kicked (Bad Men Getting Shanked happens to be another one of my fetishes). I’m not sure Maas’s writing works for everyone, but God knows it works really well on me. So go forth and read it, and then you can join me in pining for a House of Wind of my very own.
Grade: B+ (the sex scenes got a bit repetitive and squishy for my tastes, especially the early ones. I liked it more once they started to like each other more).