Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses Book Series by Sarah J. Maas: A Study of Queenship

By Katia Wright

Feature Image Caption: Book covers taken from Bloomsbury Publishing – bloomsbury.com.

*WARNING* This review contains a lot of spoilers for all the published books in the series as of April 2021.

This review discusses:

1. A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR)

2. A Court of Mist and Fury (ACOMAF)

3. A Court of Wings and Ruin (ACOWAR)

4. A Court of Frost and Starlight (ACOFAS)

5. A Court of Silver Flames (ACOSF)

The Court of Thorns and Roses series, by Sarah J. Maas, is a popular high fantasy series telling the lives of the High Fae in a fictional country called Prythian. Readers follow the story of Feyre Archeron, a human girl who falls in love with a faerie and ends up becoming crucial to saving their country. Across ACOTAR Feyre falls in love with Tamlin, the High Lord of the Spring Court, and completes three trials to save not only Tamlin, but all the other faeries of Prythian from Amarantha, an evil faerie queen. The next book follows Feyre coping with her PTSD from the events of the trials in ACOTAR, the breakdown of her relationship with Tamlin, the development of her relationship with Rhysand, High Lord of the Night Court, and the discovery of a much bigger villain than Amarantha – the King of Hybern. In the third book, Feyre and Rhysand facilitate a union between the High Lords, and the war with the King of Hybern takes place. The fourth book, a short novella, serves as a summary of the lives of the main characters from Feyre’s perspective, set shortly after the end of the war. Book five is the beginning of a new collection of books, focused on secondary characters in the first three books. In ACOSF the reader follows Cassian, the general of Rhysand’s army, and Nesta, Feyre’s sister, as they deal with the fallout of the war with Hybern and discover a new threat to Prythian. So far five books have been published in this series, and another three are due to be published over the next few years.

Map of Prythian, created by Kelly de Groot and Charlie Bowater.

Despite the ruling titles utilised in this book denoting lordship, queenship themes run throughout the actions taken by Feyre and other female characters. These themes begin to develop in ACOMAF onwards, with the return of the High Lords to their courts. At the beginning of this book, whilst witnessing the collapse of Feyre and Tamlin’s relationship and the extent of Feyre’s PTSD, readers are introduced to the expected roles of a High Lord’s consort. As Lady of Spring, Feyre was expected to wield very little power. As shown in her discussions with Ianthe, a priestess of the High Fae, and the anger displayed by Tamlin when Feyre aided a water wraith during the Spring Court’s annual ‘tithe’, Feyre’s role as Tamlin’s wife was to be centered solely around the production of an heir and ‘planning parties.’ We see this lack of agency again in the scenes featuring the Lady of Autumn in ACOWAR, in which she was expected to be ‘seen and not heard.’ This relationship is very similar to the queenship and concubinage of early medieval Europe, in which a consort was expected to manage the royal household and a royal woman’s power could be based more on the success of her son claiming the throne, than on her marital connection to the king. Moreover, the titles of Lady of Spring or Lady of Autumn mimics the titles used for queens in Early Medieval England. Æthelflæd was known as the Lady of Mercia, and though the title is not that of ‘queen’ it still equated her to royalty, in the same way that the titles of High Lord or Lady equate the characters in these books to that of the royalty of the individual courts. This is made even clearer when Feyre visits the Summer Court in ACOMAF, in which Varian and Cressida are introduced as Prince and Princess of the Summer Court, relatives of Tarquin, the High Lord of the Summer Court.

Themes of queenship develop further along with Feyre’s story and her position in the Night Court. Eventually Feyre and Rhysand fall in love, and with their marriage Rhysand elevates his wife to not only Lady of Night, but the High Lady of the Night Court. This new title is unheard of Prythian and noted with some surprise by the other High Lords, particularly at their council in ACOWAR. Indeed, the nature of their personal relationship reflects the importance of good relations within a royal marriage as the source of a queen’s power and extent of her agency. This can be seen in the successful relationship between Matilda of Flanders and William the Conqueror, which resulted in her holding a position of authority in Normandy during William’s absence.

