I'm such trash for this series. It's embarrassing.
Despite what the publisher claims, the author herself declares these books are not intended for a young-adult audience and this particular installment demonstrates why. Not only is there a gratuitous amount of smut (thank you, SJM) but the theme itself is quite adult. Nesta faces an incredible uphill battle both internally and externally, and her struggle is heart-wrenching for anyone who has faced similar demons.
ACOSF is significantly longer than its predecessor, A Court of Frost and Starlight, which was (if we're being honest) basically a filler novella. I imagine SJM was putting the majority of her efforts into Crescent City at the time, but wanted to keep this series alive. I'm glad she did. This behemoth is my new favorite in this series, and I hope she keeps writing these characters for many books to come.
Nesta starts this one out at rock bottom. Excessive drinking, screwing strangers, and being thoroughly vicious to anyone who cares about her. Traumatized by her experience with the Cauldron and terrified of the power she stole from it, she has driven away her friends and her sisters, isolating herself to the utmost extent possible until finally Feyre and Rhysand draw the line. The crew holds a sort of intervention and sends Nesta off to the House of the Wind with Cassian to train, sober up, and generally get her shit together. Resistant at first, she slowly emerges from her torrent of self-destruction and gradually finds a way to live with herself after the horrors of the war with Hybern.
The thing I think I enjoyed most about this book was the awful vibrancy of Nesta's guilt. It manifests as rage, as self-harm, as crushing loneliness and crippling fear. All the venomous inner thoughts, all the ways she lashes out at those trying to help her, are incredibly poignant for those who know that feeling firsthand. Those emotions can't be written by someone who hasn't felt them, who hasn't heard those voices in their head. For that alone, I hold a new respect for SJM. This book hit me on a level I didn't expect.
Close on its heels is, of course, the romance. SJM knows how to weave chemistry on the page. Shamelessly explicit in the best kind of way, this one surpasses its predecessors in steam level by a fair mark. Not for the shy or the faint of heart, certainly. In many books, this level of smut would come off as just panderingly pornographic, but it works in this world. SJMs variety of fae are inherently primal, and thus the graphic nature of their relationships is just an extension of that animal-like persona. They may have their art and their palaces and their magic, but they're a species that is ruled by their instincts. While the smut might be shocking, it doesn't feel out of place.
I'll leave you with a nice bit of fanart by Merwild (click the pic to see more of her work on DeviantArt) and a final ruling: Two thumbs up on this one, SJM. You knocked it out of the park. I can't wait for the next installment.