We Need to Talk About SJM
I was recently anonymously asked what exactly my issue with Sarah Jane Maas is, and ended up writing what was essentially a thesis paper about it. Unfortunately, Tumblr pulled a Shitty Website move and deleted everything I wrote under the ‘read more’ tab, so I’m compiling my reasons here on a masterpost, for your reading leisure.
EDIT: Read more tab continues to not work for me, so I apologize to all of you who have to suffer through this. I’ll tag is as a long post accordingly.
Let’s get started
Reason 1: She preaches messages that no young girl needs to (or should) hear.
Granted, I know the a lot of the YA genre are adults who are no strangers to smut and aren’t phased by toxic behavior in characters. But on the same token, a lot of the YA genre is fueled by young girls age 12-20. Now I’m not going to sit here and pretend like girls in that age range aren’t reading/writing smutty fanfiction or dating. I know they do, I did, most of my friends did. But at that age, young girls are still trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, including in terms of relationships. That’s where my problem with Maas comes in.
Maas writes, almost exclusively, toxic relationships - at best. Straight up abusive at worst. At one point in ACOTAR, I had to put the book down because I was so disgusted by what happened. Rhysand assaulted Feyre. I’m not kidding. He kissed and groped her against her will, telepathically asked whether she was wet about it, and wondered aloud what she looked like naked. The entire goal of doing this was to piss Feyre’s then-boyfriend off, and for Rhysand to assert his dominance as a Fae lord or whatever the fuck (y’know, like rapists do). Feyre was left shaking, nauseated, and scared for her life. But the worst part? It was written like this was something sexy and desirable. Literal penetration was all that stopped this from being a horrifying rape scene, and I couldn’t believe Maas wrote about it like some hot erotica. It wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t cute. It was disgusting, violating, and I was furious when I read it (especially given Feyre actually ends up with Rhysand eventually. What the fuck).
In Throne of Glass - and subsequent sequels - there are couples (namely Rowan and Aelin) who quite literally spit on each other, punch each other, and bite each other. No, not “love nip” bite, I mean “I’m trying to tear your skin off” bite. But we’re meant to believe they’re endgame, meant to be, and a totally healthy relationship. Let’s not even get into emotional abuse and manipulation, because holy fuck does every single character in these books act like a goddamn villain if we were to go over that in detail. All you need to know is that “if you don’t do xyz then I’ll leave and never come back” “what made you think I cared about you? You’re nothing to me. Just kidding, I love you” and similar sentiments are rampant in these series.
While we’re here, what is up with this “mates” nonsense? Every character pairing we see by the end of the ToG series has a “mate,” and swears off everyone they’ve had before, claiming them to be “false mates.” This whole “mates” business sounds a lot like somebody desperately trying to reassure their insanely jealous partner that they don’t still have feelings for their ex. That’s not healthy! That’s not okay! Your exes helped you narrow down your search. They helped you understand yourself more and what you want (or don’t want). And y’know what? It’s okay to have happy memories with an ex. It’s okay to not hate your ex. Telling young girls that all that matters is their future husband (which erases LGBT+ girls, as well as straight women who don’t want to get married) is harmful as hell, and contributes to the idea that a girl is only “complete” when she finds her “soulmate.”
Girls 12-20 really do not need to be given the message that it’s normal - nay, romantic - for their partners to hit them, humiliate them, or assault them. You may be saying, “Clara, come on, girls know fiction isn’t reality and no girl is actually going to stand for that kind of thing in real life.” But I can’t tell you how horribly my own view of relationships was corrupted for several years after all the books I read as a tween where the protagonist had to defend her flirty boyfriend from the advances of other girls. I didn’t trust boys not to cheat on me. I didn’t trust my girl friends not to try and steal a boyfriend. I thought girls who dressed up and wore makeup and dated a lot were sluts. It took me years of conscious effort to unlearn those ideas. Fiction can and does influence the reader. So again I say: teaching girls that it’s “hot and sexy” when men literally abuse you is not a message a 12-20 year old should be hearing. Ever.
Reason 2: What exactly does Maas want her readers to be?
