What To Say About Sarah J. Maas’s Books (A-Z Project: M) by Kelsey Socha
The thing about writing a post about Sarah J. Maas is that it feels redundant. Everyone’s heard of Throne of Glass or A Court of Thorns and Roses, right? Both of these series are New York Times bestsellers that are constantly checked out of my library. Probably you own them in your library. If you own them, maybe you’ve been turned off by the covers for Throne of Glass which admittedly feel a bit dated, or you figured that the Court of Thorns and Roses series was just another Beauty and the Beast retelling. Neither of these criticisms are wrong, exactly, but let’s take a slightly closer look at both of the series.
Throne of Glass is a seven book series (with the last book coming out in Fall 2018!), with some additional prequel novellas. It starts out as the story of Celaena Sardothien, an 18-year-old assassin who accepts the king’s son’s offer to compete with other assassins and mercenaries for the chance to be the king’s champion. What seems initially like a straightforward fantasy competition (in line with The Selection or The Hunger Games) becomes a fight against dark and sinister magics at war in the castle. What starts as a very contained and familiar plot ultimately turns into a multi-continent fight between the forces of good and evil with Celaena at the very center. While Celaena is nearly always the primary focus of the series, they are told in third-person narrative with several perspectives–much like A Game of Thrones. Each book opens up the world more and in more surprising ways–the ending of each book feels like having survived a very intense and exciting roller coaster.
A Court of Thorns and Roses is totally different! For most of the 3.5 book series (with more books potentially coming out in the future), there is one first-person perspective: Feyre, a human girl who lives in a small town on the border between the human realm and the land of the Fae. One day, while hunting for food for her impoverished family, she kills a wolf that was actually a shapeshifting Fae; the wolf’s friend Tamlin, the Lord of Spring, comes to collect Feyre as a debt for his friend’s murder. While she initially hates everything about the Fae and the Spring Lands, she and Tamlin eventually fall in love, and she sacrifices everything to save him and rescue him from a terrible evil that’s spreading across the land. From there, the world expands into a larger and more complex battle to save not only the Fae but the whole world. The underlying threat of war is constant, but the most vital part of the series is the relationships Feyre builds with her friends and loved ones. The vast majority of the characters are vastly likeable, and you really want to see their relationships grow and change.
Why You Should Read Them: High fantasy for teens done well is SO hard to find, particularly ones that balance extremely structured plots and rules with engaging characters and dialogue! Feyre and Celaena are delightful and deeply flawed protagonists, and Maas truly allows for them to embrace their contradictions. Romances are believable and swoon-worthy if a bit overwritten. Any examination of conflict in either series really examines the costs of war on civilians. There are a lot of very handsome elves.
Reasons You Might Not Want To Read Them: They are definitely not Clean Reads! There is a fair amount of thoroughly-described sex in both series (particularly A Court of Thorns and Roses) and characters often curse, so readers looking for something squeaky clean will not find it here (conversely, maybe this is EXACTLY what some of your library’s readers are looking for!). There are not many LGBT+ characters in either series, and the ones that are there are exceedingly minor roles or not fully fleshed out. There are more characters of color than many other fantasy series, but white is nearly always the default, particularly with the principle characters. There are graphically described scenes of injuries from battles and physical abuse that are at times painful to read.
Verdict: While they definitely are not for everyone, they are really popular with good reason! I’m not generally a fan of high fantasy, but I’ve had a blast reading these and so have a lot of the teens I’ve worked with! There are plenty of moments in which you have to suspend your disbelief, but it never really feels like a burden to do so.
Looking for more Sarah J. Maas? She’s coming out with a book in August through the DC Icons series–Catwoman: Soulstealer.
BIO: Kelsey Socha is a youth services librarian on the South Shore of Massachusetts. She is already to discuss books and programming for children and teens. In her spare time, she enjoys watching television with her cat and learning to play roller derby. You can find her at @kelseysocha on Twitter.
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About Robin Willis
After working in middle school libraries for over 20 years, Robin Willis now works in a public library system in Maryland.
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