Hey there! Matthew here! No, it isn’t Friday! I hated this chapter so much that I asked Ariel if she’d be ok with switching this week. Now, it’s not really that I hate this chapter, per se, but rather that it’s a pretty good sampling of why I hate A Court of Mist and Fury. Now, I know a ton of people love this book, and apparently it’s one of the highest-rated books of all time on Goodreads, and I desperately want to understand why, because I am so very not seeing it.
I’m pretty sure I know where the root of the disagreement is. It starts with an R.
Also, sorry, this post is somehow over 3000 words long. I had some shit to process.
A Court of Mist and Fury: Chapter 45
The chapter kicks off with yet another needlessly non-chronological mess. The narrative skips ahead to Rhys and Feyre travelling to an Illyrian war camp for two paragraphs, then flashes back to scenes immediately following the action from the last chapter for three paragraphs, then skips ahead to the morning after (which is also the morning before if you’re counting from the first frame of reference we skipped ahead to) for a paragraph or so, then brings us back to what they’re doing at the war camp.
None of this has anything to do with why I hate Rhysand, of course. This is an unrelated reason why I hate reading this book.
So how did that night that we skipped and then flashbacked to pan out anyway?
We had danced. All of us together. And I had never seen Rhys so happy […] I didn’t lie to myself about why I waited for thirty minutes to see if my door would open. Or to at least hear a knock. But nothing.
I have a theory here: maybe if something happens immediately after the events of one chapter, but we only find out about it in a flashback after the narrative makes a point to skip past it anyway, maybe it’s not actually that important.
Which is a shame, because if this book has any semblance of a story, it is Feyre and Rhysand not acting on what slowly evolves from sexual tension to romantic tension. Which is not an inherently bad story! Feelings are hard. Just about anyone can relate to that. Feyre even narrates during this wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey sequence about the weight of her guilt about how she had loved Tamlin but now she’s finally being honest with herself that she has feelings for Rhysand. When you strip away the magic powers and the fancy estates, this story should feel relatable as fuck.
And yet I’m not rooting for these two. Something’s off.
This is gonna be the focus of today’s post, so I’m just gonna come bursting out of the gates with this one and put it as bluntly as I can: Rhysand is a fantasy fuckboy Christian Grey.
If A Court of Thorns and Roses suffered because the love interest Tamlin had all the personality of drywall with some unfortunately obvious spackle here and there, A Court of Mist and Fury is even worse because Rhysand is actively repulsive.
This chapter conveniently has examples for most of the reasons why. (Don’t worry, I don’t talk about neoliberalism in this one, although I maintain my point about how Velaris is Rhysand’s shitty white flight suburban utopia still stands.)
Built near the top of a forested mountain, the Illyrian camp was all bare rock and mud […] So many winged males soaring past on their way to other camps or in training. […] This was where Rhys, Azriel, and Cassian had grown up. [They] were silent as a tall, broad-shouldered older male approached, flanked by five other Illyrian warriors […] No matter that Rhys could rip their minds apart without lifting a finger. […]
“Another camp inspection? Your dog,” he jerked his chin at Cassian, “was here just the other week. The girls are training.”
Cassian crossed his arms. “I don’t see them in the ring.”
“They do chores first,” the male said, shoulders pushing back and wings flaring slightly, “then when they’ve finished, they get to train.”
Look, it’s obviously a good thing that Rhysand has some genuine interests in equal rights, but after reading almost 450 pages of his attempts to pursue them, I think it’s fair to say that his methods both 1) don’t address the systemic nature of the problem, and 2) are almost entirely just him strong-arming people who don’t respect him into giving him largely symbolic victories.
In other words, Rhysand’s only skill is intimidation, and we’re supposed to be impressed anyway.
Rhys said at last, “Pleasant as it always is to see you, Devlon, there are two matters at hand: First, the girls, as you were clearly told by Cassian, are to train before chores, not after. Get them out on the pitch. Now.” I shuddered at the pure command in that tone.
