As long-time fans of Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass series, we couldn’t be happier that her new series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, has taken off with such success. At the time of this posting ACOTAR was at the #2 spot on the New York Times Bestseller list for YA Lit. If you’re not familiar with Maas’ work, or the new series, here’s the rundown:
When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin-one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin-and his world-forever.
Today, Nicola, Alyssa and Allison are dishing about their reactions to the first book in what is sure to be a wildly successful series. There may be some minor spoilers ahead in the first half of our conversation, but nothing that would ruin your reading experience. The point in which our conversation moves toward major spoilers is clearly marked!
Alyssa: Since we’re all TOG fans, I don’t think we could read ACOTAR without wondering: How similar are these two series? How much does ACOTAR draw from myths and fairy tales compared to TOG? How alike are Feyre and Celaena? How do their worlds relate?
Nicola: The Fae in both worlds draw on Celtic mythology and fairy tales, but that relationship is a lot more apparent in ACOTAR. It has a more fairy tale quality to it, with riddles, curses, and tasks that come in threes, and even the map itself resembles the British Isles, with Hybern being clearly derived from Hibernia, the Latin name for Ireland.
Allison: Yes, I thought ACOTAR was more faithful to its original “sources,” in general. ACOTAR sticks really closely to its roots as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, whereas TOG was only very, very loosely about Cinderella. The biggest difference between TOG and ACOTAR for me is that the tone is really different. I see Throne of Glass as pure adventure and though there are definitely some steamy and/or romantic moments, the plot is mainly driven by adventure and politics. There’s elements of that in ACOTAR too, but the plot is mainly love driven and the sexy scenes have leveled up quite a bit. One reviewer called it “soft core erotica.”
Alyssa: Yes, it’s interesting to compare the romance/sex in TOG (YA) and ACOTAR (New Adult). While TOG is for a more mature audience than a lot of YA and has sex scenes, Feyre’s passion for Tamlin is much more fiery, bold, sexy, and all-consuming. ACOTAR is still very much an adventure, like TOG, and the romance doesn’t occur until halfway through the book. Yet, even though there aren’t a lot of romantic/sex scenes, they are much more explicit and sensual than in the TOG books. I really like that ACOTAR is a love story that evolves from a strong heroine’s adventure rather than strictly an erotic romance. Like the male heroes in traditional fantasy/adventure stories, Feyre fights the major battles (and survives against many odds) to save those she loves.
Nicola: Yeah, the romance/sex in ACOTAR permeates the narrative in a way it doesn’t in TOG. It’s a more defining part of the narrative. In both books, there are three elements that are important, but given different weight: plot (by which I mean antagonist- or otherwise externally-driven events that push the story forward), character, and relationships. In TOG, plot and character development have roughly equal weight, with Celaena’s relationships, including her romantic ones, supporting and defining those two elements. In ACOTAR, on the other hand, Feyre’s relationship with Tamlin is the main element, with the plot elements and Feyre’s character development supporting and driving that relationship.
Allison: Exactly, well put! At first, I thought that Feyre and Celaena were a lot alike. Feyre starts off as this emotionally tough huntress, protecting her family and then in the second half of the novel falls deeply in love and we see another side of her. I really liked this, because I think lots of times we think that the “strong” female character won’t be so driven by love, but Feyre unabashedly loves Tamlin and will go to any lengths to save him.
Alyssa: I love comparing Feyre and Celaena. Yes, they are similarly clever, adventurous, brave, independent, angry, and fierce, but they also have many differences. Feyre doesn’t enjoy hunting and she kills out of necessity (in order to save herself and her family), while Celaena thrives on being the best assassin. Feyre doesn’t want anger and hate to motivate her to fight and kill, and she seeks acceptance and love. Celaena, however, is driven by revenge, as well as a sense of justice, to fight and kill. She is also Fae and can be ruthless and arrogant (characteristics of Fae), while human Feyre is more vulnerable, compassionate and open. She has fewer emotional barriers and she wants to understand and forgive. I also like that Maas chose first-person narration for ACOTAR, which not only distinguishes it from TOG but makes Feyre a more intimate and emotionally compelling character. We really get inside her head, which we don’t always do with Celaena.
