Hi everyone!! This is going to be an in-depth review about the series – ACOTAR by Sarah J Maas. This review is co-written with my awesome friend Devina, who I trash problematic authors with. Go follow her bookstagram!! @bookish_maniacs.
If you follow me on my bookstagram, you probably know that I dislike these books a lot, and I am horrified that Sarah J Maas is not owning up to her problematic actions, writing, and books.
WARNING: this review may contain spoilers, so proceed accordingly.
We would like to start off by saying that if you really want to read this series or love it, that it is totally your choice, but please please please, don’t promote problematic works such as this without acknowledging its faults.
We would also like to list why Sarah J Maas is a problematic author, as many of you still don’t know about it : )
Some Reasons Why SJM is Problematic:
- zero diversity
- romanticises abusive relationships
- white saviour narrative
- killing off only person of colour as a plot device for white characters
- vague representation (“tan” does not mean poc)
- used Breonna Taylor’s name to promote book cover
- cultural appropriation
Ok with that said, let’s get on with the review : )
This review might be long, but we will try to divide it into sections so that it’s easier for you to read it.
The Basic Idea of the Books and What They Come Off As – by Kashvi
The story follows the journey of mortal Feyre Archeron after she is brought into the faerie lands of Prythian for murdering a faerie. Let me just say that the plot of this book would have been phenomenal if Feyre was actually a strong female protagonist who lived for herself. Who wouldn’t love the story of a girl who is just trying to survive, but is sucked into the world of messy fairy politics? I most definitely would.
But then you realise, the protagonist who is supposed to be an inspiration for young people is one-dimensional, whiny and only lives, learns and has a position because of a man, it is disheartening and horrifying. And the plot you were so excited for? It just turns into a background for angst and relationships (not good ones), so yes I felt cheated while reading these books.
The first book was basically Feyre falling in love with her captor who was abusive, which is not a good idea to put in a book for young adult readers. The second book was Feyre realising that he was abusive but not doing anything except mentally saying “no I don’t want to get married to him etc.” Then she magically gets saved from her abusive ex-love interest by guess who?
riceman Rhysand, her mate. A man that drugged her, made her kiss him, physically hurt her and made her uncomfortable in the first book, and his reasons for justifying his actions was “I was protecting you.”
The story moves on to Feyre going to Velaris with Rhysand. She becomes literate because of a man, she gets through her PTSD and depression because of a man, and she also becomes High Lady because of a man. This really irked me because I can’t read books with a male saviour narrative. Having a love interest, and that love interest becoming your entire reason for survival are very different ideas.
The third book was basically nothing. It had no plot, it had nothing except for Feyre whining, everyone hating Nesta (who is the only tolerable character in this whole series), Rhysand as usual only caring about Velaris and ignoring the rest of the nightcourt, and Feyre agreeing with everything Rhysand says.
I didn’t even try to read A Court of Silver Flames because I couldn’t handle any more of this.
Feyre and Nesta – by Devina and Kashvi
She was one-dimensional, whiny, and could have been a strong character but agreed with her 500 year old mate about EVERY. SINGLE. THING. She did not behave like a responsible and mature adult. She also agreed with Rhysand when he wanted to go to the night court to retrieve something, and his cousin- Mor said she couldn’t do it because that place was filled with her worst memories. Feyre, being a survivor of PTSD, knew what it was like to go to a place like that, but no, she just agreed with Rhysand instead of empathising with Mor, a girl who she called family and was nothing but nice to her.
Another thing I noticed was that Feyre: broke the curse because she was motivated by her feelings for a man, became a fae thanks to seven men, her friends were the family of her mate (she would not have friends if she didn’t meet Rhysand) and she got to live a happy post-war life at the mercy of her ex-love interest. Basically coming to the conclusion that her character and plot was purely driven by men.
Feyre does nothing to help Illyrian women, doesn’t shut up about how rich she is because of Rhysand, doesn’t care about anyone who isn’t Rhysand, and accepts an art studio from her poor subjects although she already has more than three big houses.