Rhysand and Feyre as High Lord and High Lady – The Court of Dreams, drawn by Charlie Bowater, Instagram –https://www.instagram.com/p/Bc-WQAUhusY/

Aspects of queenship can be seen in Feyre’s new title, along with later examples across the books. In the ceremony, which isn’t actually witnessed by the reader but described later in the story, Rhysand literally gives some of his power to Feyre. Though this is in reference to his magical power, it mirrors the power a monarch would give to his spouse if they were to co-rule. Co-rulership was a common mode of authority, especially in the medieval Iberian kingdoms, in which a queen shared the responsibilities and power with their spouse or co-ruler. It should be noted that co-rulership did not always mean equality in each ruler’s position but highlighted that the power was shared and not based solely on one monarch. A key aspect of European co-rulership was the presence of the monarchs. For example, when Juana II of Navarre and Philip d’Evreux were both present they shared in the responsibilities and power as a genuine partnership, and thus co-ruled the kingdom of Navarre and their French domains.

The sharing of magical power is not the only example of co-rulership in Feyre’s role as High Lady. Once she returns to the Night Court, she is seen as taking up shared responsibilities with Rhysand – they attend the Court of Nightmares together to negotiate for additional military support, she plays a role in the meeting of the High Lords at Thesan’s palace even though spouses were only invited ‘as a courtesy’, and she is heavily active in the war that eventually takes place. In these examples Feyre and Rhysand are continuously together and making shared decisions, highlighting Feyre’s position as co-ruler of the Night Court.

Indeed, these aspects of the story similarly reflect the themes surrounding queenship and warfare: Feyre takes up arms, becomes heavily involved in the diplomacy leading up to and between battles, joins numerous war councils, and is readily seen to be supporting the soldiers of her court. These aspects of Feyre’s role as High Lady are reflected in the actions of historical consort queens, such as Catherine of Aragon, who fought against Scottish attack in Henry VIII’s absence, or Morphia of Melitene, who led negotiations and a military campaign to free her husband Baldwin II of Jerusalem.

This series tells a fantasy story of diverse characters that discusses pertinent themes for any reader. Though they are labelled as young adult, they come with a content warning as themes discussed are more suitable for older readers. The events that take place, and actions taken by the characters, highlight aspects of queenship that scholars have been studying across the medieval and early modern periods and creates a union between fiction and historical themes for any fans of queenship to enjoy.

The Inner Circle, drawn by Charlie Bowater, Instagram –https://www.instagram.com/p/BcU3V3ChCBQ/

Suggested Reading for Queenship Themes Discussed

James M. Blythe, “Women in the Military: Scholastic Arguments and Medieval Images of Female Warriors,” History of Political Thought 22 (2001): 242-269.

Tim Clarkson, Aethelflaed: Lady of the Mercians.Edinburgh 2018.

Boyd Cothran, Joan Judge and Adrian Shubert, Women Warriors and National Heroes: Global Histories.London 2020.

Theresa Earenfight, The King’s Other Body: Maria of Castile and the Crown of Aragon. Philadelphia 2010.

Sophie Harwood, Medieval Women and War: Female Roles in the Old French Tradition.London 2020.

Natasha R. Hodgson, Women, Crusading and the Holy Land in Historical Narratives.Woodbridge 2007.

Megan McLaughlin, “The Woman Warrior: Gender, Warfare and Society in Medieval Europe,” Women’s Studies 17 (1999): 193-209.

Pauline Stafford, Queens, Concubines and Dowagers: The King’s Wife in the Early Middle Ages. London 1983.

Pauline Stafford, Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women’s Power in Eleventh Century England. Oxford 1997.  

Gabrielle Storey, ‘Co-Rulership and Competition: The Exercise of Queenly Power in the 12th and 13th Centuries,’ London Society for Medieval Studies Seminar, Institute of Historical Research (virtual), 12Jan 2021.

Jean A. Truax, “Anglo-Norman Women at War: Valiant Soldiers, Prudent Strategists or Charismatic Leaders?” in The Circle of War in the Middle Ages: Essays on Medieval Military and Naval History, eds. Donald K. Kagay and L. J. Andrew Villalon. Woodbridge 1999.

Elena Woodacre, The Queen’s Regnant of Navarre: Succession, Politics, and Partnership, 1274-1512. Basingstoke 2013.

Elena Woodacre, Lucinda H.S. Dean, Chris Jones, Russell E., Martin, Zita Eva Rohr (eds.), The Routledge History of Monarchy. Abingdon 2019.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: