Sexual Violence, Bad Boys and A Court of Thrones and Roses

July 3, 2015 / 53 Comments / Review, Uncategorized

WARNING: Major spoilers for A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, and I will be quoting from some of the explicit, 18+ scenes in this essay. 

I know I’m going to be hated for this post, but I can’t not write it, because, very few people are talking about the sexual violence in Sarah J. Maas’ latest bestseller, A Court of Thorns and Roses.

So here we go. Way back in the day, I talked about my love for Good Boys, and how Bad Boys are problematic, especially in YA. I’m not one of those people who believes that all YA or all books need to be “important” or send a message. They don’t. I don’t need my books to be pedantic. I like light, fluffy stuff that’s entertainment as much as I like books that say something.

But the Bad Boy trope is one that drives me absolutely batty, because it IS dangerous and it DOES propagate a sense that it’s okay for men to treat women in violent, harassing ways (I’m using the heteronormatives here, but feel free to slip in “women to treat women” or “men to treat men” or anything else. Bad Boy is just a concept). And it’s a trope that often allows those violent, harassing men to be redeemed by a woman, or love, or because they have something in their past that absolves them of responsibility for their own actions.

Let’s be clear: nothing absolves anyone of sexual violence or abuse. If someone has a bad past, or mental health issues or a motive that is honourable, that still doesn’t make it okay to treat a woman badly. If you plead insanity in a court of law and that defense stands, you still get put in prison. You still have to take responsibility.

The reason this came up for me is because I recently read A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, which, for the most part, I liked. I liked how Feyre had no magical powers, but was able to use cunning to defeat faeries. I liked learning about the different courts and the descriptions. I liked how Lucien was always a bit of a dark horse in Feyre’s heart, and how much they all learned about each other. I think there’s a great theme of learning to get past your prejudices running through the book.

But there are some major consent and sexual abuse issues in this book.

First is the slow-burn romance between Tamlin and Feyre. Tamlin plays the Beast in this retelling, and Feyre the Belle, so there’s already a bit of an instance of Stockholm Syndrome and imbalance between them, but this scene in Chapter 21 where Tamlin is “drunk” on magic goes a bit far:

“Let go,” I said as evenly as I could, but his claws punched out, imbedding in the wood above my hands. Still riding the magic, he was half-wild.
“You drove me mad,” he growled, and the sound trembled down my neck, along my breasts until they ached. “I searched for you, and you weren’t there. When I didn’t find you,” he said, bringing his face closer to mine, until we shared breath, “it made me pick another.”
I couldn’t escape. I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to.
“She asked me not to be gentle with her, either,” he snarled, his teeth bright in the moonlight. He brought his lips to my ear. “I would have been gentle with you, though.” I shuddered as I closed my eyes. Every inch of my body went taut as his words echoed through me. “I would have had you moaning my name throughout it all. And I would have taken a very, very long time, Feyre.” He said my name like a caress, and his hot breath tickled my ear. My back arched slightly.
He ripped his claws free from the wall, and my knees buckled as he let go. I grasped the wall to keep from sinking to the floor, to keep from grabbing him—to strike or caress, I didn’t know. I opened my eyes. He still smiled—smiled like an animal.
“Why should I want someone’s leftovers?” I said, making to push him away. He grabbed my hands again and bit my neck.
I cried out as his teeth clamped onto the tender spot where my neck met my shoulder. I couldn’t move—couldn’t think, and my world narrowed to the feeling of his lips and teeth against my skin. He didn’t pierce my flesh, but rather bit to keep me pinned. The push of his body against mine, the hard and the soft, made me see red—see lightning, made me grind my hips against his. I should hate him—hate him for his stupid ritual, for the female he’d been with tonight …
His bite lightened, and his tongue caressed the places his teeth had been. He didn’t move—he just remained in that spot, kissing my neck. Intently, territorially, lazily. Heat pounded between my legs, and as he ground his body against me, against every aching spot, a moan slipped past my lips.
He jerked away. The air was bitingly cold against my freed skin, and I panted as he stared at me. “Don’t ever disobey me again,” he said, his voice a deep purr that ricocheted through me, awakening everything and lulling it into complicity.

Is that consensual? It’s certainly rough, but Feyre explicity asks him to let go and he doesn’t. One could argue that Tamlin didn’t know what he was doing, and he didn’t actually hurt her. But to me, it still counts as an abusive act when you force someone to be in a situation they don’t want to be in. What’s worse is that the book still treats Tamlin as the ideal lover for Feyre, even after this (a few other bloggers agree). Tamlin, however, isn’t a Bad Boy, really – he’s extremely dangerous, but he has treated Feyre with respect throughout the rest of the book.

But it gets worse. We then meet Rhysand, who is the true Bad Boy of the series.

Rhysand is dark. Rhysand is powerful, the High Lord of the Night Court. Rhysand is hot and sexy, with a voice that swirls over you and makes Feyre’s knees go weak. And Rhysand is a blackmailer who exchanges Feyre’s health for ownership of her one week out of each month (Chapter 37).

As if enslavement wasn’t bad enough, he then has her taken, strips her, paints her skin with dark ink in signature Night Court swirls, and parades her around in a transparent gown for the world to see. And then he forces her to drink bad faerie wine, night after night, so that she blacks out and wakes up each morning with vague memories of the night before. And by “forces”, I mean he uses his power to get into her head and basically Imperius Curses her into drinking it.