This is a huge problem because not only does it make me less sympathetic to Rhysand, but it also makes him boring. All. He. Ever. Does. Is. Threaten. People. With. Excessive. Violence.
“And if any of you lay a hand on [Feyre], you lose that hand. And then you lose your head. […] And once Feyre is done killing you,” Rhys smirked, “then I’ll grind your bones to dust.”
Jesus Christ, how many times have we seen this by now? We can make a fucking Rhysand diplomacy madlib: “If you don’t do what I say, I will [act of violence]. And then I will [a slightly more sadistic act of violence]. And if you don’t do what I want after that, I will [a redundant act of violence].” I’m bored of this. I’m certainly not impressed by this. All Rhysand knows how to do is utilize rhetoric of escalation and hope it impresses people enough into doing what he wants, but when all you ever do is escalate, that rhetoric becomes hollow and toxic and it becomes obvious you have no idea how to actually be convincing just like – nope, actually like no one, can’t think of any present-day heads of state that behavior reminds me of lol jk nvm
Rhysand tells whatshisface (does any minor character’s name really matter anymore) that he and his friends will be staying at the camp for the time being for reasons. Rhysand leaves Mor behind while he goes off with Feyre to train in private.
“We’ll be back at nightfall.” He gave his cousin a look. “Try to stay out of trouble, please. Devlon hates us the least of the war-lords and I don’t feel like finding another camp.”
ISN’T HE IN CHARGE? What the fucking fuck is the power dynamic between Rhysand and literally any of his staff where he’s 1) their boss and 2) an unmatchable threat to their well-being (which this book is nearly masturbatory about constantly reminding us), but he’s somehow he is the one worried about upsetting them?
And, sure, in real life, Rhysand’s constant threats of violence would probably contribute to why none of his people seem to respect him, but keep in mind that ACOMAF keeps framing his, um, leadership style as a good quality. So everyone is somehow simultaneously terrified of Rhysand but also openly hostile towards him? Why does everyone seem to value their lives so little? Why is that the question I have about literally everyone in Rhysand’s government? Why are we supposed to find this attractive?
ANYWAY there’s still a ton of chapter left. Not in terms of things actually happening (hahaha surely you’re not expecting any of that by this point in this book), just in terms of people infodumping their backstories. And I mostly mean Rhysand. This entire book is Rhysand using Feyre to vent his angst instead of getting a goddamn therapist, and – hot take alert – this book is actually 100% about that and 0% about Feyre.
ANYWAY ANYWAY Rhysand flies Feyre to secret mountain training and Feyre asks him a bazillion unrelated questions about his backstory.
“Most camp-lords never would have given the three of us a shot at the Blood Rite. Devlon let a half-breed and two bastards take it – and did not deny us our victory.” […]
“What’s the Blood Rite?”
“So many questions today.”
Rhysand, how is this different from literally any other conversation you two have had in this entire book?
Ok, let’s take a step back. First, Feyre asks Rhysand about how he’s training female warriors.
“Trying to.” Rhys gazed across the brutal landscape. “I banned wing-clipping a long, long time ago, but … at the more zealous camps, deep within the mountains, they do it. And when Amarantha took over, even the milder camps started doing it again. To keep their women safe, they claimed. […] Devlon is one of the few who even lets the girls train without a tantrum.”
“I’d hardly call disobeying orders ‘without a tantrum.’”
“Some camps issued decrees that if a female was caught training, she was to be deemed unmarriageable. I can’t fight against things like that, not without slaughtering the leaders of each camp and personally raising each and every one of their offspring.”
And yet that’s exactly how we see Rhysand try to solve his other sociopolitical issues.
Second, this is when Feyre asks Rhysand about the Blood Rite. It’s a rite of passage for Illyrian warriors. It’s basically fantasy Hunger Games. You’re all caught up. I guess ACOMAF really wants us to know Hunger Games was an influence, as if the female lead character suddenly losing just about all her agency in the narrative in the sequels wasn’t tribute enough.
