Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Since 1907
Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Calvin University's official student newspaper since 1907

Calvin University Chimes

Sarah J. Maas’s success comes at the expense of young readers

Walk into any bookstore these days and I assure you, you will find some table or display dedicated to Sarah J. Maas. She is a current New York Times bestselling author, and you cannot scroll through two videos on BookTok without bumping into someone recommending her work. She has been extremely prolific and successful in her time, but her success is undeserved and comes at the expense of young readers. 

Sarah J. Maas specializes in an ever-expanding genre of books deemed “fantasy smut.” These books often follow a similar plotline: a girl from an unremarkable little life in a boring town gets kidnapped by some sort of elf or fae, the girl and the fae are bitter rivals until circumstances require them to work together and eventually they start to fall in love (or, more accurately, lust).Then, another muscle-clad man, even darker and more broody, enters the story to make things more complicated. More political fantasy conflict ensues, but only as a backdrop to this new romantic conflict and an absurd amount of sex. 

It is dangerous to be recommending these books to a young audience without being transparent about its contents.

Sarah J. Maas’s books are marked as young adult novels. In the book publishing world, young adult usually refers to readers ages 12 to 18 and are often marketed towards a middle or high school reader. Sarah J. Maas was in this section of the library when I stumbled upon her work in early highschool. I think this is irresponsible given the contents of these books, which, if in any other storytelling medium, would most likely be rated R. Admittedly, her fantasy retelling series (called ACOTAR by fans) is smuttier than her Throne of Glass series, according to reviews online, but neither are exactly PG. 

It is dangerous to be recommending these books to a young audience without being transparent about its contents. Exposing kids unwittingly to mature themes can cause some real damage, especially if young people do not fully understand boundaries, safe sex and how to identify abuse. To be fair, a majority of Sarah J. Maas’s audience is adult women, but that does not change the fact that these books are often marketed as a simple “fantasy series” with no other caveats. 

Not only is Maas’s marketing living in dicey territory, but her writing isn’t that good either. In any of her books, you can find the same handful of characters and situations thrown throughout different fantasy worlds. There is very little imagination to the worlds she has written. For example, her novel ACOTAR is, in essence, a smutty retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” We meet two predictable characters right off the bat and soon after find ourselves trapped in a dystopian fantasy world. Here, the world is controlled by courts, but the courts are under siege by our main antagonist, who believes she could control the world better (which, I’ll be honest, she could). 

On paper, this idea sounds thrilling and fantastic! Sure, it feels like a strange “Harry Potter” meets “Lord of the Rings” meets teenage coming-of-age novel instead of something truly new, but there is nothing fundamentally wrong with working off what has come before. The only true original twist Maas includes in “A Court of Thorns and Roses” — her magic system — is itself  based in smut.  According to the magic system, the king must undergo an annual “rebirth” ritual, carried out through dubiously nonconsensual sexual intercourse, and an actual birth. This ritual is required to keep the magic in the world. 

I would also argue that ACOTAR contains some romanticizing of Stockholm syndrome and unhealthy, possessive relationships, which could be considered abusive. Not only do these novels have too much smut for a teen-centered audience, they are also glorifying depictions of dangerous relationships.

The plot of the novel also takes a back seat, serving as a method to keep pushing these two characters into new situations so they can yet again, get intimate with each other instead of dealing with the very real world-ending problems that, for some reason, only they have the capabilities to solve. Honestly, a six-book series probably could have ended in two books if the main characters could get over each other and focus for a couple minutes without making out. 

Maas might be a successful author, but she is not a good one. Her books are more often than not an excuse to live out perverse fantasies and are a danger to unsuspecting young audiences.

I understand that maybe some people are looking for the “fantasy smut” genre in the novels they consume, but I hesitate to call it real storytelling. Sarah J. Maas might be one of BookTok’s favorite writers, but she is doing very little to contribute to the world of literature, or the world as a whole. As someone who aspires to go into that field after graduating, it is disheartening to see that trashy books –– books that forsake good writing to instead pander to a lonely middle-aged woman’s secret fantasies –– are the ones that get the most attention. 

Sarah J. Maas could have had potential had she not gotten lost in a world of smut and pandering to audiences. Maas might be a successful author, but she is not a good one. Her books are more often than not an excuse to live out perverse fantasies and are a danger to unsuspecting young audiences. 

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  • T

    T.C.Feb 1, 2024 at 9:20 pm

    This reeks of jealousy and immaturity. What an embarrassing piece to write and publish that is attempting to degrade a female writer because she’s successful.

    The publisher made the wrongful decision to originally market and categorize her works as young adult 14+, not the author.

    Sarah J Maas wanted the “A Court Of Thorns And Roses” (ACOTAR) series to be adult and wrote it as adult. All of Sarah J Maas’s work has since been rebranded and recategorized as adult by the publisher.

    Traditionally published authors are out-powered by their publishers decisions and contractually obligated to follow along with the publishers decision.

    Not to mention, the entire second book in the ACOTAR series is the main character’s emotional and physical journey of realizing and leaving her toxic abusive relationship.

    This author’s books aren’t perfect, but let’s stop judging what people write and read.

    More importantly, if you’re going to point fingers and throw a written fit. I would encourage you to do research first so you can point fingers at the correct “person”: the publisher. Instead of looking uneducated and blatantly leeching off an author’s success and book release date (1/30/24) to get views on your biased article.

    I’m sorry you had a bad experience years ago when you were in high school. Your feelings are valid but they are no excuse to attempt to cheaply degrade an author’s success. Start an initiative or educated discussion to pressure publishers to accurately categorize and market the books they put out instead of ignoring what their authors tell them.

    Lastly, “trashy books” are a billion dollar recession proof industry.

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  • I

    Inioluwa OyetunjiJan 29, 2024 at 7:43 pm

    Have any of the people who wrote this or are quoted in it, actually read a Sarah J Maas book? .

    Publishers should do a better work with categories, no 14 year old should be reading this. To say that Sarah J Mass isn’t a good writer, however , I’ve never seen such lies. Same plot line indeed. She writes books where the main characters don’t even share a kiss till you’re 300 pages in, lollllllll.

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