ACOTAR: The Return to my Love for Reading
I can't even begin to describe how much I loved this series, but I'll try.
The latter part of December, during which I read the ACOTAR series, was a complete blur. I was only half living in this world, most of my consciousness was elsewhere. Or rather, I should say, was in Prythian, the land where this story takes place.
These books had absolutely every single ingredient I look for and love in a book. To me, they encapsulate the very reason why I fell in love with reading in the first place. I am trying to not exaggerate and not give a false overhyped review, but the truth is… I am not exaggerating and I think everything that is overhyped about these books is warranted.
I will add the disclaimer that individually, not every book in the saga captured me the same way, but when talking about them as a whole I can just say… wow. And thank you, to Sarah J. Maas.
It had been perhaps 10 or 15 years since I read a fantasy series. Over the last few years, I’ve favoured books that explicitly ‘teach’ me something like habits and strategies to become a functioning adult. Reading fiction felt like a bit of an indulgence, so I limited it to standalone books that offered me a short reprieve but didn't take me too much away from my more utilitarian reads. I got into a pattern of reading things that I either had to or felt like I did. Though I also love reading these types of books, this year I worked on allowing myself to go back to my reading roots. I allowed myself to be that 10-year-old girl again who once stayed up well past bedtime, completely lost in the halls of Hogwarts and the expanse of Narnia.
A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES SERIES
This series was written by Sarah J. Maas starting in 2015. They follow the story of Feyre (alongside her friends and family), a young human woman who, through a series of unfortunate (or one could argue rather fortunate) events, ends up living in faerie lands. Her life unravels in unpredictable ways as she falls in and out of love, and uncovers multiple keys and mysteries that save Prythian from more than one threat.
I firmly believe that certain books just find you at the right time and these were an example of that for me. As I did a recount of the books I read in 2022 near year-end, I realized none of them truly stood out. They were all good, but I was saddened to realize that this area of my life, which is important to me was left quite unsatisfied. ACOTAR found me at this point and ‘redeemed’ my year-in-reading at the exact moment I needed it.
WHY I LOVED THESE BOOKS
I think at its core, these books are about love and hope. It sounds so cliche and basic, but I think that part of the power and value of stories lies precisely in reminding us of the simple yet profound things that make us human and make life worth it. As such, I appreciated how much these books dwelt in the grey. I rarely connect with characters that seem to always be above others and emerge victorious without fail and with stories where situations unfold in neat progression. I enjoyed how much these books delved into the nuances of the characters, their relationships and the politics of the situations they faced. The way the macro and micro forces and systems at play interacted and influenced each other rang very true to me despite it being so fantastical.
- Character development:
On a personal level, I think I identified myself the most with Nesta’s character, which is something I didn’t want to admit because at times I found her insufferable. But her story in A Court of Silver Flames (Book #5) actually struck a chord with me. For years I have dealt with the feeling of not being ‘good enough’, with trying and then feeling like I fail to meet people’s expectations, with guilt and with shame. I’ve turned to a number of things to numb the pain and have often felt unworthy of love, forgiveness and affection. Her whole story was simply heartbreaking and inspiring in the most realistic of ways for a fictional fantasy character.
- Worldbuilding and Plot:
For instance, I did not need to be reminded how broad Rhysand’s tattooed chest was or how his violet eyes sparkled every time he appeared. But overall, I didn’t mind the use of many adjectives and descriptors, despite the common advice to writers to steer clear of them, because it allowed me to see this world as the author intended. Nevertheless, I actually appreciated how some things, such as the aspect of the death gods, were left to the readers’ imagination. Upon seeing some fan art while I read these books, I was fascinated to see how others had imagined characters like Bryaxis or the Weaver, and how much it had differed from my mental image of them! For me, the imaginative exercise of creating worlds and characters alongside the author is one of the most valuable aspects of fiction literature and fantasy in particular.
This might be an unpopular opinion, but I thoroughly enjoyed the “mundane” or “slow” parts of these books. Sure, they made the books longer and a lot of the reviews I’ve seen have deemed them unnecessary, but I disagree. I think they contributed to making the books more relatable. For all the potential reasons why we would not be able to relate to these characters, their “normal” things like eating meals together, going out with friends, passing out from exhaustion after a day full of work, holiday shopping, and relationship conflicts are very much a part of everyone’s lives. The books were packed with enough action and plot twists that had me on the brink of tears and madness, that those slower moments felt like a breath of fresh air, especially as I grew attached to them and loved having a ‘glimpse’ into their daily lives.