“Wine?” he said, offering me a goblet.
Alis’s first rule. I shook my head.
He smiled, and extended the goblet again. “Drink. You’ll need it.”
Drink, my mind echoed, and my fingers stirred, moving toward the goblet. No. No, Alis said not to drink the wine here—wine that was different from that joyous, freeing solstice wine. “No,” I said, and some faeries who were watching us from a safe distance chuckled.
“Drink,” he said, and my traitorous fingers latched onto the goblet.

I awoke in my cell, still clad in that handkerchief he called a dress. Everything was spinning so badly that I barely made it to the corner before I vomited. Again. And again. When I’d emptied my stomach, I crawled to the opposite corner of the cell and collapsed.
Sleep came fitfully as the world continued to twirl violently around me. I was tied to a spinning wheel, going around and around and around—
Needless to say, I was sick a fair amount that day.

Feyre wakes up the next morning with no memory of what happened, She sees a few smudged inky splotches on her hips and she knows that Rhysand has at least touched her on her hips. Luckily, according to the book, he has not violated her further.

That right there? That is STILL called sexual violence, even if he didn’t rape her. That is the equivalent of roofie-ing a girl’s drink and then taking said unconscious girl to bed.

Later, after Rhysand saves her life, he goes down to visit Feyre in her cell:

The stones reverberated as he knelt before me, and though I tried to fight him, his grip was firm as he grasped my wrists and pried my hands from my face.
The walls weren’t moving, and the room was open—gaping. No colors, but shades of darkness, of night. Only those star-flecked violet eyes were bright, full of color and light. He gave me a lazy smile before he leaned forward.
I pulled away, but his hands were like shackles. I could do nothing as his mouth met with my cheek, and he licked away a tear. His tongue was hot against my skin, so startling that I couldn’t move as he licked away another path of salt water, and then another. My body went taut and loose all at once and I burned, even as chills shuddered along my limbs. It was only when his tongue danced along the damp edges of my lashes that I jerked back.
He chuckled as I scrambled for the corner of the cell. I wiped my face as I glared at him.
He smirked, sitting down against a wall. “I figured that would get you to stop crying.”
“It was disgusting.” I wiped my face again.
“Was it?” He quirked an eyebrow and pointed to his palm—to the place where my tattoo would be. “Beneath all your pride and stubbornness, I could have sworn I detected something that felt differently. Interesting.”
“Get out.”
“As usual, your gratitude is overwhelming.”
“Do you want me to kiss your feet for what you did at the trial? Do you want me to offer another week of my life?”
“Not unless you feel compelled to do so,” he said, his eyes like stars.

The fact that the novel depicts him still as an alluring creature, with eyes that are “bright, full of color and light” and “like stars” makes Rhysand continue to seem like a romantic possibility to the reader and to Feyre.

Rhysand then forces Feyre to kiss him later on, under the pretense that he is helping her to escape the villain of the story. He justifies this to her by saying that he never touched her despite ADMITTING that he drugged her:

“Feyre, for Cauldron’s sake. I drug you, but you don’t wonder why I never touch you beyond your waist or arms?”
Until tonight—until that damned kiss. I gritted my teeth, but even as my anger rose, a picture cleared.
“It’s the only claim I have to innocence,” he said, “the only thing that will make Tamlin think twice before entering into a battle with me that would cause a catastrophic loss of innocent life. It’s the only way I can convince him I was on your side. Believe me, I would have liked nothing more than to enjoy you—but there are bigger things at stake than taking a human woman to my bed.”

How romantic – he would have raped Feyre had it not been for the bigger circumstances of the world. I was horrified by this admission, and by the fact that even after Rhysand admits to perpetrating a crime, he still attempts to justify it. And the book lets him. While the text never quite condones Rhysand’s actions, it also never condemns him for it.

And PEOPLE STILL SHIP RHYSAND AND FEYRE.

Guys, I can’t with this. One instance of questionable sexual assault from the love interest is already bad enough. I can at least understand the Tamlin-Feyre ship because the book is explicit about it and Tamlin does ask her consent the next time, and in general, acts like a pretty good guy.

But what Rhysand does is sexual assault and battery. His claim that he’s doing this to keep her safe (which she later agrees with) is idiotic, because if he’d just told her his plan and GOTTEN HER CONSENT to it, none of this would have happened. Instead, he enslaves her, touches her without consent, drugs her, and then tries to justify it. THAT ISN’T SEXY.

I know I’m fixating on one part of a mostly good book, and boy, do I know that just because it’s written doesn’t mean that the author condones it, but look, if we are calling out Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, and Game of Thrones for abusive relationships and sexual violence, we need to call this out, too. The tone of the book, the text, allows for Rhysand (and Tamlin) to continue to be seen as a potential love interest for Feyre.

Look, I’m not saying not to read this book. I liked it. It’s one of the few fantasy books I’ve liked, where the action is intense and the stakes are very real. But this is a flaw. It’s a big flaw and it’s a flaw that no one is talking about because Bad Boys and sexual violence are so pervasive in many books.

Ladies, I need you to think about this: when you’re reading about a character and you’re thinking how dark and brooding and mysterious he sounds, don’t allow yourself to headcanon that he’s gone through something terrible, or doing something for someone else’s good, but really he’s a good person at heart who needs your sacrifice.

When you say to yourself, “look, he healed Feyre, he helped her through her trial, and he bet on her when no one else did, that means he loves her!”, you need to think about his actions, and that his intentions are not about her, but about getting what he wants back (his land), with no regard for her mind or body.

And when you’re thinking how sexy he is, think about what he does and says to Feyre, and the lines you’re going to draw for yourself and for your female characters.

And that is why the Bad Boy trope is scary, and sometimes dangerous.

