Coven Chat: A Court of Mist and Fury

 

17927395We are so excited to discuss Sarah J. Maas’ new book, A Court of Mist and Fury, the second installment in the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. Allison recommended the series to you on Wednesday, so if you haven’t read any of the books yet, go check that out.

Remember, in a Coven Chat, we definitely reveal spoilers, so if you haven’t read either book yet, you might want to hold off on our discussion! 

Nicola: Although I enjoyed ACOTAR, it was probably my least favourite of Maas’ books, perhaps because of my long-standing attachment to Celaena, or perhaps because I was rather lukewarm about Tamlin as a love interest, and the romance between him and Feyre forms the core plot of the novel. ACOMAF, on the other hand, is quite possibly my favourite. I love the world of Prythian, the human queens and glimpses into their world, the new characters, everything.

Allison: I agree, 100%. The second I was finished I wanted to read it again. Maas has a talent for creating stories like this. The ToG series is one of the few that I’m willing to re-read multiple times as well. I plan to read ACOTAR and ACOMAF again in the very near future.

Alyssa: Yes, I’ve re-read Maas’s series multiple times as well–usually every time a new book comes out. I re-read ACOTAR right before ACOMAF’s release and I was really rooting for Feyre and Tamlin, even though I was intrigued by Rhys too. I assumed Tamlin was Feyre’s true love, with Rhys challenging, but not breaking, their bond. I was worried about a love triangle in ACOMAF, even though I also had faith in Maas’s ability to avoid such cliches, or at least do the unexpected with them.  

Allison: Yes, I worried a little about the love triangle as well, even though I don’t always mind it. It does have a tendency to feel a bit predictable these days.

Alyssa: Now I’m really curious to see how different my next reading of ACOTAR will be since I’ve read ACOMAF. Will I like Tamlin less or view him as being more possessive in ACOTAR, or will I still see him as Feyre sees him and fall for him again? At first I was a little worried about Tamlin’s shift in character and how ACOMAF heads in such a new direction. But it didn’t take long for me to really like that ACOMAF shows Tamlin in a different light and demonstrates, through Feyre and Rhys’s mating bond, that true love is equal partnership–about each person having freedom and choice–not about one person having control over the other, no matter the situation. Maas is really good at changing her main characters’ love interests in her books in a very satisfactory way. I’m surprised by how much I fall in and out of love with these love interests and I’m okay with that. It doesn’t feel flighty or inauthentic.

Nicola: Aye, me too, and I think it’s so satisfactory because it all comes down to solid character development. Feyre changes immensely between the latter part of ACOTAR and the early chapters of ACOMAF, and Tamlin changes, too, and that doesn’t mean their relationship wasn’t real before, but it does mean it’s over now. We discussed this with QoS, but I love how Maas doesn’t fall into the “MC meets her true love in book 1 and they’re together the rest of the series” mould; while it can work well, it can stifle character development as well, and neither Celaena nor Feyre would grow as much as they do if they were tethered to their early loves.

Allison: I love that we get to see Feyre struggle with this. That even though Tamlin locking her in the house is a breaking point for her, she still mourns their relationship. I appreciated the fact that though she feels murky about things when Mor first rescues her, it’s clear she’s done and won’t go back, even if she doesn’t know what to do next. I also really appreciate the way that Maas stages this. Feyre leaves Tamlin’s court twice before Mor steps in the final time. Even though it’s a part of her bargain with Rhys, we can see her relief in not being in Tamlin’s house, even when she feels eager to return, that feeling is complicated by a growing feeling of dread at being in Tamlin’s presence.

Nicola: Agreed. I think a part of her reluctance is that she knows she did something unforgivable in killing those fae for Amarantha, and the only way it’s possibly acceptable is if she did it for her true love, but if she doesn’t love Tamlin, it means she’s just a murderer.

Speaking of romantic relationships, I love how Rhys’ parents’ relationship shows that even with the magical mating bond, love isn’t assured. It’s still a choice. Tamlin and Feyre didn’t fail to make things work because Feyre was someone else’s mate, but because Tamlin became controlling and abusive. Likewise, Feyre and Rhys don’t end up together because they’re mates, but because they respect and challenge each other.

Allison: Yes! This was a cool way of showing that Feyre does love Rhys and that the bond doesn’t affect that. She’s free to love him or not. This also brings up how amazing it is that Rhys is so committed to giving Feyre a choice.

