I want to preface this essay with a series of disclaimers. First, this is a reaction to Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. My thoughts do not reflect any negative associations with fans of her work. In fact, most of my interactions with fans of the series resulted in clever, insightful dialogue. The takeaway point I am communicating is that I am not continuing with Maas’ work for my own preferences’ sake.
Sarah J. Maas has risen to fame through her fae-heavy series Throne of Glass as well as the more steamy A Court of Thorns and Roses. As someone who is easily squeaked by graphic sex scenes, I avoided her work just to be safe. However, in January and February, I decided to delve into her young adult series titled Throne of Glass.
Throne of Glass (or ToG as it is referred to on Tumblr) is about a young assassin who is placed in a tournament as the king’s champion. What happened next amazed me, even after at least six years of reading young adult exclusively.
Stylistic choice: Tone
As the series progressed, a certain tonal shift became apparent. Most fantasy series avoid the usage of modern terms or slang in their dialogue to separate the work from our world. There was a lot of cursing in general in these books. With each curse word, I was kicked out of this seemingly magical world with fairies and magic and knocked back into our world that does not include either of these fantastical features. In fact, I found myself unable to remain connected to most of the stories, even though they were quick reads.
Relationships were another inconsistent feature of this series. When the books begin, we are faced with the traditional love triangle. There is Dorian, our young prince. His best friend Chaol, aloof and mysterious, is the other part of this typical young adult novel dilemma. Listen, I would have been happy with either partner for Celaena, our main character (who has many names, by the way. But, more on that later). Yet, by the fourth book, Queen of Shadow, another person appears to join the ever-growing number of men who are attracted to our main character. She had a previous love interest prior to the novels’ beginnings, then there was a handler-type of a figure who fancies her, Dorian, Chaol, and now Rowan.
There were rare occasions to connect with Celaena. She likes cake, pastries, and dogs. There was a particular scene where she gets her period, and, even then, I was unable to find similarities between us. She is good at everything. A fire-wielding assassin with the tendency to do a lot of shit-talking seventeen-year-old is hard to connect to, I find. I remember Rose Hathaway from Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series being similar, but she still had a hard time rising among the ranks of the school in that series.
Part of the charm of YA is this reflection of characteristics in fantastical settings. It’s nice to see an awkward person do great things, for instance, like, say Percy Jackson. Here, though, Celaena is too many things. By the time I got to Empire of Storms, she was a lover and a queen-to-be. She was a warrior, a dog owner, and a friend to almost every character thus far in the series. Even Manon, a witch focused on eliminating Celaena, ends up being on a less-than-opposing side when it comes to our main character. It’s frustrating. Someone has to dislike our main character.
Finally, I want to talk about the corny sex scenes in Empire of Storms and how they were the final nail in the proverbial coffin. Unlike the earlier books, there were sex scenes galore in the fifth book of the series. I am all for sexual empowerment, but I do not see the point of multiple sex scenes. This is especially the case for me when these scenes are placed in awkward points of the plot. Besides, I do not like the exaggerated corny descriptions of these encounters. Why are we subjected to the “velvet steel,” I’ll never know? The over the top, mountains shook, and dramatic climaxes, all made me cringe.
In no way am I saying that reading Maas’ books a bad idea. Instead, I invite you to see my response a call to action. Maas writes incredibly fast-paced works that do not feel forced in any way. There is a charm to her writing, and I like the rich history of the fae in her series. However, I think we need to start discussing the portrayal of women in stories, particularly young adult ones. Furthermore, I think sexuality needs to be presented in less figurative flowery language. Again, I am all for teens reading things that help them feel understood. But, I don’t know about you, writing a character that can do it all is frustrating for the audience. Still, I enjoyed the fandom of these books, the idea of these characters doing more than what was in the text itself.