Nicola: I also think Feyre has much better self-image than Celaena. She’s insecure about being illiterate, and she feels guilt over mistakes she makes in her estimation of the Fae and treatment of Tamlin, but the things she feels guilt over are things she should feel guilt over, and she is driven to rectify her mistakes for their own sake. Celaena, while arrogant and apparently self-assured, seems to use this more as a cover for self-hatred, and when she tries to fix her mistakes it’s more because she made them than because they need fixed.
Allison: Yeah, Celaena is really driven by ambition in a way that Feyre is not. Celaena has an obsession with being the best. So like you said, if she makes a mistake, she fixes it out of a strong sense that she needs to find a way to align her actions with her “cover.” Yet, sometimes Celaena reminds me of Black Widow in the way where she feels a lot of guilt about the things she’s done and she’s wiping her “ledger” clean, slowly but surely. I think that’s where the hardness comes from, being alone and being forced into such a violent life from a young age.
Alyssa: Those are really great points you both make about Celaena’s guilt, self-hatred and ambition. The Black Widow comparison makes sense. Celaena is blessed and cursed by her abilities. And like you said, she’s been alone and experienced so much violence, so she’s had to shut off her emotions and compassion in order to survive.
Nicola: Feyre has a much more compassionate reaction to taking a life than Celaena, who has built up walls around her emotions so that she doesn’t feel guilt over murder. At first, of course, killing one of the Fae is, to Feyre, no worse (and possibly better) than killing an animal, but as she gets to know them better her attitude changes and, for her, it’s like killing another human being – which is entirely different than Celaena’s attitude towards killing another human.
Allison: I think for me, this was one of the most important differences between ACOTAR and TOG: Feyre’s story is so much more emotional. Don’t get me wrong, I adore TOG (you know how much I love Celaena!), and maybe it’s the first-person narration that does it, but holy crap, ACOTAR has a lot of emotional depth. I like to be drawn into a story, but I literally couldn’t put ACOTAR down. I was completely immersed in Feyre’s perspective. The time Feyre spends Under the Mountain is emblazoned on my mind, like, permanently. I think about it all the time.
Nicola: Yes, in ACOTAR we’re deep inside Feyre’s head the entire time. I know she’s a minor character, but I really like the development of Nesta. There’s so much nuance in her relationship with her sisters, and I love how she’s so strong-willed a faerie glamour doesn’t work on her! And how she wants to see the world! I would totally read a book from her POV, seriously.
Alyssa: Me too. I hope we see more of Nesta in the next two books. I really like that Feyre has two sisters and a father. That she’s not an orphan, like Celaena is, makes Feyre have more emotional depth than Celaena. She can’t behave selfishly or impractically, like her sisters can, because she’s promised her mother that she would care for her family.
Allison: I completely agree with you both about Nesta; she has the makings of a quiet badass — one of my favorite ways for ladies to be badass. I love the she learns from her mistakes. The short time Feyre spends at home before returning to Prythian is so great because Feyre gets to make up for lost time with her sisters. When Nesta reinforces the idea that Feyre should never come back, that she should move on, I totally teared up! I think it’s great that Maas gave Feyre such a complex family life. That’s something Caleana doesn’t get much of until Heir of Fire, with Rowan, who becomes her family.
!!Our conversation shifted a bit here and fair warning there are MAJOR spoilers ahead, so don’t read on if you haven’t read the book yet!!
One of the things I couldn’t stop wondering about while I read ACOTAR was if Feyre’s world butts up against Celaena’s. Like, could you get there through a wyrdgate?