Nicola: Aye, and it makes it so clear how Tamlin wasn’t letting Feyre make choices even in minor things, with the way he cloistered her inside his manor to keep her safe. Tamlin kind of reminds me of Edward Cullen in this book, with the way he controls Feyre ‘for her own good’. The key difference, of course, is that this book emphasises that that is NOT okay, and that Feyre has the RIGHT to freedom and autonomy.

Allison: I am so glad to be rid of Tamlin as the love interest.. I had this feeling by the end of ACOTAR that something was up with him that wasn’t so great. It was clear that Maas was putting Rhys in a position to be a complication and that his character was more complex than Feyre originally perceives. Though I was still rooting for Tamlin and Feyre, I was really interested in seeing how things with Rhys played out. I’m pleased with the shift.

Nicola: You know, it’s funny you should say that. When I finished ACOTAR I didn’t really notice anything wrong with Tamlin, and I was rather dreading Rhys’ involvement in ACOMAF, because it felt like Maas was setting up one of those horrible ‘girl falls for abusive and manipulative jackass’ love triangles. I really should have had more faith in Maas, given the nuanced and thoughtful way she’s handled Celaena’s relationships. In this case, she subverted the cliché, so that Feyre realises Tamlin has become abusive and only falls for Rhys once she’s finished grieving that relationship.

Allison: There was something about Rhys’ frustration with Tamlin that made me wonder. Yes, he objectifies Feyre, but he also helps her in a way that is out of character for his persona. It made me wonder why Maas was putting Rhys in Feyre’s way and how his inauthentic behavior reflects on Tamlin. Basically, I figured if Rhys was willing to get vulnerable with Feyre in ACOTAR, that there might be something off about Tamlin.

Nicola: That’s a good point. I’m really excited to re-read ACOTAR soon now that I’ve read ACOMAF and see how it changes my perception of the characters.

Alyssa: I love how good Maas is at shifting our perspectives of her main characters’ relationships. But she also doesn’t create stereotypical love interests who are blatant manipulative jackasses. Instead, we experience the good and the bad of these relationships from Feyre’s or Celaena’s perspectives and our feelings towards their love interests change accordingly. I also like that Feyre’s shift in romantic partners–her falling in love with Rhys and falling out of love with Tamlin–doesn’t dominate ACOMAF.  

Nicola: Aye, there’s so much going on in ACOMAF that I love and the relationships feel like such a natural extension of the characters’ interactions with each other and their development through the other plot points. There’s an interesting parallel between the romances in ACOTAR and ACOMAF. In ACOTAR the romance is primary, the faerie war secondary, while in ACOMAF the threat of the Hybern king is primary, and the romance with Rhys secondary. What this also means is that right from the start, especially knowing that ACOTAR was based on Beauty and the Beast, I was rooting for Feyre to fall for Tamlin not because of him, but because of the change in perspective that represented: her acceptance of the fae.

With Rhys in ACOMAF, I hated him at first, then began to respect and even like him, and by about two-thirds of the way through the novel I was convinced he and Feyre were perfect together, but I didn’t really root for the two of them like I did Feyre and Tamlin, simply because there’s so much else going on and, whether they’re friends or lovers, they share a relationship based on trust and respect that lends them the strength to face the king of Hybern, the human queens, and whatever else the brewing war throws at them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty certain I squealed with delight when they admitted their feelings for each other, but I wouldn’t have been unsatisfied with them deciding they were best as friends, either.

Allison: I agree, I also would have been fine with them staying friends, even though I think they’re really great together as a romantic pair. The first time Rhys takes Feyre, to save her from her wedding day, I was thrilled. I love the way they fail to have a “romance.” He’s not wooing her and she’s not being courted by him, things just develop. The fact that he becomes her friend, even though he knows they are mates, is kind of amazing to me. It’s the best gift he can give to someone whose choices have been repeatedly stripped from them and it comes from a place of real empathy, because he knows what it is to lose your agency. I think understanding the way he avoids enacting the bargain for months in order not to interfere in her life is important. He only takes her at her wedding because she is literally begging someone, anyone to save her. When he sees that she’s being abused he reinstates the agreement between them.

