A Court of Mist and Fury Chapter 17: They Walk Up To The Plot And Immediately Turn Around

A Court of Mist and Fury: Chapter 17

After the last chapter’s crazy infodumping session dinner with the gang, Feyre ruminates on the most important takeaway.

Jurian.
The name clanged through me

Wait, that’s the most important takeaway? Why? Why would the most jarring detail that Feyre’s picked up on be a character she’s never met and was so buried in backstory/infodumping in the last book that my own reaction was less so “clanging” and more so “there was a character whose name started with a J, right?”

We know so little about Jurian, for all we know this COULD be his personality

But I guess this jarring detail isn’t that important, though, because Feyre immediately stops thinking about this and talks with Rhysand about other stuff. She asks him if she “felt” him because she managed to get past his shields during dinner, but he says no, and admits that the nature of the bond is a deus ex machina mysterious magic he doesn’t fully understand. Then she asks another question that’s not about Jurian.

“You let Amarantha and the entire world think you rule and delight in a Court of Nightmares. It’s all a front— to keep what matters most safe.”
The city lights gilded his face. “I love my people, and my family. Do not think I wouldn’t become a monster to keep them protected. […] When she tricked me out of my powers and left the scraps, it was still more than the others.”

…wait, why though? Ugh, nevermind. This is the villain whose evil plan was to wager the fate of the country on the world’s easiest riddle. Understanding Amarantha is a fool’s game.

“I decided to use it to tap into the mind of every Night Court citizen she captured, and anyone who might know the truth. I made a web between all of them, actively controlling their minds every second of every day, every decade, to forget about Velaris, to forget about Mor, and Amren, and Cassian, and Azriel. Amarantha wanted to know who was close to me— who to kill and torture. […] I had only enough [power] to [protect] one city – one place. I chose the one that had been hidden from history already. chose, and now must live with the consequences of knowing there were more left outside who suffered [and] to keep her from asking questions about the people who mattered, I [became] her whore.” […]
“It’s a shame,” I said […] “That others in Prythian don’t know. A shame that you let them think the worst.” […]
“As long as the people who matter most know the truth, I don’t care about the rest.”

I like how the morally grey choices at least make Rhysand a way more interesting character than Tamlin, but it’s still kind of weird that an entire city full of people exists not to make the reader to care about said people but to care about Rhysand.

That night, Feyre has a nightmare that Amarantha is torturing her, calling her a “lying, traitorous human” who’s “as much a monster as me”, promising that “I’m going to make eternity  hell for you” and getting into some unexpected body horror by taking a knife to Feyre’s breasts. The effect is muted somewhat when the description of Rhysand waking her up is somehow more off-putting than that.

“FEYRE.”
The voice was at once the night and the dawn and the stars and the earth, and every inch of my body calmed at the primal dominance in it.
“Open your eyes,” the voice ordered.

“Primal dominance” JFC isn’t the point of Rhysand as a love interest that he isn’t like Tamlin?

Feyre also wakes up from her nightmare to find that she’s acquired more magic powers, presumably of the fire-related variety judging off the singed bedsheets.

I lifted [my hand] to find my fingers ending in simmering embers. Living claws of flame that had sliced through my bed linens like they were cauterizing wounds

Dear ACOMAF, I know you hate having your characters do things aside from talking about things, but you have just introduced a character with fire claws. So help me god, you better actually USE this eventually.

Actually, that brings me to a very important point that I need to make before we go into the chapter’s last scene. Presumably by now you’ve gathered that I’m not the happiest with how much of this book is characters just talking about the plot, rather than actually advancing the plot. Almost everything that’s happened is people just talking about something that either happened in the distant past, in the present but somewhere else, or won’t be relevant until way later. Reading A Court of Mist and Fury doesn’t feel like reading a book anywhere near as much as it feels like reading Wikipedia summaries of four other books.

I want to emphasize that this isn’t just me griping about the book being slow – this is a legit storytelling fuck-up. This is the sort of thing that completely ruins stories if it goes unchecked, and I’m already worried we’re going in that direction. There’s a take I really like on this problem in Film Crit Hulk’s review of Star Wars: Rogue One. I’m gonna drop in the relevant section here, sans Star Wars context, and let’s just see how it works in regard to ACOMAF.