I saw a lot of people outright hating on A Court of Frost and Starlight for this very reason, but to me, it was such a nice reprieve from all the chaos. It was a reminder of why the action of the other books was even happening, why all of them refused to give up – to protect their family, their loved ones, and their hope. So yes, some parts were quite slow, but given how much our culture craves quick fixes and constant emotional highs, these portions felt a bit ‘countercultural’ and what life is actually like.
I also loved the foreshadowing in this book. No detail or remark was insignificant. The way the author had of coming back to almost everything was so gratifying. I could almost feel a tangible click in my brain every time a piece of the puzzle clicked in place. I think this aspect made the books so hard to put down and so mentally stimulating. The little clues here and there of things yet to come kept me on my toes, and I loved seeing how something, seemingly small, mentioned in one book then became a huge aspect of the story later on – my favourite one being, of course, “' There you are. I've been looking for you. ' His first words to me— not a lie at all, not a threat to keep those faeries away. 'Thank you for finding her for me.'” IYKYK.
- My Emotional Response:
As an aside, I have honestly been so turned off by BookTok and BookTube (and other review sites) because of this. I understand titles like, “I Read These Books so you don’t Have to” perhaps garner a lot of clicks and attention, but I find them incredibly pretentious and off-putting. Unless you have lived my exact life or know me intimately well, I don’t think you’re qualified to speak on my behalf on what I will connect with or not. I also think it is a bit disrespectful to the author and the work they put in. It's okay not to like something, but I don’t think it's okay to imply that it is not worth someone else’s time or that people should avoid them.
If someone kept tabs on what I usually read, they might not have guessed I would become this level of obsessed with the ACOTAR series, and yet they’ve quickly become some of my favourite books. They stirred so much in me, reading them was actually quite therapeutic. These books not only reminded me why I love to read but also why I love to write. As I’ve previously shared, the first novel I ever tried to write at 12 was a fantasy one. These books awoke something deep within me that had been dormant for many, many years.
There are many other aspects about the books I could comment on that I truly love, including the plot itself, the books’ structures, individual characters, etc. but there are actually a ton of reviews and commentary out there about these aspects that I agree with. My intention was to break down why these books impacted me so much, some of my personal impressions and the lessons I am taking away from them.
ARE THESE BOOKS PERFECT?
No – no book is. Besides a few picky observations about descriptions and repetition (mentioned above), I actually didn’t love that SJM packed most of the action at the end of each of the books. I understand that a traditional narrative arc of a story involves building it up to the climax and then moving on to a resolution. I also understand this works differently in a series because the story will continue to unfold in the next book. Yet, I still felt that there were some books, especially ACOWAR and ACOSF, which are already quite long where some of the climaxes could have been built before the 85-90% mark. I also admit that I would have loved to see some more development on certain characters, Azriel more specifically. I hope that we get some more of him in the next upcoming book(s)!
I also understand the critique that a lot of reviewers have made on how certain topics (like PTSD, depression and suicidal thoughts) were handled. I agree that some of the more sensitive issues were perhaps not dealt with in the best way, but I also think this critique can stem from wanting the book to be something it's not. I don’t think the book is claiming to be an expert in these matters, but rather to show how sometimes traumatic things happen and we all deal with them the best way we can for ourselves and others. These ways are admittedly often wrought with mistakes and shortcomings, but the important thing is to keep showing up and “reaching your hand out,” as it became apparent in A Court of Silver Flames.
I'M NOT ENTIRELY SURE WHAT I'LL DO WITH MY LIFE NOW...
For the two-ish weeks that it took me to get through this series, I had to force myself to do other things to prolong the experience as much as possible. Yet, the inevitable moment when I finished the series came. And while I'm glad I can go back to being a person again, I can only say that a big part of me is sad that I will have to let this go. Even if I reread them, my first experience reading these books is over.
But in the midst of that small literary grief that can only be left by books that truly leave a mark on you, I can say I am so glad I read these books at this point in my life. I’ve gradually come to realize how easy it can be to forget the magic that lines our lives despite the darkness if we know where and how to look. I no longer care if a book is considered high literature or not, if it's among bestseller lists or if critics rate them high. I fell in love with reading because of this – this feeling of relatedness, connection, inspiration and humanity. And this book, set in another world and another time, accomplished that.
For those who have read the books I hope you'll understand this very fitting reference for the start of a new year: I wish that in the midst of a great Void, we all find that silver thread of Hope.