One of the things I really appreciate about Feyre and Rhys, versus Feyre and Tamlin, is that they are both so complicated (and honestly, a bit difficult in terms of personality). Tamlin wants Feyre to be simple and the more difficult she becomes, the more he stifles her. Rhys, however, seems to revel in all of Feyre’s “difficult” personality traits. He likes to see her stand up for herself and creates spaces for her to do that.

Alyssa: Yes, agency! So important. I think with ACOTAR, we can lose sight of the fact that Feyre doesn’t have agency in her relationship with Tamlin because we’re swept up in the Beauty and the Beast-like romance. I agree with Nicola’s point that it’s easy to root for Feyre and Tamlin, not because of Tamlin, but because of the change in perspective that the fairy tale symbolizes. But when the curse is broken, Feyre realizes that she must have agency and Tamlin is not willing to grant her that. I like that even though my feelings towards Tamlin have changed at this point and I am so happy that Feyre left him and I wouldn’t want her to go back, I feel for him more than I hate him.

He becomes the monster again and his own worst enemy. His behavior is inexcusable, but it’s realistic. I don’t like it, but I can understand how and why this is happening. He becomes more and more of a manipulative jackass, but I don’t think he sees (or wants to see) himself that way. And I think he’s motivated by love, even if it’s an abusive and destructive love. He seems to really believe in that mythic romance, too, of saving Feyre from a curse and seemingly abusive relationship with Rhys. I’m very interested to see what happens next with Tamlin’s character arc. I guess it’s less about me hating Tamlin for the way he is and more about really championing the way Feyre gains agency in ACOMAF, and not just through her friendship turned romance with Rhys.

Allison: I agree with this so much. Yes, Tamlin turns into an abuser and I think he had the predisposition to be over-protective and stifling to begin with. Nicola is right, he’s similar to Edward Cullen in that way in the first book. There’s something really cool about the way Maas sets up that kind of behavior as seductive, but that can easily turn from problematic to abusive under the right circumstances. I have a hard time forgiving Tamlin for this though, because Rhys went through so much worse Under the Mountain, AND was dealing with the mating bond, and still he fights against his response to protect Feyre at all costs.

However, I appreciate the thoroughness with which Maas reinforces in ACOMAF that being Under the Mountain changed all the characters. I like that Tamlin isn’t wholesale proved to have been an abusive partner from the beginning, but that life circumstances changed him into someone who couldn’t hear Feyre’s point of view anymore. This feels realistic to me. Tamlin, Rhys and Feyre all have pretty severe PTSD from having been Under the Mountain and it was bound to make their relationships change.

I am so pleased that Maas “went there” and points out repeatedly that Amarantha was raping Rhys and that it might have an effect on how he views sex and trust. I think it’s almost taboo to talk about men being raped by women, especially as adults, and I feel that Maas’ treatment of the issue was sensitive and moving. I also love the way Rhys’ character develops in this book. I think there were lots of hints that Rhys was playing a part Under the Mountain in ACOTAR and that he was more complicated than Feyre believes him to be. What I was fascinated by in this book is that he is somewhere in the middle. He’s still a bad boy and arrogant as hell, but that arrogance is explained and his deeper insecurities reveal him to be a whole person in this way that was really satisfying for me.

Alyssa: Yes, definitely. Maas is really good at creating complex and morally ambiguous lead and supporting characters who are likable and usually relatable, despite being arrogant and aggressive. I think Maas’s series demonstrate that these qualities not only mask insecurities, but they are not bad per se. When we are in the heads of arrogant, somewhat villainous or frightening characters (even heroes), these characters are so real and we can accept how they think and act in ways that we would not in our everyday lives.  

Allison: One of the things I’m liking about these books in contrast to the Throne of Glass books (although that series remains one of my all time favorites) is that they are so completely character driven. Maas writes amazing characters, overall, but Throne of Glass’ focus on the larger political drama takes center stage, while ACOTAR has a similar theme of a world in turmoil, but the books stay very close to the main characters, allowing us to know them in a different way. The first person POV allows for this in a different way, but we get to know Rhys, Mor, Cassian, Azriel and Amren pretty well in this book as well. Maas is really skilled at creating scenes that both move the plot and help us know the characters in deep, meaningful ways.

Nicola: Agreed. I’m particularly impressed with the way she manages to give nuance to Feyre’s relationship with her sisters, even though they rarely appear after their rather unflattering introduction at the start of ACOTAR. And yet I can see why Feyre forgives them for their complacency and why she loves them. And, honestly, I rather admire Nesta, in spite of her ill-treatment of Feyre.

