This is a long one, but so was the book (620 pages!!!) so put on your big girl pants and let’s get started.
I don’t have a lot of memories of growing up left. Many therapy sessions and moves and jobs and changes later and either my brain has suppressed them so much that I cannot remember, or I have let them go. Either way, one story that remains essential to who I am today is my history as a musician.
When I was in 5th grade my dad had been playing and taking lessons on the banjo for some time. He was pretty good. I don’t remember who brought it up, but I remember mom getting a guitar from somewhere, I think my sister got a mandolin, and I somehow got a violin/fiddle. I tried to take lessons with the same person dad got lessons from, and I tried to insert myself into the beginner band at my school (up north they start in 5th grade), but everything failed. I couldn’t teach my body to do two things at once. It was frustrating and one day I even slammed the instrument over the headboard of my bed. It survived, but eventually my parents let me stop.
Our “Good Time Family Bluegrass Band” was not to be (credit: my husband because he is a meanie) but the music teacher at my school decided that she would convince me to start playing the tuba. I eventually gave in, convinced my parents, and so began what I thought would be the journey toward a career. I auditioned for festivals, I participated in regional bands, and I was even selected to play in the National Honor Band of America put together by Music for All (formerly Bands of America).
After high school I proceeded to take on student loans in order to get a bachelor’s degree in music education, then moved across the country thanks to credit cards to take on more student loans to get a master’s degree in music education, then moved again to the midwest to take out more student loans in addition to my assistantship to get my doctorate so I could achieve my ultimate goal of becoming a music ed professor and researcher. And then everything crashed, both the economy and my hopes that being a professor in the music education field would be a good thing. But that’s a story for another time. And suddenly something I’d been working for, dreaming about, sacrificing for, going into debt for was gone. Sure I kept teaching because that’s what I knew how to do and I needed to support myself, but I had to come to terms with the fact that 13 years and almost $200,000 in student loans later (again, a story for another time) I was headed away from everything I had worked for. I might as well have had my neck snapped by an evil, powerful agent of Hybern. I just wish that my rebirth was as a High Fae instead of whatever it is I’m doing at the moment. NO REGERTS.
I could talk about the sex scenes, which were sooooooooo hot, but that’s not what this book did for me. I mean, it did, but it made me wait like 300 pages so while enjoyable, that’s not the point. This book is about a woman deciding between obligation and growth, between survival and thriving, between history and future. Feyre’s need to come to terms with her sacrifices Under the Mountain and what that might mean for her relationship with Tamlin are the heart of this book. When you’ve died to save someone, doesn’t that mean you belong together?
Sarah J. Maas might as well have called this book “Sunk Costs.” Staying in a relationship that is dead, remaining in a situation that is damaging or poisonous, these are choices that people make all the time – often based on the time/money/children/history that has already been wrapped up in it. Being with a person makes you feel more lonely than actually being alone, but you’ve been together for like ten years so maybe it’ll get better? You’ve bought a house and have two kids, but he gets irrationally angry and frightens you when you go out, so over time you just stay home to avoid the fights and aggravation, but you feel like you are in jail – yet so much money is wrapped up in the house and kids so you can survive until they graduate high school, right? You can be basically under house arrest for another 8 years, right? You’re $150,000 deep in student loans in a career you are very good at but the profession turns out to be small and insular and everyone is basically at each other’s throats and the editorial integrity of the professional journals is shit – do you just keep going?
I think this is the best Maas book I’ve read yet. It explores how a woman can be reborn, how she can control her own destiny, how she can escape the implications and conditions of her past and create her future. I was inspired the whole way. I could feel certain parts of my life, certain struggles that I had to work through mirrored in Feyre’s experience. I lived vicariously through her, wishing I could have made the same choices.
I also think that the example shown here for how a partner can maintain healthy distance while still encouraging their partner’s growth was a very good one. Rhysand gives her space, asks her what she wants, honors her requests as far as he can, doesn’t tell her what she can and can’t do, and for things he thinks would be best for her like learning to read, he makes it a bargain so she has a choice. Even when he knows they are mates he does not tell her because even that knowledge might make her feel obligated to stay with him, and he wants her to do even that of her own free will. Even if that means he will be miserable forever. Her freedom to choose means more to him than an ancient force.
Speaking of that, the only part I had a problem with was this “mating bond” bullshit. The one part of this book where there is no choice, it just happens and your mate is your mate – something that is destined. I hated it in the Twilight series (that I never finished) when Jacob was bonded to a baby basically? and I hate it now. Soulmates don’t exist, stop trying to mirror that in some weird, animalistic, ancient, uncontrollable force in fantasy books. It’s irritating. And it probably chafed because of the overabundance of choice that when it reared its head I was like NO SHE CAN BE HIS MATE IF SHE WANTS TO.
So much of our lives is obligation. I’ve done this, so I must do this. This happened to me, so I must deserve this result. I made this choice, so I can’t make this choice now. We hold so tightly to “You’ve made your bed, and now you have to sleep in it” that we might ignore that there are other beds, and who even makes their bed anyway? *reads ten comments about how people make their bed and I’m just a lazy slob* This book is an accurate representation of how long (620 PAGES!!!) this journey can take for a woman, even with the right people around her offering support. Is there a woman you know that is trapped by obligation, screaming for freedom? I bet there are more than you think, especially here in the US of A-holes.
These books are good, but these books are also very long. I am not going to ask you to rush to read them, but men and women alike would benefit from reading this story and understanding that women are not to be locked up but encouraged to be equal partners in our world. Go get you some.
PS: We live in a country where people don’t have the privilege to make this kind of choice. I could barely afford to make that choice to change my life for myself. So many families and individuals are stuck in beds they made that no longer work, create misery and unhappiness, but going to make a different bed is financially impossible. Please understand that I know this all too well. I can only cover so much in one blog post.