Digital Culture

Queen of Fantasy?

By Georgia Austin

A queen of the romantic fantasy genre- but why is Sarah J Maas facing backlash?

Boasting sales of over 12 million copies, translated into 37 different languages, it’s undeniable that Sarah J Maas is a giant of the YA fantasy genre. Her following has sky-rocketed in recent years, with 854k followers on her Instagram and #acotar (A Court of Thorns and Roses) having 2.6 billion views on tiktok. Her most recent book, A Court of Silver Flames, was voted as the best fantasy book of 2021 in the Goodreads choice awards.

Maas rose to fame through her hugely successful series Throne of Glass, an 8 book high fantasy extravaganza. She moved from strength to strength with her second series A Court of Thorns and Roses, the 5 book romantic fantasy loosely based on Beauty and the Beast. Being such an avid fan of a particular author, it is hard to hear when someone criticises a series that you love; however, it is clear to me that Maas’s critics are not without merit. 

Recently, Maas has been called out for her lack of diversity in her novels, particularly the lack of POC and LGBTQ+ characters. The majority of Maas’s characters are white, heterosexual, cis-gender, with European origins. In the huge scope of the worlds Maas creates, it is questionable why there is a lack of POC and LGBTQ+ characters and this has caught the attention of social media. 

BookTokers @jennaslitpicks and @its_.sam.03 commenting on the Sarah J Maas diversity controversy 

BookTokers such as @jennaslitpicks and @its_.sam03 have used their platforms to openly criticise Maas, with Jenna calling attention to the lack of LGBTQ+ representation, and Sam accusing her of cultural appropriation: “if you are going to steal our culture you could at least make them POC.”

Maas has attempted some diversity in her novels, though it tends to be either short lived or haphazardly done. In the Throne of Glass series, Nehemia is introduced as a POC character and is central to the storyline, but she is murdered in the second book. In A Court of Thorns and Roses, Mor is a queer character, though there is no further mention to the LGBTQ+ community. 

So what does this mean for her new series? 

Crescent City is Maas’s latest series, a trilogy that is being marketed as adult fantasy, stepping away from her YA success. The first instalment, House of Earth and Blood, largly followed the same trends as her other texts, with a white, heterosexual protagonist. However, there has been some POC and LGBTQ+ representation in the characters of Fury and Juniper, Maas’s first lesbian couple, the latter being a POC. There is also Isaiah, our first male gay character, who also is a POC. Whilst  Maas is making progress in the diversity of her novels, these characters barely feature in the narrative, but instead occupy the margins.
Maas has not directly responded to the criticism, but with the second instalment of Crescent City (House of Sky and Breath), being released this week, we can only hope that Maas keeps up the progress.