Y’know, Maas thinks Caelena/Aelin is a role model for young girls. But here’s a brief list of things Celery/Alien has done throughout the Throne of Glass series:
1. Tried to smash a flower pot over a girl’s head for showing interest in courting Prince Dorian. Despite said girl literally being present at the castle for that purpose and Caelena was not.
2. Very nearly murdered Dorian for absolutely fuckall reason, and then she got mad at Chaol for trying to stop her (keep in mind: Chaol and Dorian are supposed to be best friends. So like... yeah, he’s gonna come to Dorian’s defense).
3. Straight up said, “if I get bored being queen I’ll just go and conquer more lands for my kingdom.” Imperialist there much, Aelin?
This is Maas’ role model material? Half the shit she does from Heir of Fire onward could be described as “war crime” and the other half could be described as “selfish.” Maas seems to think that a shit ton of half-baked “witty” lines and a few “badass” fight scenes completely makes up for having an amoral character as the protagonist you want to flaunt around as an icon for young girls.
It would be one thing if Maas said, “I don’t want anyone to be like Celery/Alien. She’s not a good person and I want my readers to be able to identify how and why she isn’t a good person. The moral is what not to be like.” But she does the opposite and claims time and time again that Celery/Alien is some kind of feminist warrior, when in fact Celery/Alien is the very epitome of white feminism and false feminism. She’ll be all kinds of gung-ho for herself, but as soon as another woman mentions her own unique problems or lifestyles, Celery/Alien thinks she’s a “whiny bitch,” “dumb slut,” or something similar. Celery/Alien ends up looking down her nose at basically every other female character. The lack of female friendships in Maas’ books is frankly astounding.
No girl needs to be Celery/Alien. Celery/Alien is not a role model, she is not a feminist, she is not a figurehead of a well developed female character or even a compelling antihero. She’s sexist, she’s misogynistic, she has serious anger issues, she’s manipulative, she’s abusive. This is not who young girls should be looking up to.
Reason 3: Maas has no place in the YA genre.
I’m not really sure I need to elaborate much on this. Let me give you a scenario:
Imagine you’re at a book signing for your fans. They’re mostly girls 15-20, so you kind of just sign their copies without thinking much about it. But then a smaller girl comes up to the table, you ask her age, and she says “I’m ten.” A 10 year old girl is standing in front of you, clutching her copy of your book where you wrote and published the scene, “he buried in to the hilt and roared. Over and over he spilled inside of her, the lightning outside flashing soft and lovely long after he stilled.”
Look me in the eye and tell me that shit is appropriate in the YA genre. At all. Ever.
You wanna write romance? Go for it. It can be cute! It can be healthy! It can be intriguing! But this? This? This is just... erotica. If you’re publishing stuff like this in the YA genre, in a book that isn’t even on the ‘tween/teen romance’ shelves, then you better be ready to take full responsibility for teaching 10 year olds what a blowjob is, what an orgasm is, what BDSM is, what a fucking foot fetish is.
I know JK Rowling isn’t the most popular right now, but even she did better than this. The first 3 Harry Potter books you can generally find on the children’s/middle grade shelves. They were cute, fun little adventures about wizards and magic and fantastic creatures. Books 4-7? Those are on the YA shelves. People are dying, magic is dangerous, fascist organizations are on the rise -- it isn’t fun for Harry anymore. It isn’t about the wonders of magic. It’s about life or death, war, and fear. So yeah, of course those book aren’t going to be on the children’s/middle grade shelves! They’re dark! They’re scary! That kind of material shouldn’t be advertised as appropriate for younger kids!
Maas never extended that courtesy. Maas took her books full of badly written erotica and plopped them down right where all the rest of the completely tame YA books went, because she wanted the sales. She didn’t care if she was exposing kids who were too young to explicit sex scenes. She never posted a disclaimer, she never posted any kind of warning on social media when the books came out. Nope. She just silently took advantage of the market knowing she’d get more sales in YA. But it has no place in YA. It’s not YA. And I don’t think I’m ever gonna be okay with that.
Reason 4: Diversity? Never heard of it!
