This book was solidly good and yet something was wrong the entire time I was reading it that I couldn’t place my finger on until the end. And it’s this unfortunate conclusion that I came to:
This book was a slightly inferior version of a story that SJM has already told.
While several of the ACOTAR fan pages I follow had people ranting for months about how much they hate Nesta and how much they didn’t care about a book featuring Nesta I had 0 problems with this being a Nesta story. For one, we left Rhys and Feyre in a good place at the end of ACOWAR and the novella. We don’t need another Rhys and Feyre book, as much as we truly love them. So that makes what SJM stirred up with them in this book incredibly frustrating. More on that later. I was genuinely happy to have a spin-off book because SJM wrote such incredible supporting characters in the ACOTAR series that -any- of them could have their own book. That is profoundly hard to do and I have only respect for her accomplishing that. And Nesta was an obvious choice to go with in this spin-off series for all the reasons that so many fans were irked to see her chosen. She’s flawed, her personality is prickly and she often seems to be a direct contrast to Feyre, who was so easy to root for. And yet...
And yet I’d make the case that, by the end of ACOSF Nesta isn’t that different from Feyre and it’s because SJM followed the same formula for writing Nesta’s story that she did for writing Feyre’s. While Feyre is an unsung hero before Tamlin finds her in ACOTAR- saving her family from starvation and protecting them even as no one is protecting her- the way we find her at the open of ACOMAF is the same way we find Nesta at the start of ACOSF. They both hate themselves and are trying to punish themselves for the things they can’t live with. And while it’s safe to say most of us were shocked by the mate twist in ACOMAF it was no surprise in ACOSF - even to Cassian and Nesta themselves- even though we spend all of ACOSF dancing around what we all know is ultimately the inevitable. Cassian helps Nesta build back her strength- literally and figuratively- all the while he knows Nesta is his mate but he doesn’t want to scare her off with the news of it... sort of like Rhys, but in a less well-executed way if I’m being honest about the way it was written. In the end it’s no surprise to Nesta, who seems to already know they were mates. The thing we were building up to for the entire book sort of deflates with this realization once we get there. It wasn’t awful. Again, if I hadn’t read Rhys and Feyre’s story before this one I’d say it was really good. But we’ve been here. We’ve done this.
Aside from the fact that this is not new stuff, Cassian fell flat for me and I honestly expected better from him as a character. While Nesta grows and evolves- learning from her mistakes, her flaws, the way she’s hurt people- Cassian does some things that left a nasty taste in my mouth. For one, Nesta is his mate, but he seems most naturally himself around Feyre. For as little as they interact in this book the relationship he and Feyre have seems incredibly more pleasant and loving than any scene we are tossed between Nesta and Cassian. I’d argue that in several scenes he’s more protective of Feyre than Nesta. Maybe Rhys’s character set the bar too high for my expectations of a mated male, but I also can’t go over this idea that after Nesta and Cassian have their moment of soul-binding he goes off for a week and leaves her. Huh? I thought it was so intense that mated males couldn’t stand someone even looking at their mate sideways, and yet Cassian leaves Nesta for a week?! Either he’s a crappier character than I thought or the writing went off the rails here. Quite frankly, the explanation he gives for this behavior later is incredibly weak and doesn’t fit with what it seemed like we were taught to expect from a “mated male”. And again, there’s just this overall sense that Cassian is a watered-down and less well-executed Rhys formula- the wise male who is incredibly strong, good looking, heroic and yet also selfless person... except that Cass does have moments where he’s just not as great as Rhys was at this.
Maybe I’m reading them wrong. Maybe the point of the book is that Cass and Nesta are imperfectly perfect mates who make more mistakes together and come back together again because they are such a great fit. It seems like there has to be a reason this story was written this way, so let’s go with that because I don’t have any other theories.
I cannot leave this review without mentioning that we did -not- need the Feyre and Rhysand drama. This story stood on its own without bringing them into it with that. We only got one really incredible scene from this side plot (Nesta revealing the heartbreaking secret to Feyre was truly well-written), and in the meantime, as much as Rhys and Feyre continue to beautifully dominate every single scene they’re in, it didn’t serve this book well. It felt like a distraction. A sort of, “Here’s one for the people who can’t get over this not being a Rhys and Feyre book”. And, quite frankly, if you’re going to throw Feyre and Rhys into a life-threatening situation I NEED more scenes between them than what I got. This just wasn’t satisfying.
Things I liked:
Nesta. I liked her in the beginning and I knew I’d like her in the end. Her evolution as a character didn’t disappoint
The Valkyrie trio. This was unexpected and I liked it. It felt fresh in a story that was otherwise a little stale.
The House. MVP award for this book goes to the house. Who knew?! I loved this character.
The writing. I didn’t like how this story went down, but it was still beautifully written and the world-building was rich and true to what had already been established. I want more books from Velaris and the other supporting characters.
It’s not a bad book. It’s really not. But I’m not reading this book with unbiased eyes. SJM is too good for that. I’m comparing one SJM book to another and, for me, the caliber of writing in ACOMAF set the bar too high for this story to get five stars.