Guest blogger of A Modern High Fantasy Staple is Amelia Connell. At the time of writing this post, Amelia was a University of the Sunshine Coast student completing a Bachelor of Creative Industries, majoring in Publishing & Creative Writing. Amelia undertook a 208-hour internship with Gail Tagarro.
Sarah J Maas
The name Sarah J Maas will undoubtedly arise in recommendations for YA or new adult high fantasy genres. We have recently mentioned her several times in some recent posts: see Developing a Magic System in a Fantasy World, and Believable World-building in High Fantasy Fiction.
Maas’s two series, A Court of Thorns and Roses (the Maas community refers to it as ACOTAR) and Throne of Glass, are modern staples of the genre. For any new readers to this genre, a Maas book isa modern high fantasy staple and an excellent place to start. The phenomenon of Maas’s books has swept the bookish communities across social media and created many avid fans.
I first discovered Maas in 2016 and quickly devoured her backlist. At the time, these were the first two ACOTAR books and the first four Throne of Glass books. Maas’s books were the first purely high fantasy books I’d read. Both series pulled me in from the first page. In my opinion, Maas is not the best writer in the genre. She has some awkward phrasing and excessive repetition of words. However, for me, her storytelling ability is unparalleled in modern high fantasy works. The two series are vastly different in their creation and worldbuilding. Nevertheless, both revolve around high fae—a type of elf—and human characters. I’ll do my best to discuss these two series while avoiding spoilers, though some are inevitable.
A Court of Thorns and Roses
The ACOTAR series swept bookish communities when the second book came out in 2016. Book one now has almost 720,000 reviews on Goodreads. Book two has almost 515,000 at the time of writing this post. The popularity of the series has only grown since the release of book two, A Court of Mist and Fury. It continues to do so with each new book.
The main storyline of the trilogy follows the protagonist Feyre Archeron on her journey through the seven faerie courts of Prythian. These are the Spring, Summer, Winter, Autumn, Day, Dawn and Night Courts). The fourth book, a novella titled A Court of Frost and Starlight, bridges the gap between the trilogy and the following three standalone books and novella featuring side characters, the first of which, A Court of Silver Flames, was published earlier this year, with the rest soon to follow.
This series is character-driven. Most of the plot of the second book of the trilogy is focused on Feyre’s healing after book one. Some of the worldbuilding lacks explanatory details. Nevertheless, as the story is written from Feyre’s perspective, the holes can be explained through her own ignorance. We follow Feyre into the Faerie courts, and learn as she does. This makes the story world highly accessible to new readers of the genre.
The ACOTAR series is perfect for any reader who likes an emphasis on relationships and character development in their fantasy reads.
Throne of Glass
Unlike ACOTAR, the Throne of Glass series concluded in 2019. It totals seven books and a collection of prequel novellas. Another staple in the genre, the series follows the protagonist Celaena Sardothien on her journey from assassin to queen. Maas started writing the first book, Throne of Glass, when she was sixteen, and the improvement in her writing over the years is obvious in this series. It is written in third person close perspective (i.e., using he/she, they/them, focalised through a single character). The series follows a large cast of characters spread across three continents and nine kingdoms in the story world.
Throne of Glass is a plot-driven story, with foreshadowing for the last three books present in the first. From the third book, Heir of Fire, seemingly unrelated characters from other kingdoms and continents make appearances in separate storylines. These characters have their own plot arcs through books three and four. Then, eventually, they converge with the original group of characters in book five, Empire of Storms.
The Throne of Glass series is marketed as a YA Game of Thrones. It is an epic high fantasy story totalling almost five thousand pages.
What Maas Does Right
Maas is an expert at cliff-hangers. She's particularly good at jaw-dropping reveals or perilous situations cropping up in the last few chapters. The second books in both series conclude with a surprise reveal for characters and readers alike. Empire of Storms concludes with the protagonist seemingly disappearing into thin air. The continuation of her story and the conclusion of the series came after an excruciating wait of more than two years. It is masterfully executed in a thousand-page finale titled Kingdom of Ash.
Characters and Relationships
Maas’s biggest strength in her writing is her character and relationship development. The protagonist of Throne of Glass is in four relationships across the books, while ACOTAR’s is in two. Each relationship for both characters reads authentically and the timing makes sense in the story arc. None of the relationships feels rushed. The final relationships for each protagonist come after long periods of healing and growth.
She implements foreshadowing beautifully in both series. As mentioned above, she foreshadows the cliff-hanger ending of Empire of Storms in Throne of Glass. And in the second book, part of the climax in the third book of ACOTAR, A Court of Wings and Ruin.
A Place to Start
Maas’s masterful creation of characters, paired with her affinity for foreshadowing and cliff-hangers, leaves readers addicted and impatient for more. Both her series have become modern staples of the fantasy genre. Her latest series, Crescent City, is likely to follow with the release of book two in February 2022. The first, House of Earth and Blood, was published in 2020.
Either of these series would be perfect if you haven’t yet read a Maas book or you’re looking for a place to start in the fantasy genre.
All references below are to Sarah J Maas books:
2012, Throne of Glass, Bloomsbury, USA.
2014, Heir of Fire, Bloomsbury, USA.
2015, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Bloomsbury, USA.
2016, A Court of Mist and Fury, Bloomsbury, USA.
2016, Empire of Storms, Bloomsbury, USA.
2017, A Court of Wings and Ruin, Bloomsbury, USA.
2018, A Court of Frost and Starlight, Bloomsbury, USA.
2018, Kingdom of Ash, Bloomsbury, USA.
2020, House of Earth and Blood, Bloomsbury, USA.
2021, A Court of Silver Flames, Bloomsbury, USA.
1997, A Game of Thrones, Voyager, Great Britain.
Photo credit Kimon Maritz Unsplash
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