While I was sick over Thanksgiving break, I read Receiver of Many (which I talked about below) and another hyped up book, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. I’ve seen this book talked about a lot on tumblr and youtube, and I was apprehensive because the last time I tried to believe in a YA tumblr hyped recommendation, I ended up with the Raven Cycle Series…and I’m still trying to work through the first book. (Not for the length or complexity of it so much as it’s kind of a chore to read).
Maybe I am aging out of these types of books (which is heart breaking, but maybe a discussion for another time), but in my cough syrup haze I decided I would whittle my paycheck down to the bare bones and give ACOTAR (how did this acronym catch on? Saying it aloud is like sneezing!) the old college try. And unlike the Raven Boys, I finished. So let’s talk about it.
So, I believe this has been marketed as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which – you might be sensing a pattern here if you read what I had to say about Receiver of Many – I am as much of a sucker for as I am Persephone interpretations. (I’ve heard internet whispers the sequel to this book, A Court of Mist and Fury is actually a Persephone and Hades re-imagining…which means I’ll probably have to read it, too. )
And if you’re in the ACOTAR game for an “authentic” retelling…go pick up Rachel Alexander’s Receiver of Many instead. Because this book, as many people have pointed out, is not that. Receiver of Many is, and you might even learn some cocktail party trivia from it to boot. But after acknowledging ACOTAR’s shortcoming here, you can go one of two routes: grade it against that rubric, knowing it will fall short, or read it as a stand-alone novel and avoid comparing the plot to the fairy tale.
I took the second route, for my sanity. And I will probably be reading the second book when it comes out in a few months, but honestly only because I think it promises more screen time for some of the characters I was most drawn to. Because, actually – let’s start there and get this out of the way: ACOTAR has what I call Twilight syndrome: the most interesting, sympathetic characters in the book – with the most intriguing back story, and the most real personality – are side characters who don’t get the fleshing out or screen time that they (or the story!) deserves. (I think everyone who has read this book is thinking of the same person. If you haven’t, let me spell it out: L U C I E N).
Essentially, there were three characters I had (mostly) patience for. None of them were main characters (Lucien, Nesta, and Rhysand…before the very end), which were kind of snooze fests at best. At worst, and this is the crux of my issue with the book I think, they fall back on some really tired and (to use “the word”) problematic tropes about Strong Female Characters and their Paranormal Love Interest.
I believe that there have to be places in fiction for women who are not traditionally feminine, and who have believable flaws and exhibit “questionable” or problematic traits we would valorize in male characters to exist. But I think collectively the way these characters have been handled are less complex and more “Strong because and only because they are masculine,” and “not like other girls.” And the only traits Feyre has, I think, are that she is…emotionally unavailable? Grouchy, and a little dumb??
And the love interest, Tamlin, is even worse. The only thing we know or hear about in the book about him is that he is…handsome?
But let’s accept that. Why not. After getting over the characterization hurdle, we have to wrap our minds around “magically necessary” faerie orgies (?!?!) and an antagonist that rests wholly on “psychotic ex, conniving female motivated solely by thirst ™ .” And then maybe what made me the most personally uncomfortable with the book: Feyre’s lack of agency and the crappy depictions of what consent is and what it looks like. And no one character expresses concern about it. The hell?
Again, I will probably be picking up the sequel and the actual process of reading this book wasn’t tedious once I just kind of accepted I would have to roll with certain things, but it was lacking in some disappointing ways given the hype around it.
Interestingly enough, yesterday after work I picked up Uprooted on the suggestion of Thoughts on Tomes which is another Beauty and the Beast interpretation (I cannot help myself, I tell you!) and I already like it infinitely better than ACOTAR. I think I’ll have it finished by the end of the day today and I’ll write something on it because it is giving me thoughts and feelings.