Let’s keep it a trope, and not real life.

Let’s Talk:


Have you noticed this issue in A Court of Thorns and Roses or other books? Do books sometimes inherently or accidentally allow for sexual violence?
-Are you a Bad Boy or Good Boy lover?
-Are you Team Rhysand? Tell me why – did I read it wrong or miss something? (Please tell me I did. For real. I want to be wrong about this). 
—–

A Court of Thorns and Roses
Author: Sarah J. Maas (website | twitter)
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s / Recorded Books
Source/Format: Audiobook bought on Audible.com (passages taken from eBook)
Publication date: May 5, 2015
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound | The Book Depository | Audible | iTunes | Google Books

When 19-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it … or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.


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53 responses to “Sexual Violence, Bad Boys and A Court of Thrones and Roses

  1. I definitely agree with you about Rhysand. I was apprehensive reading this book in the first place, what with what I'd heard about Tamlin/Feyre and the biting scene – but that didn't bother me as much as Rhysand. I honestly couldn't stand him at all, and don't understand how anyone could ship him with Feyre. I'm a bit worried for book 2, because Sarah alluded to there being s love triangle, and I reckon it'll be Tamlin/Feyre/Rhysand, and be even more problematic as book 1 was :/

    • Yeah, I had heard that there would be a love triangle, and it's obvious from reading the book that Rhysand will be involved, which terrifies me. She's sown quite a few seeds that indicate that Rhys is a love interest, and it's just…it's not okay to use sexual abuse and violence to make a character seem more like a Bad Boy. If Feyre likes it rough, I get that, but to have her continually say no and have both men take advantage of her, and to not act like that's a problem is a problem.

    • Katie

      Actually, you are very wrong about Rhysand. It explains everything in the second book (I hope you’ve read it). Feyre was drugged and dressed weird to distract herself from the nightly horrors Under the Mountain. Rhysand was licking away Feyre’s tears to keep her from completely shattering. Rhysand has found his mate- in the hands of another lover. This is why he made the bargain with Feyre. As she seemed him to be the most beautiful man ever seen, Rhysand felt the same. He wanted to be with her still, but not in a suspecting way. Just so you know, a mate is a person the Cauldron picked that was your equal in every single way- a very rare bond. Tamlin is the seductive and abusive person. I don’t care if you think I’m over-reacting to this, but ACOTAR is the best series ever. I hope you read the second book someday and understand what really happened.

      • Taylor

        There is no explanation that makes sexual assault okay.

        The fact that Rhysand had reasons for what he did doesn’t make it okay that he did them. He did not have to sexually abuse and assault Feyre to save her life. Sarah J. Maas did not have to write the story in such a way that he had to sexually abuse and assault her. But she choose to, and most disgustingly, she asked readers to not only be okay with scenes of sexual assault, to forgive them, but to find them sexy, to start to see Rhysand a potential sexual interest for Feyre because he is even more rapey than Tamlin.

        At best this is a book where the main character enjoys being sexually assaulted.

        • Morgan

          That’s a terrible excuse for what he did. Sexual assault is still sexual assault and if he loved her like he claimed, he wouldn’t have done that.

        • Jean

          It explains on the second book that Rhysand acted that way to trick the people under the mountain I to thinking him a horrible man. But when Ferye goes to the night court the first time, She his guest and not a slave. The only one who every really sexually assaulted Ferye was Tamlin and not Rhys, he acted like he was going to but that was a way to Protect his people until he could save Ferye.

      • Alex

        I read the second book and I will stay still in my opinions. I understand that Rhys had to make some choices and the fact that he had a role to play but there is a lots of things that he could have avoided telling Feyre : like, for example, as mentionned above that he would not have hesitated to rape her if it had not been to make Tamlin angry with him. Because I’m sure that Rhysand would not have hesitated for one second to rape someone to protect his city or people if it had been necessary ! A weird link that implies a “love by default” like a mating bond does not justify what he did at all ! And as long as I’m there: telling someone that you make her drink so that she can forget what happens looks more like the justification of a rapist than anything else; because it’s never fine to make someone drink in order to forget ! I really hate the way Rhysand is described in ACOMAF, like someone perfect and all, as if the author wants to make us forget all the bad things he had said and done during the past !

      • Katrina

        I agree. Rhysand helps her keep away from shattering. You didn’t list all the ways that he helped her either. If you believe him to be like this, I don’t think that you have read the rest of the books in the series. He risks his life for her, and for others along the series. He dreams of peace throughout the whole land. He also attacks Amarantha, and is injured gravely in the process. When she was in the cell, she heard music coming from the vent, Rhysand playing music. This helped keep her from shattering. I definitely think that Rhysand may as well be the best person in the story that she could be with.

    • Cerys

      Actually, you don’t need to worry about book 2, because his actions are explained – basically most of what you see of him in book 1 is an act!

  2. Tiff, I think that you are right to point this out. If it makes you feel creepy when you read it, then it's making you feel creepy for a reason. I love SJM's work with the TOG series and how she develops stron, independent and smart female protagonists; from what I've heard (because I've not yet finished the book) Feyre is also a strong character in her own way. What concerns me are the same things that concern you – that consent is fluid, that ulterior motives are used to justify actions and that the Bad Boy is sometimes Bad for a reason, yet people still 'ship those pairings. I'm really into the storyline – she's an exceptional writer – but like you, I'm having trouble connecting with Tamlin and Rhysand for exactly the same reasons. Thanks for being forthright enough to put your concerns out there.