Maas’ books are so incredibly white and straight that it’s painful. Rowan and Aelin? White and straight. Feyre? Rhysand? Chaol? Dorian? Manon? Hey, you guessed it! They’re all white and straight (despite Chaol, Dorian, and Manon being heavily LGBT+ coded for like, the entire series till the last book)!
“He looked at his friend, perhaps for the last time, and said what he had always known, from the moment they met, ‘I love you.’” (Queen of Shadows)
Hello? Sarah Jane? I’m all for male friendships, but there’s male friendships and then there’s actual romance. Chaol and Dorian are about as gay-coded as they could fucking get. And this isn’t even the only time this happens! Check this out:
“Dorian surged from his chair and dropped to his knees beside the bed. He grabbed Chaol’s hand, squeezing it as he pressed his brow against his. ‘You were dead,’ the prince said, his voice breaking. ‘I thought you were dead.’” (Queen of Shadows)
But wait, there’s more!
“‘I’m not leaving you. Not again.’
Dorian’s mouth tightened. ‘You didn’t leave, Chaol.’ He shook his head once, sending tears slipping down his cheeks. ‘You never left me.’” (Queen of Shadows)
I mean come on, Sarah!
Also, Manon. My girl Manon hated men, pretty explicitly, for the entire series. In case you don’t believe me:
“There were few sounds Manon enjoyed more than the groans of dying men.” (Heir of Fire)
Oh, and other characters even imply Manon has never had a heterosexual relationship in her fucking life. See:
“‘That golden-haired witch, Asterin...’ Aelin said. ‘She screamed Manon’s name the way I screamed yours. How can I take away somebody who means the world to someone else? Even if she is my enemy.’” (Queen of Shadows)
Tell me that’s not gay as fuck. I dare you.
Manon had a whole lot of love to give women! She was always affectionate towards other women. Particularly Elide. This is a woman who was about as lesbian as you could get. Had no interest in men, every interest in women, rejected typically expected roles for women (getting married and having kids, etc.) but guess what happened? Guess what fucking happened?
This warrior who was friends with and rode on a big fuckoff wyvern completely and totally submits to Dorian as her lover. I don’t mean that metaphorically. They literally do some BDSM shit where he’s her “master” and she “kneels to him” or whatever the fucking fuck. This entire thing pissed me off more than Chaol and Dorian being all “no homo bro,” because Maas used every possible symbol and subtext for Manon being gay, and then said “just kidding!” Her relationship with Dorian came out of nowhere. All of a sudden she was just as thirsty for mediocre dick as Aelin.
At this point I honestly have to wonder if Maas is really this ignorant or if she’s - dare I say it? - taunting her readers who have complained about the lack of LGBT+ representation. Maas has, historically, not reacted well to people criticizing her work. I would not put it beyond her at all to intentionally queer-code characters only to turn around and rip the rug out from under her readers by pairing them up in heterosexual relationships. And not only is that shitty writing, but it’s... really malicious and rude.
Of course then there’s the issues with racial representation. Again, Maas doesn’t even try. She includes 13 characters of color only to immediately kill off all of them in a suicide pact. So there’s that. Not sure I need to say more than that.
Maas knows what diversity is, but as per her famous quote, “I just don’t want to force diversity into my books.” So. Y’know. Writing a black or gay character (or!! God forbid, both black and gay!!) is asking a little too much of her, apparently. She doesn’t want to force anything as unbelievable as someone who isn’t white or straight, don’tcha know? In these books about fae people and dragons and gods fighting mortals and explicit erotica, an LGBT+ character or a character of color is high fantasy, not YA. *Sarcasm*
Reason 5: The woman can’t write.
This is pretty straightforward. She cannot write. My proof? She plagiarizes the living fuck out of everything she can to avoid actually writing her own original work.
1. “You’re gonna rattle the stars.” - from Disney’s Treasure Planet
2. “The Queen Who Was Promised” - from GRRM’s ASOIAF, where Dany Targaryen is often toted as the exact same thing. Oh, and The Prince Who Was Promised prophecy in ASOIAF also mentions Azor Ahai being “the Heir of Fire” so, uh.... yeah.