Third, Feyre asks Rhysand about how he knows Tamlin. (I know. No rhyme or reason.) Rhysand breaks into yet another incredibly traumatic story from his past (I know. Again.) and to summarize:
- They met through “various court functions” and Rhysand thought Tamlin “seemed decent for a High Lord’s son”, and pitied how shitty and abusive his father and brothers were, so he befriended him and taught him Illyrian fighting secrets, which pissed everyone off.
- Eventually, for unrelated reasons, Tamlin and his father and their brothers decided to go murder Rhysand’s mother and sister. Yeah, no, Tamlin seriously goes from “we were friends” to “he helped murder my family” just like that, no explanation. Tamlin just sucks, I guess? Surprise.
- Rhysand went with his father on a revenge mission in the middle of the night. Rhysand murdered Tamlin’s brothers, but then Rhysand’s father killed not just Tamlin’s father but also mother – which they had agreed not to do
- Rhysand then stopped his father when he made a move for Tamlin’s room, which is when Tamlin woke up and realized what happened. Rhysand “didn’t even get to say a word before Tamlin killed my father in one blow.”
- Because two High Lords had now died, their title and power magically shifted to their two sons. Rhysand and Tamlin took one look at each other, and Rhysand ran away.
“Matthew, what the fuck? How can you read a chapter that has that in it and decide this is why you need to talk about why you hate Rhysand?” Yeah, I hear you, this is a devastating fucked up story (that makes no sense because Tamlin’s motivations have never been made clear at any point in this book or the previous book, but we’re not gonna focus on Tamlin right now).
We’re gonna return to my “this is why I hate Rhysand” point in a second, but we should wrap up how the book positions Feyre and Rhysand’s takeaways from this reveal.
Feyre is horrified by the whole thing. She realizes that both Tamlin and Rhysand hid the truth from her about how their families died, how she almost married Tamlin who would (for apparently no goddamn reason) do such a thing, and this puts her in a rage where she taps into fire, ice, water, and dark magic, and somehow hearing this story becomes an empowering thing?
Embers flared around us, floating in the air, and I sent out a breath of soothing dark, a breath of ice and water […] The power did not belong to the High Lords. Not any longer.
It belonged to me – as I belonged only to me
But of course she’s still chill with Rhysand. He’s hot.
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” […]
“I didn’t want you to think I was trying to turn you against him,” he said. […]
“I want to paint you.”
He gently lifted me into his arms. “Nude would be best,” he said in my ear.
ALRIGHT LET’S TALK ABOUT WHY I HATE RHYSAND
Remember way earlier in this post where I said Rhysand is a fantasy fuckboy Christian Grey? Let’s break that down.
Fantasy – It’s a fantasy novel. That’s the easy part. See? We got this!
Fuckboy – Ok, this is a little less easy. Language is tricky, and language is insufficient. The origins of the term “fuckboy” are full of misunderstanding and, like a lot of slang, cultural appropriation. Also typical of evolving language, definitions shift, become insufficient, new terms catch on. Alan Hanson’s essay, “Have You Encountered the Softboy” describes shitty dating behavior that, well, see if it makes you think of anyone else:
The Fuckboy, in his current form, aims for the night, aims for the break, goals to ghost. The Softboy strings you along under loftier auspices. He is Nice yet Complicated; this isn’t just a hookup. It’s a series of such. […]
The Fuckboy is perplexed that you were upset when he forgot to text you for three days then sent “what are you up to” at last call. The Softboy knows this behavior is selfish and cruel, though his desire to get laid can trump this. He feels shame. He does it again.
Clearly Rhysand isn’t just trying to fuck, here, so “Fuckboy” isn’t quite the right label. He clearly has genuine feelings for Feyre. But when we hold up the Softboy subcategory of Fuckboy against Rhysand’s behavior… I think it’s pretty apparent by this point that he’s playing a longer, more manipulative game.