Nicola: That’s an interesting point about the wyrdgates, Allison. It didn’t even occur to me while reading, but I think it would be interesting to see Celaena and Feyre interact with each other. I imagine Celaena would feel inferior next to Feyre, seeing her as someone who managed to retain humanity and compassion in bad circumstances, while Feyre would admire Celaena’s strength.
Alyssa: That those series’ worlds and characters could intersect didn’t occur to me either, but I like that idea. I think you’re right about about how Celaena and Feyre would view each other and interact. They would understand each other because they both have experienced a lot of pain and anger. They have overcome difficult circumstances, but they still have more suffering ahead. Feyre’s situation is more hopeful than Celaena’s, however, and she has a better chance of a happy ending. Even if Celaena is victorious at the end of TOG, she has a much darker past. It will be difficult for her to feel truly happy.
I think Celaena would envy Feyre’s ability to love Tamlin unconditionally (and vice-versa) and find true happiness. Despite all that’s been up against them (and there’s the whole question of what will happen with Rhys), Feyre’s romance with Tamlin is much less complicated than Celaena’s romantic relationships. Celaena can’t be open to loving and trusting someone like Feyre can (and she’s essentially alone), so Celaena would probably envy Feyre’s faith in true love and partnership. Feyre, on the other hand, might want to be more emotionally and physically tough like Celaena. That would be very cool if the two series interconnect!
Allison: I’m sure I’m reaching, but a girl can hope. Even a hint that they exist in the same multiverse would be cool. I know that Sarah and Susan (Dennard) have hinted that the world in the Truthwitch series somehow butts up against the TOG world… I know that’s totally inside jokes between besties, but the wyrdgates are essentially portals, sooooo… On another note, do you think Feyre is going to lose it now that she’s Fae? Nicola mentioned earlier that she’s more sensitive than Celaena, due to her humanity, is she going to go all crazy with her new Fae emotions?
Nicola: I’m wondering that, too, Allison. In a lot of traditional faerie myth, they’re not exactly the most compassionate beings – at least, not how we’d understand it. You know the gentleman with the thistledown hair in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell? He thinks it’s totally reasonable to save someone’s life at the cost of her having to spend every night dancing at his balls, and doesn’t understand why anyone would have a problem with that. That’s pretty typical of the kind of stories both Jonathan Strange and ACOTAR are drawing on. Some of the Fae in ACOTAR, like Tamlin, seem much more human than that, but then there’s Rhys. Rhys is just so typically faerie. He objectifies Feyre (I think at one point he even refers to her as his property), but then at times he also chafes under Amarantha’s thumb and seems to have genuine ethical issues with her behaviour – ethical issues that we, as humans, share.
Alyssa: Rhys will certainly wreak havoc on Feyre’s and Tamlin’s relationship in the next book. His deal with Feyre draws on the Persephone myth, and he objectifies Feyre while Tamlin doesn’t. Rhys is more of a “bad boy” than Tamlin and, like you said, more Fae; I think when he does act more human, he’s motivated by practicality and a sense of what’s best for himself and the Fae. Rhys seems to think it’s okay for humans to be their slaves and property, while Tamlin feels remorse for the past and wants to be more compassionate and human. It’s possible that Tamlin has a dark secret that will complicate his humanity, though. We’ll see. Also there’s likely going to be a bigger conflict between the mortal and immortal realms in the next books. That will really test Feyre’s and Tamlin’s loyalties and how much they identify as Fae vs. human.
Allison: I am so looking forward to seeing what happens between Feyre and Rhys. I dig Tamlin (a lot), but I love a complication and Rhys is that 100%. I think that Maas makes it hard to tell how much of his objectification and questionable behavior towards Feyre is a part of the cover he develops for her, to protect them both from Amarantha, and how much he actually feels. I wonder about that last moment between them in the book where he sees something in her that rattles him a bit. I’m really looking forward to seeing where that and all the rest of this goes. Three cheers for ACOTAR, TOG, Celaena and Feyre!
ETA: Allison apologizes that Celaena’s name was misspelled in the title of the original run of this post! Too many vowels for her feeble brain!