“Keep reaching out your hand.”
In A Court of Silver Flames, the continuation of Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series, we follow Nesta Archeron a year after the last book’s events in the original trilogy took place. Romance, high fantasy, interdimensional science fiction novel, yes, but this book more than anything analyzes and subverts the misconceptions about trauma, just as the original series did.
The original series followed Nesta’s little sister Feyre. Feyre Archeron dealt with her PTSD through a more socially acceptable form of suffering. She internalized the horrific abuse she witnessed and endured, tearing herself apart quietly over time, carefully masking her problems to not impose on anyone. This is what’s considered the acceptable norm of suffering mental illness to be, especially for women. Quietly enduring, yet somehow steadfast and available to emotionally care for others despite not being well themselves. Maas analyzed this first trope in the original series but took it further in this book.
Nesta was also traumatized following the events in the first series, but deals with the same issues very differently. Readers learn that Nesta has become unsafe in her vices over the year-long gap between books and constantly puts herself in danger. She alienated herself from family and friends, becoming extremely antagonistic. After a year of Nesta’s family giving her space, they stage an intervention. This starts the book’s journey as Nesta begins to heal her mind and body, kicking and screaming the whole way.
“‘I am worthless and I am nothing,’ Nesta nearly said. She wasn’t sure why the words bubbled up, pressing on her lips to voice them. ‘I hate everything that I am. And I am so, so tired. I am tired of wanting to be anywhere but in my own head.’”
Nesta, unlike her sister, is not a quiet sufferer. Like many other people dealing with trauma, while Feyre turned inward, Nesta turned outward, harming herself by not only being unsafe but by cutting off her family. She is unapologetic in her self-isolation and the lifestyle she seeks out is a form of slow suicide. This subverts the demure response to trauma that people are expected to experience and normalizes the lion-like rage survivor’s guilt can cause. While Nesta has no right to abuse her family emotionally and financially, it is an understandable response to the horrible things she experienced.
A common mantra in this book is, “Keep reaching out your hand.” It is first told to the person trying to help Nesta by another person who had long since backed away from the situation. As time goes on, though, and Nesta herself begins to heal, we see her begin to reach out.
“‘But I still don’t know how to fix myself.’
‘There’s nothing broken to be fixed,’ he said fiercely.’”
In Maas’s world, women experience oppression and abuse just as they do in ours. In the kingdom Nesta resides in, there is a temple library exclusively owned and cared for by survivors of sexual assault. People who work in the library have a complete say upon who enters and may leave whenever they are ready. Most choose to spend their lives in the sanctuary, researching and worshiping whatever gods they hold to, fearing the outside world. In other places, there are races of people born with wings. The men of these races often clip the women’s wings once they pass girlhood so they may keep them “safe,” or in other words, barefoot and pregnant.
As the book goes on, Nesta reaches out to these women. She heals herself by training and learning with others: friends who do not expect her to be okay or love herself, and expect nothing but the same understanding. We see these groups of women come together and heal by finding purpose, building trust in each other and then themselves. They fight together for their right to be safe, and they reach out their hands to those who are seeking the same thing.
And finally, at the end of the book, Nesta reaches out three times more. To the man she loves, who stood beside her despite her antagonism; to her friends, who made her feel worthy again; and finally to her family, who she knew would always love her.
By the end of her journey, Nesta is still bold, outgoing, assertive, and regal; but the fire she let burn in her body and destroy her from the inside out has turned to a passion fueled by growing purpose. She will never be demure and quiet, but she also will not harm herself, her family, or those undeserving again.
As is Maas’s forte, this book wonderfully analyzes the many facets of trauma and how social expectations impact how we deal with mental health issues. It also normalizes women who say and do what they want without feeling the need to be polite. Even before Nesta fell into her mind, she was bold, blunt, and prideful without guilt or remorse. If someone was rude to her, she told them that. If someone’s voice was too insignificant to be talking over her own, she said so.
Overall, Maas continues to embrace and challenge the ideas of mental health and femininity that our society holds today, which was a delight to read in A Court of Silver Flames.
This novel shows how and when to reach out, give up, and come back. It extends a hand to readers hoping to understand themselves when society will not.
“‘All the things I’ve done before—’
‘Leave them in the past. Apologize to who you feel the need to, but leave those things behind.’
‘Forgiveness is not that easy.’
‘Forgiveness is something we also grant ourselves.’”