    • The storyline is good and I think SJM has done a superb job of remaking Beauty and the Beast into this story, but there are lines being crossed here. And I think the thing I'm struggling with is whether it's the author's job to portray things a certain way. I don't want to censor authors, but I think there's some kind of responsibility or at least awareness that has to be acknowledged in writing something for teens that is so obviously abusive and implicitly condoning it. I'm not sure where that line should be drawn, but obviously this book crossed the line for me.

      Thanks for your support. I think this is a bigger issue than just one book, and that the Bad Boy issue does need to be addressed in a more serious way than it has.

  3. I have to play devil's advocate on this one.

    I didn't see any of it as sexual abuse. Maas writes such strong female characters that I think she went through great lengths to ensure that it wasn't abuse.

    ACOTAR is told in first person so the reader knows exactly how the protagonist is feeling and they are thinking. It's evident that Feyra likes Tamilin. For the Tamlin scene, Feyra says that "she wasn't entirely sure she wanted to." She's talking about escaping Tamlin's advances. As a reader, I read that as she wasn't sure she wanted to escape because she didn't want to fall for him. I didn't see that as she wanted to escape a possible sexual assault.

    As for Rhys, he was forced to be there and he knew the consequences of non-compliancy. I think he drugged her so that she didn't have to be aware of what was happening. He treated her like an object because if he didn't, they would both be killed or severely injured. As we already know, Feyra can be quite obstinate. If she had have been in on it, not only would the story have suffered, but she would have done something to jeopardize everyone's life.

    I abhor sexual abuse in life or literature but I just didn't see this novel as abusive to women.

    • Thanks for your comment, Dawn – I really appreciate it because I've been eager to discuss with someone who didn't read these passages as abuse.

      Yes, Feyre likes Tamlin, but in the instance where he is biting her neck, I read that she liked the roughness of what he was doing. However, to me, no means no means no. I can't emphasize that enough. She asked him to let go and he explicitly did not. I feel like even if you read the "not wanting to escape" as her not wanting to fall for him, this still applies.

      For Rhys, you've tapped into what I feel is the exact problem with his character and with Bad Boys in general – that our society likes Bad Boys because they're actually good guys who are either doing things for other, more noble purposes, or because we want women to redeem Bad Boys. The book does not tell us that he was forced to be there – in Feyre's eyes, he wanted to be Amarantha's Whore and he sold out his territory. And yet, Feyre continues to be both repulsed and drawn to him, and doesn't even see it as a true violation when he drugs her. You say that he did this to save her, but there was no indication that Rhys was trying to do that when he licked her cheek or drugged her or kissed her. The problem is that when you get to his "real" reasons for doing this, to me, it just seems like manipulation without real cause. If he had told her, they could have worked it out together. And yeah, maybe the story would have suffered, but frankly, that's my entire point: that using sexual abuse and violence as a plot point in order to make the Bad Boy seem more bad so that he can later be redeemed is a pretty poor way to plot a story.

      • Katie

        RHYSAND AND FEYRE ARE MATES!!! OF COURSE FEYRE IS ATTRACTED TO HIM!!! I hope you read the second book someday and understand what really happened.

      • Zayna

        Don’t forget that there were malevent fairies Under the Mountain that have mind reading powers like Rhysand does. If Rhysand told Feyre what he was trying to do, they both would have been killed and then the rest of the fairies Under the Mountain would have lost. And Feyre was crumpling mentally, if Rhysand didn’t do things like licking her check even though it was wrong she would have die.

  4. This is very interesting for me because this is the second post I've read in a row that places ACOTAR in with Young Adult books. Before the other post about ten minutes ago, all the reviews and discussions I've read have placed ACOTAR in with the New Adult group, which is for a (slightly) more mature age bracket than Young Adult, but it would mean that the intended audience for this book is not as impressionable as the teen group. I think that's worth mentioning since you discuss the effect of the "Bad Boy" on teens.
    Other than that detail, I also did not read the scenes as abuse; for me, Feyre's 1st person POV thinking "yes" was a larger influence on me than her saying "no". I know in life we don't have that luxury of reading people's thoughts, but I liked that it upped the tension in the book, at least for me!

  5. Kayla Arnold

    I hate Rhysand too! I can’t consider it a love triangle sort of thing when Rhysand shouldn’t even be an option- and I know it will be developed in the future books :/ I’ve read quite a few reviews on ACOTAR and it was nice to see one that was a bit more critical of certain issues like these.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Kayla – I don’t hate Rhys, I just don’t like how he’s going to be this option to be redeemed by Feyre, you know? That’s the worst kind of love triangle.

  6. I am in 100% agreement about Rhys. I didn’t like him, and hate how he justified his terrible actions. Tam’s part didn’t bother me. I know the scene, but for me, I feel like Feyre was exactly where she wanted to be. I know that I have been in a fight with someone I loved before, and they had me by the shoulders trying to talk to me. I was angry and told them to just let me go, but inside I was thankful that they just held on to me. Actions speak louder than words, and in that scene with Tam, Feyre didn’t want him to let her go, as angry as she was. But like I said, Rhysand’s actions were revolting and I absolutely agree that he was abusive and manipulative and far too aggressive, and it very well could have ended with him raping her. I hate his character, and I don’t like to see people like him excused for their crimes, as he very well was. I am very curious to see how Sarah J. Maas handles his character in the next book. If Feyre starts to fall for him, I will have to be done with this series, because all of the tremendous love I have for it will be ruined by it.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jaime Lynn – I think you make a good point that Feyre was where she wanted to be. I agree with you – it’s difficult for me to be okay with it, but I think you’re right. With Rhys, I felt sure that she didn’t want to be with him at any time, and even their deal during the first challenge was disgusting to me.

