A fun and satisfying read if a wee-bit underwhelming, but that was only because my expectations were, perhaps, a little too high. In the series, A Court of Mist and Fury is, in my opinion, the best book, but this one is a close second.
The problem with ACOWAR is the pace and plot. The first half of the book is filled with a lot of plotting and planning but little else. We know that Hybern is the big bad but we spend precious little time around him. We never actually meet him save for an encounter or two and if you want a villain who seems truly formidable, show don’t tell. The pace too, is choppy with the first half seeming too slow and the second, teeming with activity. Most of the action, takes place in the second half and the big, deciding battle, felt too short. The plot felt too rushed. There were parts that I thought were very well done, especially with regard to Mor, more on that later. These books are also great as far as women’s representation goes. I have one problem with most Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Fantasy novels, their insistence of referring to men as males. I know that part of the reason is that there are species other than humans, but the constant, ‘this male’ and ‘that male’ always reeks of being contrived. There’s something about it that just rubs me the wrong way.
I liked Feyre in book 1 but loved her in ACOMAF, where she freed herself from the shackles that held her back. In ACOWAR, we meet a Feyre who is more in control of her powers and is more ruthless than before. She is willing to do what’s necessary to protect Rhys and their friends. She is still seething from Tamlin’s betrayal. It was satisfying to see her tear his court from within and playing all them against each other.
Rhys was as amazing as before. He’s the antithesis of most alpha males you come across in popular fiction. He’s supportive even when he doesn’t know the full extent of Feyre’s plans. He treats her like his equal and it’s not just talk, he stands by her decisions knowing that she’s placing herself in danger. He trusts her judgement and never undermines her. In his own right, Rhys is extremely powerful but never abuses his power. He is a loyal and friend and a steadfast ally. So far, we hadn’t seen the full extent of his power, but we finally got a glimpse of it in ACOWAR and it was magnificent. It finally made sense why the other High Lords were wary or scared of him, even that Tamlin the Tool.
Tamlin was the embodiment of a toxic relationship. He was abusive emotionally and physically and more than that, he wanted to isolate Feyre from her family and kept undermining her sense of self. I read some reviews that spoke of a redemption arc for him, I for one, didn’t see it. There was no shame in him for what he did when Feyre came back to him in ACOWAR, for what happened to her sisters. He was blind enough to think that Feyre wouldn’t hold it against him, that she wouldn’t hate for siding with Hybern.
One of the best parts of this series were the secondary characters, the ones we met in ACOMAF; Mor, Cassian, Azriel, Amren and then there were numerous new ones in ACOWAR, like the other High Lords and their mates. Needless to say that I love Rhys’s inner circle, especially Mor and Cassian. Of the other High Lords, I liked Hellion, Tarquin and Kallais. I liked Viviane and Cressida. I loathed Beron the Turd and hope that Eris kills him soon. We got a picture of Eris in the previous book, but I’m inclined to believe that there is still decency in him and left on his own, he would be honourable.
Nesta and Elain played much bigger roles in ACOWAR and I’ve always liked Nesta. She was a complex character, just as beautiful as Elain but with darkness in her soul. She could be mean and cruel but there was always something about her that kept her from being hated by the reader. Both she and Elain were changed by the Cauldron and both had to come to terms with their gifts as well as the fact that their lives as they knew it, was over. If they were to survive, they would have to learn to adapt and that meant learning some hard truths that Feyre had tried to shield them from.
I love the positive female representation in the this series. There are so many strong female characters in this series and they aren’t defined by their love interests. They are warriors, scholars, priestesses, healers, witches to name a few. They fit into an assortment of roles but are never subservient. They fight and bleed just as the men.
Now, about Mor and the big reveal about her. Spoiler Alert! First off, she’s bisexual who prefers women, she’s not a lesbian, so no bi-erasure here. She explicitly states that she likes both but prefers women. Let there be no debate about that. And for those crying about the doomed Mor-Azriel ship and saying that this reveal is forced and has no basis, well there’s plenty of evidence against those statements. In hindsight, it makes sense why, in over 500 years she never made a move for him. In fact, in ACOMAF, every time, there was even a hint of what might be between them, Mor immediately shuts down. That’s not the behaviour of someone madly in love. For those crying about how she lead him on and why she didn’t say anything sooner. Well, ACOWAR gives us the answers to those questions as well. Coming out is never easy and add in Mor’s history with her twisted family and it gives you an insight into why she may have kept that part of herself hidden. I can understand her need to keep that part of herself clean from the taint that her family would attach to it. I am thrilled that she came out as bisexual and that entire exchange was handled exceedingly well. It was sensitive and respectful. Mor’s sexuality alone and the way it was handled was enough for me to love this book. I loved Mor and her journey.
Another aspect about ACOWAR that I loved were the number of same-sex couples there were and the way they were introduced without any fan-fare like it was perfectly normal in this world. They were written the way heterosexual relationships were written. And perhaps the best part, none of the gay or lesbian or bisexual characters died. That too, is exceedingly rare. Of the High Lords, Hellion is clearly bisexual (pansexual perhaps?) and Thesan is gay, plus there are other relationships. I haven’t read all of the books in Maas‘ other series, The Throne of Glass Series but one complaint I’ve heard repeatedly is that in that series there are LGBT couples who die or who are so far in the periphery that you only ever come across them in passing. Well, at least in this series, she’s rectified that problem.
We know that Maas is planning at least 3 spin-offs as well as 2 novellas, based in the same universe but focusing on different characters. I think one will focus on Cassian and Nesta. I don’t think there’s a mating bond in place, and if it is then Cassian is doing a good keeping it to himself. I like that it’s still taking them time to adjust to each other but when it counted, they were both willing to die for each other. The second will probably focus on Elain and either Lucien or Azriel. I’m on the fence about who I prefer with her. On the one hand, Lucien is her mate but on the other, Azriel is so kind and gentle with her. I don’t trust the mating bond, it feels so much like it’s pre-ordained and negates free will. I find that troubling. I want Mor to get her own full-length novel and I want her love interest to be a woman (Viviane’s sister maybe) Maas has made no announcements about who the books will focus on so this is all speculation. But it would be nice to see a canon-bisexual character have her own novel and have a female love interest. Too often, they get pushed aside to make space for the straight, heterosexual couples and it’s always disappointing. Mor deserves more and we deserve more representation.