You can’t lack purpose and evolution in a sequence like this. […] We should be directly building to our climax with purpose and change. Instead, it’s all familiar wheel-spinning second act problems. So after this sequence was the first time I was like “huh… what are we doing here, guys? Where this going?” […]
Then our heroes come back to the Rebel base and they do my favorite thing that signifies a purposeless second act: they sit around a table and have a conversation where they invent the third act.
To make it clear, they have returned and LITERALLY NOTHING HAS CHANGED in terms of overall Rebel circumstance.

Now, we’re of course nowhere near the climax in ACOMAF (we’re just shy of a third of the way through, actually), but it sure has felt like it’s been going on absolutely forever, so I feel like it’s not unfair to point out that all of those problems are totally in ACOMAF. Is there a lack of purpose and evolution? Check – I have no idea what any of this is building to yet. Are people having conversations where they invent the next step in the plot even though the larger picture hasn’t even changed yet? Check – we have plenty of talks about what’s going on even though we don’t even have a larger picture. Are we wheel-spinning? Well, let’s take a look at this next scene and you tell me.

Feyre, Rhysand, and the new gang travel to an island housing the Prison – a mountain where Prythian’s most dangerous criminals and creatures are held, some of them more ancient than Prythian itself. (We learn than Amren refuses to join them on this adventure because she was held here once, which is a frustratingly more interesting subplot than the actual plot – but I digress.) They’re here to get information from a prisoner. This is – in all seriousness – the only existing plot point. This is the only action that the reader knows the characters need to take for the story to progress.

So what happens?

And I tried— I did— to take a step toward it.
My body refused to obey.
I tried to take a step again; I tried for Elain and Nesta and the human world that might be wrecked, but … I couldn’t.
“Please,” I whispered. I didn’t care if it meant that I’d failed my first day of work.
Rhysand, as promised, didn’t ask any questions as he gripped my hand and brought us back to the winter sun and rich colors of Velaris.
I didn’t get out of bed for the rest of the day.

This is how bad the narrative pacing and the inaction is in A Court of Mist and Fury, y’all. Our main character is literally walking up to the next arc in the plot, going “Nope!”, and turning around and walking away from it. I get that we’re at a point in Feyre’s character arc where she’s really suffering with her PTSD and simply cannot do anything, but it’s so hard to successfully do a story about a character who doesn’t want to do things that the best-known example of it, Hamlet, is 400 years old and we’re still talking about that one. Between Feyre’s inaction and how this book is 80% infodump, there’s very little actually inviting the reader to get invested in.

Also note that we only have this next step in the story now anyway because – recall the criticism from earlier – everyone sat around a table and had a conversation where they invented it.

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3 comments

  1. Rebecca Reply

    I’m still frustrated by how removed we feel from the action, when there is any. Her writing style isn’t very active, it’s mostly “was,” the dialogue is constantly talking about things away from the reader, and the plot is relentlessly slow. This book kept me plowing through it by ending nearly every chapter with a cliffhanger, not because I was interested in the story, and I basically started skipping over every time something was described because I knew it wouldn’t matter and it was overdone anyway. It’s just…not good.

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    • matthewjulius Post authorReply

      oh, yeah, I totally skimmed the chapter Ariel summarized before this one, just turning the pages and thinking “glad I’m not covering this one”

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  2. Krista B Reply

    I so agree with the overdone part. I don’t mind if you explain some things to me here and there, but the language is so over-the-top and dramatic sometimes. I think, “Just tell me what I need to know and let’s move on.”

    I forgot that Feyre went to the prison and then chickened out. I struggle with books where the main character has PTSD. I get that it’s realistic, but when the main character is depressed and can’t do anything, it’s hard to be in their head. Maybe it would have been better from another character’s POV or at least switching POVs. Actually, I just read something where SJM says she originally wrote ACOMAF switching between Feyre and Rhys’ POV, but then she and her editor changed it because they wanted the reader and Feyre to get the big reveals at the same time. If she had done Rhys’ approach, the reader would have known about some of it before Feyre does.

    In ACOMAF and ACOWAR (which I finished last night), part of my problem is my own brain. I am a person who is focused on one thing at a time. These books drive me crazy because they start down one path and then get distracted by other things and the whole time, my brain hurts from thinking, “Focus on what you’re supposed to be doing! Don’t go to bed!”

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