      I’m also curious to see what will happen in book two. I’m not convinced that I’m going to read it, but I might have to because I need to know…

  7. Jennifer T

    I remember reading your review before reading the novel. Your points are totally valid though maybe lot of the readers see it as “well Rhysand isn’t human, so he has obviously other moral views than human”, I liked him but I see him as a tainted character, not one who is actually a kind character just hiding his honest heart.

  8. See, this is a hard one for me. I felt this way when I read Beautiful Disaster by Jamie Maguire. I felt guilty for reading something that was so obviously a dysfunctional relationship, especially when my own sister had dealt with those types in the past. But then I got over it thinking that it is fiction. I read lots of stories by Stephen King, doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and kill people or any of that. Or that I expect everyone out there to be like that. I read a lot of VC Andrews when I was in middle school, like Flowers in the Attic. Doesn’t mean I developed a crush on my brother.

    I look at fiction as an escape from real life. To go to a world that is not real, and be a part of it in a safe way. Things I would never do or want to do in real life. However I also realize that not everyone is like me, and so there may be some people who feel that this then is the type of relationship they want or that is okay. So I feel like it is good thing to think about it. Thanks for the discussion!

  9. Nicole Wetherington

    I really enjoyed the book! I don’t tend to over analyze everything and find I enjoy reading much more! Abuse and afterwards the woman still being interested in the man is a thing that happens in real life and I don’t object to that being in stories. I would like to see where Sarah Maas takes it in the next book!

  10. Sarah Cone

    I’m almost speechless. *Almost. Wow. I guess I should start with the fact that I haven’t read any books in this series but had planned to. My initial reaction, as a mother to 3 girls who love to read ( and one boy that loves to read but wouldn’t read this book anyway), I would never let this book in my house. What horrible examples to set of what we as females should allow or think of as OK or acceptable behavior. MAMA BEAR IS MAD, y’all! Grrr!!
    That said, the logical part of me says that it’s worth reading if the story is good and will lead to an important discussion and/or life lesson that I can use as a teaching moment. It reminds me of the Twilight book (I can’t remember which one) where Bella purposefully commits dangerous & life threatening acts just to see a vision of Edward. Just as I discussed with my daughter’s then that it is never acceptable to have to do these things to get a guy’s attention or “see” him, in this case, would be what behavior of the guy that is not acceptable/legal or moral and how it can lead to even more extreme violent situations. Sexual aggression should never be made to seem as if it’s good,positive or acceptable in any way,imo.
    At this point, so soon after learning of these happenings in the book, I’m not sure if I’ll read it or allow my daughters to read it but I really appreciate the heads-up as I had not heard this information from any other reviews that I’ve read.

  11. Kaitlyn

    This is going to sound strange, but I actually am intrigued by the idea of Feyre and Rhys together. Tamlin, as stated, seem so overwhelming for her by making her seem as though weaker force, but did you notice on how and why Rhys was making her doing the things she did? Pay attention and suddenly you realize. He made her drink until she got drunk so she wouldn’t remember what Amarantha (sp?) had her do that night, painted her up so the queen wouldn’t cause her to go back and do something even more disgraceful etc. Made her kiss him to save both Tamlin and Feyre from the wrath of the queen finding out they had been together. And so much more! I feel as though Rhysand was saving Feyre in his own way, doing the least possible to please the queen so Feyre wouldn’t be harmes in any way. Does that make sense? Tell me what you think:)

    • Kaitlyn

      But I do agree that he was doing it for his own intentions, rather than for her without regards for her own body etc.

  12. Val

    Hey Celine! I thought your points are great. And I agree with a lot of them. The second book came out earlier this week and I decided to see if I could stomach more. *slight general plot spoiler*

    A lot of what was wrong with the first book turns out to have been intentional. I was actually pretty pleasantly surprised when those red flags we both noticed about Tamlin are addressed and *spoiler 2* two of Feyre’s friends hels her get the fuck out of the spring court.

    On Rhysand: One thing I really didn’t like was the drugging which I think was explained away pretty weakly (Amarantha is forcing him to drug and humiliate Feyre to make Tamlin feel like she’s “unfaithful” [ugh] and since she still has control over Rhysand – literally using him as a sex slave – he can’t do anything about it. I thought this reasoning was weak.

    I did think it was useful to hear a bit more of Rhysand’s perspective. I can understand him better as a character & and his motivations which surprisingly made a lot more sense to me. I guess I kind of forgot that Feyre spends maybe 7 minutes actually alone with Rhysand and her perspective (the only one we get) is understandably colored by his heinous public persona which is an act he uses (to protect himself, his court, and Feyre) from Amarantha.

    All in all, I think you’d like the second book far better than the first. A lot of those creepy and wrong messages are have the spotlight shone on them. I think it might be eye opening for a lot of readers who accepted Tamlin and Rhysand’s behavior. Trust me, in book 2 Maas makes it clear the disrubing and manipulative behavior both men exibit is just that. She draws clear parallels between the love interests sexual coersion and Amarantha which I liked. She makes it clearer that these issues were hints at Tamlin and Rhysand’s characters. I think she wanted to give the abuse the amount of writing it deserved and there wasn’t a place to address all of it in the first book.

    I hope you give book 2 a chance. I think the author was playing the long game here

  13. Hey, Tiff! I am finally able to read your review! I finished reading ACoTaR and now halfway through ACoMaF so I think it is safe to read this!

