Nesta Archeron has always been prickly proud, swift to anger, and slow to forgive. And ever since being forced into the Cauldron and becoming High Fae against her will, she’s struggled to find a place for herself within the strange, deadly world she inhabits. Worse, she can’t seem to move past the horrors of the war with Hybern and all she lost in it.
The one person who ignites her temper more than any other is Cassian, the battle-scarred warrior whose position in Rhysand and Feyre’s Night Court keeps him constantly in Nesta’s orbit. But her temper isn’t the only thing Cassian ignites. The fire between them is undeniable, and only burns hotter as they are forced into close quarters with each other.
Meanwhile, the treacherous human queens who returned to the Continent during the last war have forged a dangerous new alliance, threatening the fragile peace that has settled over the realms. And the key to halting them might very well rely on Cassian and Nesta facing their haunting pasts.
Against the sweeping backdrop of a world seared by war and plagued with uncertainty, Nesta and Cassian battle monsters from within and without as they search for acceptance and healing in each other’s arms.
Note: this review contains references to previous books in the series and minor spoilers.
CW: this book contains mentions of abuse, rape, violence, explicit sexual content, death, grief, trauma, addiction, suicidal thoughts, misogyny, body shaming, and torture.
I loved all the books in the ACOTAR series so far, so when I heard Nesta would be getting her own book I was equal parts excited to return to this world and concerned about her as the main character. It turns out, I was right to be concerned, but for the wrong reasons. Nesta Archeron as a protagonist actually ended up being the thing I enjoyed most in what was an otherwise disappointing and underwhelming read.
At the start of the book, Nesta is a shadow of her former self, as she has seemingly lost all interest in life and passes her nights getting drunk in seedy taverns and sleeping with strangers. Nesta is clearly struggling to cope in the aftermath of the war with Hybern and all the trauma of being transformed into High Fae, going through a war and the violence and death that follows. Always a difficult person, her anger, venom and need to lash out at everyone around her seem to now have increased tenfold as she struggles to fit in with the rest of the Inner Circle.
Here is also where my problems with the book started. One of my main sources of disappointment was the way characters I had loved in previous books suddenly seemed completely changed in the way they relate to Nesta and push her to change her behaviour and, ultimately, herself. Rhys, Amren and Mor (for the short time she’s actually around) seem nothing like the supportive, understanding characters who helped Feyre recover from her trauma and reach her full potential in previous books.
Now, were Nesta’s coping mechanisms for dealing with trauma healthy? No. Should trauma be used to justify her behaviour and nastiness towards others? Also no. Is any of this a good reason for the Inner Circle to constantly belittle, body shame and slut-shame Nesta? Absolutely not. In particular, Mor’s suggestion that Nesta should be sent to the Court of Nightmares for engaging in activities that were harmful to no one but herself (and Rhys’ wallet), when Mor herself had been punished by her awful family for doing something not all that different actually enraged me. And this is all without even getting into Rhys’ own patronising and controlling behaviour, both towards Nesta and towards Feyre, which would make this review way too long.
I also can’t get over the fact that so much hostility towards Nesta is ostensibly rooted in her behaviour towards Feyre while they were in the mortal world, but none of it is extended to Elain, who was guilty of the exact same thing. Both of them were older than Feyre, and neither of them did anything at all to help her save them from starvation. Yet, for some reason, all is forgiven for poor, sweet, innocent, hypocritical, manipulative Elain but Nesta must atone for her sins and be punished for her past inactions. Elain is easily the character I dislike the most, in case you were wondering.
Despite all this, I did like the way Nesta’s character grows and develops throughout the book. Her journey towards healing and self-acceptance is not an easy one, but it was great to see her persevere and find her place in the world. I loved the whole “Valkyrie” element and her friendship with Gwyn and Emerie, two characters I wish we’d seen more of throughout. Cassian was also great, and I loved how supportive he was of Nesta. I also liked having the dual POV, even though Cassian’s inner voice sounds more like that of a horny teenager than a centuries-old, mature male.
Which brings me to my next big issue with this book. There was way too much smut. Now, I don’t have a problem with sex scenes in general and I do appreciate them when they’re well-written and add depth to the book. Here, however, it was just too much for my taste and I found most of the scenes to be repetitive, with ACOTAR’s signature mix of growling, purring, roaring, etc. being repeated again, and again, and again… The plot was virtually non-existent for the majority of the book, as over half of it is Nesta training, shelving books and having sex. What little plot there was felt rushed, and most elements were predictable and/or deeply unrealistic within the world of the book.
SPOILER (hover to reveal)
Overall, I was entertained and did enjoy the book (and I will definitely read the next in the series), but I was very disappointed by it, probably because my expectations were too high. Despite its length, I was left wanting more, in terms of characters but also plot-wise. The pacing and editing felt off, I almost forgot the villains existed, and there were also way too many elements that for me were problematic. I ended up really liking and rooting for Nesta, a character I had always found difficult, and so ultimately it was worth reading for me even though it didn’t live up to the previous chapters in the series.