How can people love a person like that? Forget the atrocious representation (even if there is any), and just think about this. These aren’t character flaws, these are just “wow how can a person be like this.”
The entire story of A Court of Silver Flames was essentially supposed to have been about Nesta, and her own experiences with self development etc. But it ended up being about Cassian and his pectoral tattoo.
The fact that Nesta’s journey revolves around men and male validation continues to be a point of disagreement during the plot, particularly when she gains vast supernatural power for herself bestowed by the Cauldron itself. Inspite of Nesta’s great power, we don’t really get to see a lot of it. She is either shown as being unable to control it, thus needing to be saved by the intervention of the male characters around her, having other men covet her for it and desiring to make her their “queen”, or she all but gives it up in the end anyway, as the most important thing to her is decided to be (surprise, surprise) Cassian.
It would be one thing if this was seen as another aspect of Nesta’s distorted sense of self but this goes unchallenged by the novel and is reinforced by everyone else informing Nesta of just how horrid she is that I remained completely perplexed. Character growth is one thing but Nesta was in no way needing a redemption arc. And it would’ve been much more meaningful to me if she’d done this work with Feyre and Elain as they learned to heal and forgive each other, rather than spending the majority of the book arguing with Cassian.
Nesta was portrayed as a character that would typically be described as “brooding”. The hypocrisy in the book world is that if Nesta would have been a male character readers would have been falling at their feet, but if it’s a woman, she is termed to be rude, ruthless, cold, annoying etc. Hey, ACOTAR stans! Double standards, much?
Too long; didn’t read: Feyre’s entire character that was said to be empowering and self-sufficient was actually a character solely driven by other people (male love interests in particular). Nesta was the only character in the series actually worth a penny, and if she was a male character, readers would be falling at her feet.
Why A Court of Wings and Ruin Should Actually be Titled A Court of Racism and Pedophilia – by Devina
One of the main reasons that pushed me to read ACOWAR was the way all the fans applauded the strong female protagonist, sex positivity, stimulating romances and female empowerment. Not only are those claims entirely false, but these fans are turning a blind eye to the blatant racism, misogyny and pedophilia.
The bibliophile community is allegedly tired of the dominant, alpha male love interest conquering and claiming the ‘powerful, not like other girls’ female lead trope. But are they? Considering the way they have all been lording this book over our heads, telling us to read them because of the representation and empowerment, after reading this book, I found these claims to be outright contradictory. When reading this book, I was handcuffed with the chains of traditional femininity and heteronormative gender roles. No escape.
Everybody talks about how what Rhysand did under the mountain was “oh, so protective, so feminist, I wish someone would do that for me, oh!” Mate. Hurting someone the way he did to ‘protect’ someone isn’t protecting them? You’re still hurting them? I’m tired of people trying (and miserably failing) to justify
riceman Rhysand drugging Feyre, intentionally harming her, and then brainwashing her by trying to tell her that he did it ‘for her own good.’ How? Can? Readers? Justify? This?
Feyre pounces into the arms of every hyper-masculine abusive fae male in a 2000-mile radius. As we’ve already determined, they’re not exactly feminist, are they? But get this! Not only are they abusive, they’re also *insert drumroll* OVER HALF A CENTURY OLD! His age came in like a wrecking ball, frankly. And Feyre hasn’t even lived THREE DECADES before this guy claims her for himself and presumes she wants to spend every minute of her existence with him without any prompting or consent from her side. I base characters and how much I like them on “would I hug them in real life?” and after finding out that he’s 500 years old and targeting young, gullible not-even-20 girls, no thank you.
How ‘empowering’ is it, exactly, when one Bad Boy Emo Feminist™ is constantly ‘protecting’ and ‘saving’ you (by hurting and drugging you, but that’s irrelevant), then immediately claims you for himself without even the question of agreement to the terms from both sides? For all of y’all that don’t know, it is called ‘consent’! Guess his mum didn’t teach him that the first thing you do with your mouth is ASK. As far as I remember, one of the books in the series was basically Feyre’s inner monologue being “there is a man here and he is making me uncomfortable.” The man in question being
riceman Rhysand, so make what you will of that. Feyre was left nauseated, shaking and scared. The entire purpose of this was to piss off Feyre’s boyfriend. But you know the worst part? The fact that this was written as something desirable.