    I agree with you. Although it didn’t really bother me personally as much as it should since I am looking at this through grown-up lenses and totally know that this is all fiction BUT I also realize that this is read by impressionable teens and violence/abuse is NOT OKAY. So yes, this book and others like it may be sending a message – and not a good one. I remember Twilight and Fifty Shades when I think of books not sending the right message. *sigh

    Although I enjoyed this book, I definitely had problems with this. I know that this is slated for a much older audience but my jaw just dropped when I read the sexuality and abuse in this book. I am also not going to touch on ACoMaF because THAT gets more sexual, too. I get that some of the things that happened here was forced on by Amarantha but with Tamlin NOT doing ANYTHING about it just made me scream in anger! Obvs I am hating that the initial couple here is going to be for naught because in the second book, Tamlin just gets more controlling and abusive. Which actually made me think that Feyre’s sacrifice WAS USELESS!

    I actually love bad boys and alpha males in general because that is what I’m used to reading (historical romance yo!) BUT I draw the line to abuse: physical, sexual, or mental, etc. Maybe I should rephrase my statement. I love reformed bad boys. It’s the redeeming that I absolutely love to read, with their anger and alpha natures not really directed to the heroine.

    I am sloooowwly plodding through ACoMaF because it’s slowly starting to feel too much for me….

  14. Bazza Hazzason

    yo so if you read ACOMAF then read ACOTAR , you’ll notice the abusive patterns of Tamlin, that ‘sexy wall scene’ was anything but, Feyre told him to back off yet he didn’t. Even under the mountain, Rhys gave Tamlin a chance to free Feyre but he used that chance to have sex instead of doing something useful. So plot twist and spoiler alert it turns out Rhys and Feyre are mates, but Feyre didnt know it, only Rhys did, under the mountain he drugged her to make her forget about the horrors. When Feyre is about to marry Tamlin at the start of ACOMAF she freaks out because Tamlin and Ianthe are suffocating her, not giving her freedom. So at that time Feyre was pleading in her mind screaming for someone to help, and through the mating bond Rhys heard and saved her taking her to the night court for a week where she learnt to read and make mental shields to block Rhys’ power. When she returned Tamlin again cut off her freedom, until he locked her in the manor. Feyre scared shitless of not being able to escape that the walls were closing in, freaked out. Rhys sent his cousin Mor to rescue Feyre and she came back to the night court she was skinnier than before and pale. She decided to stay with Rhys in the night court and when she had the chance to return to the spring court she stayed with Rhys. Then she found out they were mates and everything he did was in order to protect her from under the mountain, she accepted the mating bond and ladadadada shes in love with Rhys and feels nothing for Tamlin.

  15. Carrie

    Rhysand’s ‘bad boy’ behavior is actually explained in the 2nd book. He’s trying to protect his court from evil by convincing the world that it’s a crap hole not worth attacking. His home means everything to him, so he becomes a different person to fit the part of the despicable lord to a despicable place.

  16. I haven’t read the book but I also noticed something similar to this in Sarah j mass’s heir of fire where one of the characters rowan bites celaena when they have some kind of altercation. And during the times they were together he treated her like shit. I never liked the guy and it annoys me that they are portrayed as a perfect couple. The author seems to have a thing for all this primal rubbish and scars as well. It’s disturbing.

    • Ella

      If I remember correctly the altercation was that they were being chased by supernatural beings that were going to brutally murder them and they would have been caught because Aelin was in her human form and he had to do something to provoke her to shift so they can outrun them

      And as to treating her like shit, you have to be a liar ti say that you didn’t meet someone and you immediately go I don’t like them and having preconceived notions of them and so you treat them like shit and usually with the help of someone to *figuratively* pull your head out of your arse)and you get to know them and find they’re not all bad and become friends with them

  17. Ella

    Okay I’m gonna say one thing RHYSAND WAS NOT THE ONLY MIND READER UNDER THE MOUNTAIN AND IF HE HAD GOTTEN FEYRES CONSENT ARMANTHIA WOULD HAVE FOUND OUT THROUGH FEYRE’S UNPROTECTED MIND AND THEY WOULD ALL BE DEAD.

    • Thalia

      Ella
      THANK. YOU. This is one HUUUGE thing that people have been glossing over. As Rhys was “Amarantha’s whore”, he was constantly tested for his loyalty to Amarantha. If anyone had found out that Feyre was sided with Rhys, that would mean that Rhys would be against Amarantha and like you said, they would all die. So Rhys had to do terrible, terrible things in order to make Feyre hate him and make sure she had no thoughts of associating with him.

      • Yes, and you think those terrible things were justified? Even with the “long game” that people keep telling me about, I don’t believe that drugging a person and then potentially raping or hurting her counts as protecting her.

        • thalia

          No. This is NOT justified. You’re reading into this wrong. A good choice does not undo a bad. What I’m saying is what Rhys did was NECESSARY. Rhys was choosing what would ensure the survival of the people Under the Mountain, and choosing what would NOT doom Feyre. Again, I am not saying that Rhys was justified. I am saying what he did was choosing the lesser of two evils. And also, it was never said that Rhys was going to rape her.

  18. I came across this post when I was doing some (more) research for my thesis and I’m so pleased someone else is addressing this issue. The fandom is VERY quick to defend Rhysand’s actions which is so sickening. SJM herself said that “What’s fun about creating this faerie world, is that I kinda get to do what I want with it.” And she did this. She built this entire fantasy world and relied on a very realistic and (for some people) triggering situation that is oft too reminiscent of what happens in day-to-day life. On a much baser level, it just comes across as lazy writing.
    If Rhys were a real human in real life, and his appeal was that he had a tough childhood, or that he wanted her to be blissfully ignorant of her current situation, no jury/media/person, would stand for that, and the fact that so many people do in this series is sickening to me.
    Thank you, thank you, for this awesome post.