3. Aelin basically being Aragorn. Lost royalty spends years as an outcast, denies their claim, teams up with elves (fae in Aelin’s case) to defeat a greater evil, becomes known as the people’s champion, falls in love with an elf (fae) and makes them their consort, crowned by the people, ends their coronation scene with a “you bow to no one” (I’m not kidding).
4. Nehemia dying for Aelin and it later being revealed that Nehemia was “grooming” Aelin to face great evil, and potentially give her life to stop it. How much you wanna bet Maas tried to give Aelin a name as close to “Harry Potter” as she could get?
5. Manon lighting a series of beacons across a mountain range to call for aid during war. I mean seriously? This is one of the most iconic scenes in Peter Jackson’s rendition of Lord of the Rings. It’s moving, it’s powerful, it’s awe-inspiring. And Maas knew it. So she just... took it. I don’t have a lot of respect for writers who can’t write their own moving scenes.
6. Kingsflame blossoms, which only bloom when the rightful monarch is on the throne. So... the White Tree of Gondor. Got it.
7. The Hand of the King being a royal court position. Like... jesus. GRRM, come get ya world-building, SJ stole it again.
8. A paralyzed Chaol has a specialized saddle made for him, because he wants more than anything to ride a horse again. GRRM! Please! She’s taking Bran Stark’s story now!
And besides all of these horribly plagiarized points, there’s nothing even slightly compelling about these books. There’s literally zero substance, and the last few books in both the ACOTAR and ToG series have been nothing but a smut-fest. Plot who? We don’t know her.
Trauma, both physical and mental, is erased at the drop of a dime (Aelin lost physical scars, Chaol’s paralysis was basically cured, series of events that should’ve left characters absolutely fucked just... didn’t phase them). The battles are rushed and sloppily written, and Maas has a particularly nasty habit of focusing on exactly the wrong people in the middle of what should be an action packed scene. Instead of showing alliances forging and plots being made behind people’s backs, instead of showing us people gearing up for battle by saying tearful goodbyes to their infants and spouses, Maas shows us Rowan and Aelin banging on a beach, or a tree, or a ship, or wherever the fuck they happen to be at that moment.
None of these characters lose jack shit. There is no sense of urgency or stakes, because we knew since Heir of Fire that Aelin and her precious uwu fae “mate” would be just fine. Why? Because nobody shipped Rowaelin as hard as Sarah Jane Maas did. Consistently the only people who suffer in these books are background characters (who, coincidentally, are almost always the characters of color and LGBT+ characters). By the end of Kingdom of Ash, literally everyone is fine. And paired off to be married, too! Because a happy ending isn’t a true happy ending if it doesn’t end with Babies Ever After and everyone in a heterosexual relationship, of course, right?
Reason 6: World-building doesn’t even go here! Sorry, she just wanted to be a part of something.
Maas’ world-building is... how do you say... shitty. New lore pops up in every book, having never been mentioned before, and is for some reason of utmost importance (but only for this book. It’ll be forgotten again as soon as it isn’t relevant). Religions who? Culture where? History what? None of these things exist in Maas’ world. None.
Now before anyone jumps down my throat with “but The World of Throne of Glass is coming out this year!!!1!1!!” let me gently establish something. Speaking as a fantasy author: if you do not have your most basic world-building - that being religion, culture, language, and history - already established, then you have no business making a “world of” book to cover all the bases your ass never bothered with in the original series.
I said what I said.
Tolkien and GRRM are masters of world-building because they spent decades working to forge their worlds before they ever put a pen to paper and wrote their stories. Not to toot my own horn, but my own fantasy series has been developing for almost 7 years now. What am I doing with it? I’m outlining governments in different societies, why people came to worship what they do, and I’m making a fucking world map on my bedroom floor (that now has cat paw prints on it, so it’s not exactly final product material anyway).
I give not a single hoot for Maas’ “The World of Throne of Glass.” She could be saying anything she wanted to and it would all just have to be canon, because she’s establishing what this world is after already finishing her series. Yes, it does piss me off, because it’s pretty obvious she didn’t have a clue what her world was, or who was who, or why things were the way they were. She made shit up as she went along, nothing more. There was no grand scheme. There was no planning, and it shows.