Now that we have discussed the problematic aspect of the romance, let us talk about how nonchalantly the romance itself is portrayed, as if it is completely okay for teenage girls to read this nonsense. The possessive (obsession) love between the two characters is repeatedly romanticised by the author. My teenager brain could not handle the atrocities and abhorrence depicted in the desires of a creepy, old, abusive and obsessive male, but then again SJM could have told his intentions off as wrong and disgusting (because they ARE wrong and disgusting), but she had to go ahead and encourage this kind of behaviour in men and label it (incorrectly, so) as ‘sex positive.’ She preaches messages no young girl should hear.
Looking at the way Sarah J. Maas considers a book filled with toxicity and bigotry, publishes it and aims it to the audience of young adults, easily swayed children and girls who would feel as if these tropes are not only okay, but are also lauded? Can we trust this author? Telling young girls that all that matters is their future husband (which erases LGBTQIAP+ 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.”
Racism Reflected in the Series:
Many arguments from sjm fans about the topic of racism go something like this:
“Main character aside, most of the characters in ACOTAR are people of colour (POCs).”
Let us tell you why exactly, these stans are mighty erroneous. (We are POCs, if y’all wanna know.)
For this part, I urge people who haven’t looked up ACOTAR fanarts for Rhysand, Azriel and Cassian to look it up. You have the image fresh in your mind? Okay, now look up the following:
Indian, Mexican, Guatemalan, Hawaiian, Afro-Carribean, Filipino. See the difference?
If you don’t wanna do it, it’s completely fine, I’ll tell you the difference.
Fanarts of Rhysand, Azriel, Cassaian are all depicted as being just really tanned Henry Cavills. The fandom, and artists, have nothing to use for their depictions except for ‘golden brown’ skin, so they default to imagining them as tanned white men (tanned skin with straight black hair, straight noses, thin lips and rounded eyes). Golden brown/tan skin is an incredibly universal and nebulous term that can refer to countless ethnicities, like the ones I have listed above. When you look at a POC, your brains are socially defined to at least have a ballpark idea of where they’re from, aspects of their appearance such as thickness of hair, eye shape, downturn or shape of noses etc. so why can’t we determine and finally come to a conclusion about which ethnicity Illyrian men are? Because SJM has no target ethnicity for the Illyrians, meaning that they have no clarifying features to imply one specific ethnic background in the text or fan art.
All we know for sure about the Illyrians is that they are dark-haired, and darker complected than the Archeron sisters. Vagueness regarding race causes this fandom to default to white (for some reason), thus the general “tan white men” interpretation of the Illyrians.
The ‘golden brown’ description is not enough. The Illyrians do not serve their purpose as representative characters because they are not easily identifiable to their target demographic, nor are they a positive representation. In a social context where we are so trained to recognize these things, explicit media representation is much preferred, if not necessary. It is the reader’s entitlement- namely, non-white readers’ entitlement – to interpret these characters how they wish.
What about the attire? Feyre, Mor, and Amren’s attire is not culturally significant to the Night Court. It also relates with sweaters and leggings, dresses made of chiffon, bell sleeves, and Elie Saab-type designs (i.e. Starfall, Court of Nightmares). The attire loses all consistency and meaning beyond the aesthetic SJM wants to set for a given scene, implying that their outerwear is meant to be an aesthetic rather than culturally significant.
SJM has a degree in creative writing, has won three consecutive Goodreads Choice Awards, and continues to have stans and a career despite blatantly sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, ableist, fat-phobic themes and storylines and lack of basic prose discipline.
If you’re reading this thank you for sticking around till the end. We hope this review helped you, and comment if you would like a part 2 or a review on a particular book!