  19. Anne Hartung

    This is really interesting, and something I’ve been thinking about since I finished the book yesterday. (note: I have not yet read ACOMAF)
    I did not feel the romance between Feyre and Tamlin, at all, and like you pointed out, found the biting scene confusing and kind of abusive.
    As for Rhysand, I’m torn. He intrigues me. Maybe it’s because the Bad Boy trope is a quilty pleasure of mine, or just that every scene with Rhysand is meant to disorient you, as Feyre is experiencing a lot of mixed feelings about the High Lord.
    As I read the late night visits from Rhys, I was intrigued with Rhysand. He felt like a misunderstood and extremely sad character, but still had the occasional moments of superiority. And this is also why I have such mixed feelings about him.
    The drugging and licking of Feyre’s cheeks sat bad with me. I was left with a bad taste in my mouth, to the point where I was sure I absolutely did not like Rhysand. But then again and again there would be subtle indications of someone else – almost like he had this facade that I really didn’t like, but still, the drugging is not something I’m likely to forget.
    Moving on. The kissing scene with Feyre was actually something that I really liked. I did not view it as abusive or an act of sexual assault, but more as a means to protect all of them. The instant his head jerked to the door, I was reminded of a scene in Captain America, where Steve Rogers and Natasja Romanov kisses in public – with Natasja being the one initiating the kiss – to avoid being caught by HYDRA agents. And I think this is the point where I – again – began to have mixed feelings about Rhysand.
    To me, a lot of what Rhysand did, he did to save his own skin, and not with an ulterior motive of assaulting Feyre (even though the comment he threw at her about having her if he willed it left me nauseated)
    I hope ACOMAF will be able to clear up some of my feelings about Rhysand, but for now I shall see this story as my guilty pleasure reading, BECAUSE there are problematics of abuse and sexual assault that I myself simply cannot decide how I feel about.
    I hope this all made sense.

  20. Evie

    I’m glad someone said it. Does it really matter why he did it? It shouldn’t. This is why I had to stop after book 1. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences, and it’s impossible to read this sort of thing for entertainment.

  21. I think to understand the ACOTAR series properly you have to go back to the source material in Beauty and the Beast there are 2 love interests for Belle – The beast who is eventually falls in love with and Gaston – who is despised. But we have to remember that Belle spends most of the movie terrified of the beast and its only towards the end that she begins to see the real “beast”, and I thinks its the same with Rhysland she is frightened of him at times but she never fears for her life and eventually she comes to understand and love him. While the way SJM went about it is slightly questionable in the overall context of the series Tamlin and Rhysland’s action ARE JUSTIFIED.

  22. And as someone who has dealt with sexual assualt and rape in real life this doesn’t even come close if anything it is a relationship where the balance of power between partners is constantly shifting causing tension and anger between the pair but neither oversteps any boundaries set by the other

  23. Jamie

    Neither character is perfect (nor Feyre herself actually). While reading ACOTAR, there are moments of discomfort and dislike for both male leads. By saying that the characters should have behaved better, you rob readers of a chance to see different forms of abuse and learn from them. Both characters don’t behave in a 100% completely ethical way, in the same way that people don’t behave in a completely ethical way.

    Tamlin bits her, and his excuse is that he’s under a spell/ he really wants her – Feyre as a character is both upset but also aroused. You can see there the start of how many abusive relationships are formed, and (spoilers) in ACOMAF, she deals with more of the consequences of this relationship that felt light and airy, but has this underlying tension of abuse and an disregard of what Feyre wants.

    Similarly, under the mountain, Rhys also doesn’t treat her with the respect she deserves (both men often keep her in the dark about the ongoings of what’s happening). His intentions seem apparent in ACOTAR – he’s trying to maintain his mask, give her an ally, and also subtly stand up to Amarantha. That doesn’t justify his behavior, and it isn’t meant to. It’s meant to demonstrate that people are complex and make complex choices in difficult circumstances. He’s doing what he thinks is the best for everyone’s survival (not just his, not just Feyres – his repeated mercy towards other characters in ACOTAR is indication of that), and although he’s not in the right, if you spend more time trying to understand his motivations you can see how he sees several bad choices and picks the option that seem the best to him. You may not agree with what he chose and in a similar situation you may have behaved differently, but that’s the point of seeing characters in these types of situations – it helps you understand your personal gage of right and wrong.

    It is also very irresponsible for you to say that Rhys would have raped her. Based on the circumstances, it’s an unfair conclusion that’s not substantiated. Throughout ACOTAR, Rhys had ample opportunity to rape her if that was his intention – she was drugged every night and she wouldn’t have known. The reason for the paint all over her body is so that the next morning, Feyre can clearly see that no one has touched her. You see in ACOTAR how Rhys himself is torn apart by the sexual abuse that he experiences, and to accuse him of planning to inflict that same sexual abuse on someone else even when he takes steps to ensure it’s clear that he won’t is careless of you.

  24. Jane

    I definitely agree.

    This was my first SJM book and I had already heard her books could be problematic, but the Rhys stuff just grossed me out so badly. I personally don’t care much for her writing and then the last third of the book was just too much. The fact that ‘grabbing someone by the pussy’ doesn’t stop them from winning an election demonstrates how far people are willing to go to excuse this kind of behavior.

