Over the course of multiple fantasy series, Sarah J. Maas has made an art of crafting fierce, self-destructive female characters. But few are as polarizing as Nesta, one of three human sisters turned High Fae, who takes center stage in this first truly "adult" entry in Maas' A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

A Court of Silver Flames picks up after the war against the King of Hybern. Already prickly and determined to hold everyone at arm's length, Nesta is now drowning in her trauma, numbing the pain with booze and sex.

In a bid to jolt her into recovery, her sisters order her to retreat to intense physical training with the one man she resents (and desires) most, the warrior Cassian. When she's not spending her time learning to defend herself, she works in a sacred library, helping an order of women file away books. But when the court is faced with a new threat from treacherous human queens, Nesta faces her greatest test: learning to love herself.

Maas is an expert at plumbing the depths of female friendships, exploring them as a foundation for love, resiliency, and care. Her stories understand that friendships can be as meaningful as romantic connections, that true healing and recovery from trauma can be forged in the fire of these platonic bonds. The relationships she builds between Nesta and the women she befriends over the course of her training blaze as brightly as her steamy romantic scenes. Their friendship is a renewing force, helping them all to find their paths forward out of the cocoons they've wrapped themselves in after suffering the toll of misogyny.

Credit: Bloomsbury

Because if there's anything Maas writes about as well as friendship, it's grief. Like House of Earth and Blood before this, her novels find their sweet spot pressing on the bruise of loss. Everything that has made Nesta who she is — hard, unyielding, quick to anger, and eager to hold a grudge — is rooted in loss.

Finally going inside her head, readers get a front-row seat to how her self-loathing and her righteous anger stem from one unendurable loss after another: her mother, her father, and her and her sister's humanity. The pain and grief she doesn't know how to cope with manifest in her fury and her biting tongue. And this same grief plagues Cassian and the women who become her closest allies, tamping down their potential and their power.

For Nesta's greatest power isn't the fearsome magic she must learn to master that has the potential to fundamentally alter their universe — it's her capacity to love. When she learns to let someone in, to love herself, it is then that she is able to become the fullest version of herself.

But Maas recognizes that running this mental gauntlet, wrestling with grief and depression and demons of their ilk, is the hardest work of all, more painful than the physical tests Cassian offers. Only by forgiving herself can Nesta truly step into her power and the most meaningful relationships in her life with her sisters, her friends, and Cassian.

A Court of Silver Flames earns its adult label with a shimmering erotic romance that probes vulnerability and grief. It's a viciously vibrant epic, determined to remind us why forgiveness is the bravest act of all. Grade: A

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