TL;DR: I have a lot of issues with Sarah J Maas’ writing, including her world-building and handling of diversity. But most of all I despise the potential impact she has on the YA genre and on the young girls reading her work. They deserve better than this. They deserve better than Sarah Jane Maas.
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So in case there’s not already a masterpost for plot holes and underdeveloped worldbuilding in the AC0TAR series, I decided I’d start one. Feel free to add on more or attempt to explain the plot holes if I’m wrong.
don’t even get me started on unnamed regions and characters because that would be another entire post lol
why and how did jurian even come back? why was this necessary for hybern? what could he possibly contribute to their cause as an anti-fae human???? was his resurrection different from fayre’s at the end of ac0tar?
why did fayre inherit abilities from all seven of the courts when she was resurrected but rice didn’t? Why would the high lords want to risk another high lord gaining their powers, especially because rice is apparently ~the most powerful high lord~?
why/how did rice become the most powerful HL? isn’t magic hereditary? if he inherited his powers from his father, how is this possible? how did the magic choose which child to go into? why are there only high lords and not high ladies, assuming magic is hereditary?
what was the point of the mercenary in AC0TAR who gave fayre the pelt? how did she even get the pelt if it was such an ordeal for fayre to hunt the wolf?
why was so much attention brought to fayre’s mother’s promise?
how the fuck did the king of hybern literally kill a god by breaking her neck oh my grwrhtwt
what even started the war between the humans and the fae?? how were human and fae cultures and relations permanently altered?
what kind of education do fae and humans have?
how is it possible for a fae to mate with a human? how often does it happen? is it only with high fae/humans, or with lesser fae/humans? can lesser fae and high fae mate? fae can mate outside of their species but they can’t mate with the same sex, that sounds fake but okay. fayre just happened to be on the fae side of the wall so she could meet rice, but what if a mated human never went to the other side? how would the mates find each other? does a human ever feel the mating bond like fae can? is there a way for humans to become fae/fae to become human so they can be with their mate for a similar lifespan? when does the bond kick in? i’m going to give sj/m the benefit of the doubt and say after the human’s puberty/coming of age because otherwise wtf.
how does the fae aging process work? when do they stop aging? how does Lucien’s biofather appear a similar age to him and yet aren’t they several decades or centuries apart? How old is an adult fae, like 200 years? And yet isn’t the widest age gap between fae and human marriages in the series like several centuries with the human being in late adolescence? yikes!
what religion do the priestesses of Ianthe’s order even follow? do lesser fae have different religions? what practices, services, beliefs, moral codes, scriptures, etc do they have? why do the fae swear to the Mother, the gods, AND the Cauldron? Who even is the Mother? What gods are in the religion of the Cauldron? why did Fayre start cursing to the gods even though she grew up in an atheist culture? how would she have any sort of understanding of religious practices, deities, or prayer?
if fae hate humans, why are the most privileged fae (high fae) the ones that look most like humans? that’s not how morphological racism works.
shall we examine the mess that is the magic system? just. what the fuck. magical cabins, resurrection, deities and creatures from other worlds, ever-replenishing food and baths, flying, winnowing, high lord lineage, elemental/seasonal magic, curses that last 50 years, mor’s vague unexplained “truth”... no. rules are desperately needed. who has what kind of power? is it inherited or can you train? who has access to that training? how long does it take? what is the process? this could be another entire post too tbh.
why are thesan and helion comfortable with their sexualities and out to their entire courts and yet mor’s sexuality is not tolerated?
what is the purpose of the court of nightmares?? are there other sub-court equivalents in other courts? if the CoN doesn’t know about velaris’s existence, where do they think rice goes? how does he have any sort of effective/productive rule over or respect from these people?
why does rice have to act like an asshole lol. i know it’s bc sj/m thinks it’s sexy but there is no in-verse reason for this.
and that’s all i can think of off the top of my head. please add if you notice anything else!
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