    I hate that Rhys and his past is played up for melodrama. He’s ‘troubled’ and a ‘bad boy’ and has his own history of abuse, which leads a lot of people to excuse those actions. No matter his intentions, everything he did was SO gross and terrible.

    I’m really glad you are calling it out. I am 1000% in agreement with you – the fact that we do call out Twilight, 50 Shades, and GoT means we definitely shouldn’t ignore what happens elsewhere, whether we like it or not, or whether or not it’s super popular.

  25. Dev

    When I read ACOTAR, I remember instantly liking it because Feyre is introduced as a hunteress. I really liked the way SJM showed us the dysfunctional family in poverty. I remember hating Nesta, pitying Elain and admiring Feyre. Then the romantic plot kicked in and i still continued reading it, because the writing seemed good and the pace was interesting.

    I expected it to be a lot like other extremely popular YA novels in which abuse and lack of consent is made romantic, and I remember getting to those scenes between Tamlin and Feyre and getting kind of disappointed by the fact that this well written book to had a unrealistic romance. I really didn’t feel like Tamlin and Feyre would make a good couple, the romance felt forced and personally it felt like Lucian would have been a better choice for Feyre.
    In the first book, I didn’t know what to make of Rhysand. He felt like a very extra character. Important enough, but does he really require that much of a “screentime”? (Spoilers, the same way I felt about Jurian in the beginning of the third book)

    After I read the second book, everything suddenly made sense. I was so pleasantly surprised that everything that felt wrong in the first book was pointed out and exposed. I went in with low expectations and curiosity on how SJM could continue where it left off as the first book had a “happy ending”. We got to see Tamlin in war time vs Tamlin in time of peace, Feyre as human vs Feyre as a powerful fae and those things seemed very realistic and legitimate, not forced like a lot of things felt in the first book. It’s fun comparing the behaviours of various characters after “happily ever after”.

    ( Tamlin during book1 : I let Lucian talk to me like that because I enforce no statuses in my court and expect him to call out on my bullshit.

    Tamlin during book2: Okay, now that everything is back to normal, know your place Lucian.

    Meanwhile Rhys : I like to think that my Illyrian-brothers-from-other-mothers and I can handle anything but truth be told no one can help us from my cousin sister and I’m literally terrified of my second-in-command. )

    I started appreciating Rhys’ character more as I learned of his reasons. I know that sounds like a bullshit excuse to the people who has not read it, but I’m not going to spoil it for you, you’re gonna have to read the book.
    I really liked the characterisation of Nesta through the first and the second book and strangely enough, I kind of started to respect her. Elain too, she reminds me of a kind of person Azriel would have been if he was born in different circumstances. Maybe that’s why they get along so well.
    SJM plays a long game, but in the end it seems worth it. (I actually didn’t like the TOG series as well as I liked the ACOMAF series, but more on that later )

    The first book seems like a net to fish for people who like that sort of books (Twillight, 50 shades) and the second book shows them how such concepts are wrong and dangerous.

    Once you read the second book, the first one seems like a prequel. I can’t even begin to tell how much I love Cassian, Azriel, Mor, Nesta, Elain and Amren. The inner circle is precious and must be protected at all costs, Rhysand seems to think so too, no wonder he did what he did. Obviously what he did was selfish, but I think as the High Lord of Night Court, wanting to protect his court at all cost can be justified.

    Rhysand relationship between him and Feyre is anything but abusive. Honestly that’s the last thing from it. You’ll understand when you read the book. Being mates surprisingly is not the reason their relationship works out (See: Rhysand’s parents), it’s because they were friends first and lovers later, and honestly that’s the kind of relationship we all wish to have.

    And as for the most controversial topic, Rhysand isn’t actually a Bad Boy at all, he seems more like ‘call mom every friday and smile at little children’. Looking back, this seems like such a weird statement.
    The second book isn’t perfect ( Example :The drama in Hewn City was not really necessary, it just seemed more like fan service and an excuse to get back to the Bad Boy/Bad Girl trope) that being said, its much better than the first one.

    Tldr; Give ACOMAF a shot.

  26. Thank you Thank you for pointing this out! As a sexual abuse survivor, I was completely sickened by Rhys actions in ACOTAR. He had no right to make Feyre feel shamed and violated the way he did. I completely agree that the long game does not justify his actions. He still put her through a lot of mental turmoil thus contributing to the PTSD that she later develops. It bothers me that the fandom is so quick to explain this away, do not be nieve thinking that Rhys actions played no part in her mental instability later on. Please. I’ve been feeling so alone in this opinion because my friends that have read this series completely ship Rhys and Feyre’s relationship and I just can not get on board. As an aspiring writer, you can bet that these types of sexually abusive relationships, if present, will be seen as just that. Sexually abusive. My character’s actions will not be explained away by weak storytelling. This whole, “he had to because” excuse is disturbing. He did not have to, he could have found another way. Besides Rhys actions, I did enjoy this book overall. The retelling of the Scottish tale of Tam Lin was excellent.

  27. I found you!!! Finally someone who noticed these things in Rhysands behavior and called him out! I thought I was the only one! I loved and I mean absolutely adored Tamlin in this book. That incident on fire night did concern me but Tamlin himself would have never done it to her. He was under powerful magic and he told Feyre not to come out because of that. And even under magic he held himself back even though Feyre was clearly wanting more. He still treated her respectably. He was amazing ughhh! I was so in love with him in this book and never for a moment was for Rhysand. I’ve not read the other books yet, I’ve read that the author does a major character reverse between these two in the next book but I’m sure when I do, I’ll hate the author for ruining my Tamlin!

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