He discusses his ex-girlfriend within the first thirty minutes of the date. He talks about her in a sad, wistful way rather than a snarky, resentful way. The older Softboy will say, “Oh well, it’s in the past.” The younger Softboy will say, “So it goes.” […]
He is sensitive yet amusingly crass. He doesn’t want you to know he has feelings. He wants you to know that he has feelings and he is completely okay with that.
So very very much of this book has been devoted to Rhysand begrudgingly-yet-not-begrudgingly letting Feyre in on dark brooding backstory after dark brooding backstory to the point where, honestly, I’m not even sure if it’s Feyre’s story anymore. ACOMAF has turned this story into a story about Rhysand slowly opening himself up to Feyre, but not actually in a way where it seems difficult for him. As soon as Feyre asks him a specific enough question, he’s happy to put on a show spilling out more of his demons for her in one breath then aggressively flirt with her in the next, like it’s less about him opening up to her and more about him just kinda… getting off on being withholding.
I mean, seriously, Rhysand just went from “your ex-boyfriend and I murdered each others’ families” to “lol you should paint me naked” with someone he’s been flirting with, but hasn’t made a move on, and also hasn’t admitted romantic feelings for, for months. That is an absurd amount of emotional manipulation.
But it’s all part of the Rhysand-is-the-ideal-boyfriend ACOMAF package. If Rhysand’s approach to political diplomacy is cold threats of violence, then his approach to romance is weaponizing his own sadness.
He hasn’t texted you back for a reason; he was not blowing you off. He’s had a Weird Day. Or maybe he’s Trying To Figure Some Shit Out. Sometimes, he finds pride in declaring that he Just Needs A Night To Himself.
This one literally happened in the last chapter, because somehow there is texting in this fantasy novel.
Christian Grey – Rhysand is a love interest in the exact same mold as Christian Grey. He is attractive because he is the most powerful. He is attractive because he’s troubled by his dark secret past. Make no mistake, we are supposed to find these qualities attractive. He packages it all with a certain devil-may-care classiness that’s just a few decades away from being recontextualized as actually really really “m’lady”-brand creepy.
Please don’t mistake this as me saying that people haunted by their past are unworthy of love or anything. What I am saying is that Christian Grey and Rhysand have damn near fetishized trauma. These stories mistake their characters’ unexamined layers of traumatic backstory as depth. They’re both the bad boy, asshole-with-a-heart-of-gold, “he’s so broken but I can change him” archetype we see all too often romanticized in fiction but as the most emotionally abusive relationship anyone ever experiences in real life.
Where Fifty Shades of Grey and ACOMAF fail is that not only do they tell us that this is what attractive looks like, but they also romanticize all the toxic baggage that comes with these characters when their behaviors the book shows us fall short of the character sketch the book tells us. Christian Grey and Rhysand use aggression to get what they want. They both bemoan how they have very few friends and many enemies. We’re supposed to be impressed by this because the books constantly tell us how brilliant and powerful and successful they are. They both manipulate the women in their lives into doing what they want because they just know what’s best so they very infrequently give actual reasons. These are attractive qualities because this is how real men behave. The word “male” appears in A Court of Mist and Fury a whoopping one hundred eighteen times. This might sound innocuous, but consider how weird it is for a story ostensibly about female empowerment to simultaneously be so into gender essentialism that it has to quietly, constantly gender everything with statements like “a deep male voice” and “the most powerful male in Prythian’s history”, because don’t you forget deep voices and power are male attributes for manly men (it will be worth discussing at some point how conflating “male” and “man” is a reflection of conflating sex and gender, and ACOMAF is so aggressive about this that there’s an argument to be made that this book is ignorant at best, transphobic at worst). Don’t forget we couldn’t even talk about Rhysand’s wings without somehow turning them into erogenous zones. The message might not be intentional in either of these two books, but it is there nonetheless: this is what men are, they are the best men, you should be so lucky as to date this kind of man.
I don’t find Christian Grey or Rhysand’s personalities attractive. Their personalities scare the bejesus out of me. And what’s unsettling is their books tell us, no, that’s the attractive part.
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