70 pages 2 hours read

Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide


A Court of Thorns and Roses (2015) is the first novel in the adult high fantasy series of the same name by Sarah J. Maas. The novel is a loose retelling of the 16th-century Scottish ballad of Tam Lin, heavily influenced by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot Villeneuve’s classic, Beauty and the Beast, and various Celtic faerie and folklore traditions. Maas combines generic elements of fantasy, adventure, and romance to explore sacrifice and moral compromise as the duty of love. Maas is also the author of the young adult high fantasy series Throne of Glass (2012), which is inspired by the Cinderella fairy tale and another adult high fantasy series, Crescent City (2020). A New York Times bestseller, the A Court of Thorns and Roses series was optioned by Hulu for a television adaptation. This guide references the 2020 Bloomsbury paperback edition.

Content Warning: The source text and this guide include depictions of graphic violence and sexual coercion.

Plot Summary

Feyre Archeron, a 19-year-old huntress, stalks a doe in the woods near the border wall between the human and faerie realms. Five centuries ago, enslaved humans fought a war for their freedom from their faerie overlords, and now all humans live cramped together in the southern part of the world. Humans still hate and fear faeries, especially the High Fae, the powerful, shape-shifting humanoid faerie ruling class. Feyre is the sole provider for her father and sisters since her merchant father lost the family fortune. Desperate to feed her family, Feyre kills an enormous wolf who is actually a faerie in disguise. The next day, Tamlin, the High Lord of the Spring Court in the faerie realm of Prythian, appears at Feyre’s cabin and demands to know who murdered his friend. Learning it was Feyre, he tells her that she can either return with him to Prythian or be killed as punishment for murdering the faerie. She chooses to go with him to Prythian.

At first, Feyre is wary of the Spring Court and desperate to return to her family. Tamlin, though brusque, ensures Feyre is comfortable and arranges for her family’s provision in her absence. All the faeries of Tamlin’s court are cursed to permanently wear the masks they donned for a masquerade nearly 50 years ago. Feyre strikes up a friendship with Tamlin’s friend and emissary, a High Fae named Lucien. Feyre discovers her many misconceptions about the faerie realm, and she traps a Suriel, a truth-telling faerie, to learn more about a dark force threatening all of Prythian. Later, this force is revealed to be Amarantha, the self-appointed Faerie Queen of Prythian and a vicious general in the war against humans 500 years ago. Feyre accidentally attracts the attention of the evil naga faeries but manages to free the Suriel and kill two of the naga before she is rescued by Tamlin.

Feyre and Tamlin grow closer and begin to respect one another. Feyre attempts to overcome her illiteracy, and Tamlin provides Feyre with paints and canvas to explore her artistic dreams. One night, Tamlin brings home an injured faerie from the Summer Court whom Feyre comforts as it dies. Afterwards, Feyre expresses her regret over killing the faerie wolf. Tamlin opens up to Feyre, despite having a heart that Lucien says is made of “stone.” At the springtime faerie festival of Calanmai, Feyre is rescued from an attack by Rhysand, a High Fae later revealed to be the High Lord of the Night Court of Prythian. After the festival, Tamlin bites and kisses Feyre in a magic-induced passion, having warned her to stay away from him that night. Tamlin and Feyre develop romantic feelings for one another and share an intimate kiss during the Summer Solstice. Feyre’s self-confidence grows, as does Amarantha’s power. While on an errand for Amarantha, Rhysand learns that Feyre lives at the Spring Court. Tamlin decides to send Feyre home for her own protection. Before Feyre leaves, she and Tamlin are sexually intimate, and Tamlin tells Feyre he loves her. Feyre is too scared to tell Tamlin that she returns his feelings.

At home, Feyre finds that her family is thriving, and she realizes her mistake in leaving Prythian. She returns to a ransacked Spring Court, where her former lady-in-waiting explains the curse on Tamlin and the threat to Prythian. Amarantha cursed Tamlin for refusing to be her lover. Tamlin had to convince a human woman to marry him in 49 years or be forced to become Amarantha’s consort. Amarantha stole power from Prythian’s High Lords and now rules tyrannically, plotting a new war against humans. Feyre could have broken the curse by telling Tamlin she loved him, but now it is too late. Feyre goes to Amarantha’s court Under the Mountain to rescue Tamlin. Amarantha offers Feyre a deal: Feyre must complete three tasks to free Tamlin and break the curse. Additionally, Feyre can solve a riddle at any time and break the curse immediately.

Feyre defeats a giant worm in Amarantha’s first task, but she is badly wounded. Rhysand heals Feyre in exchange for her company for one week out of every month for the rest of her life. Rhysand marks their bargain with a tattoo on Feyre’s arm and flaunts a drugged Feyre in front of Tamlin at the nightly faerie feasts. Rhysand secretly plots against Amarantha and wants to manipulate Tamlin into a killing rage against her. For the second of Amarantha’s tasks, Feyre must pull the correct lever to save herself and Lucien from a descending spiked grate. Feyre almost fails when she is unable to read the clues determining the right lever, but Rhysand telepathically intervenes. For the third task, Feyre must kill three innocent faeries. Distraught, Feyre kills the first two, but she stops when the third faerie is revealed to be Tamlin. Feyre realizes that Tamlin’s heart of stone is literal, an effect of the curse, and stabs him, outwitting Amarantha. Amarantha, furious at being defeated, tortures Feyre despite Rhysand’s attempts to intervene. Feyre solves Amarantha’s riddle and the curse on Tamlin is immediately broken; the answer is love. Amarantha breaks Feyre’s neck, killing her. Tamlin kills Amarantha, and the seven High Lords of Prythian resurrect Feyre as a High Fae. Feyre is traumatized and uncertain of her future as a High Fae, but Tamlin and Rhysand both try to comfort her. Feyre returns to the Spring Court with Tamlin.