Allison: I am really looking forward to seeing who Nesta becomes as a result of her transformation. She’s already so formidable and that moment when she exited the Cauldron felt heavy with foreshadowing Nesta’s potential for being a scary badass as Fae.

Nicola: Yes! Me too. I think she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with, not unlike Mor. I knew from the moment she was introduced that Mor would be a formidable woman, because Maas knows enough about mythology to know the connotations of naming her character Morrigan, and yet it’s also clear right from the start that she’s warm and kind. She’s willing to befriend Feyre, a woman who loathes the person who matters the most to Mor, because she can see that Feyre needs a friend. And yet I would not want to get on her bad side.

Allison: No kidding! It’s interesting to watch how she and Amren go through almost opposing developments from Feyre’s perspective. She sees Mor as approachable and warm from the start and then grows to understand that she’s a potentially terrifying powerhouse, while Amren scares the crap out of her from the start, but gentles somewhat as time goes on… Though to call Amren gentle at all is probably a mistake.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how all of their relationships grow and change in the next book. I’m definitely hoping for some more of the dual perspective. I liked hearing Rhys’ thoughts at the end. What are you two looking forward to?

Nicola: Yeah, I’d love to see more scenes from other characters’ perspectives, though I’m not sure how feasible multiple characters would be with a first-person POV. And this book totally upended my perception of so many characters, so I can’t wait to see how they and their relationships develop further.

Alyssa: Yes, I’d love more multiple perspectives, even though I agree it’s likely more difficult with a first person POV and might mean trying to do too much in a trilogy. But her multiple narratives is one of my favorite aspects of her series. And, of course, all of the sexy scenes too. 🙂

Allison: Thanks to you both, as alwasys, for this lovely talk. Dear readers, please tell us what you think in the comments!

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A Court of Thorns and Roses

16096824If you’re a lover of fantasy, faeries and romance, you’ve probably heard of Sarah J. Maas’ adult series A Court of Thorns and Roses. If not, and you are a fan of the previously mentioned things, you will not be disappointed in this series. Nicola, Alyssa and I discussed the first book shortly after its release and plan to discuss A Court of Mist and Fury later this week.

Fans of Maas’ other series (Throne of Glass) will enjoy many of the similarities between the series: fantastic heroines, loads of magic and fantastic worldbuilding, as well as a racing, almost addictive pace. However, while Throne of Glass is a series that has political drama and adventure at its core, with a side of romance, A Court of Thorns and Roses is definitely more adult and more overtly focused on romance. In terms of sexiness and violence, ACOTAR is categorically NOT a young adult series.

Even though the violence is darker and the sexiness is more explicit, these aren’t books that are primarily focused on getting to the juicy bits. The plot lines of both published books are robust and engrossing. Feyre, the series’ main character, is a human in a world that fears the Fae kingdom at its borders. When Feyre accidentally kills a Fae warrior, she is summoned to serve penance at the estate of a Fae lord, Tamlin. Once there, Feyre is drawn into a centuries old conflict between different Fae forces, which periodically has pulled humans into the fray.

Feyre falls hard for Tamlin, and even though the story is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Tamlin is anything but beastly. I’ll admit, the first half of the first book reads a bit more like a more traditional supernatural romance, but the second half complicates things completely. Everything you think you know is overturned and all of the series characters’ arcs become deliciously complex. I’m happy to say that trend continues into ACOMAF.

As a main character, Feyre is multi-faceted in a way that makes her easy to identify with. The books are told through a first-person POV and I find it pretty easy to be in her head. Feyre loves big, even when she has difficult feelings and I think that big heartedness, combined with some serious badassery is what makes me like her so much. Maas doesn’t sacrifice Feyre’s emotions for her ability to kick ass.

Part of what I love about this series is that is merges genres that I love seamlessly and satisfyingly, but if you’re looking for just one or the other, this might not please you. ACOTAR has strong roots in romance, with sexy interludes that will get your pulse racing and romances rooted in deep, abiding emotions. But it’s also a well built fantasy, with a mesmerizing worldview and engrossing political conflict.

One of my favorite things about what Sarah J Maas has started to do with ACOTAR is combine genres in a way that’s really pleasing for female readers. She allows Feyre to be wholly feminine, sexual and powerful, as well as deal with heavy topics like abuse, PTSD, and heartbreak without compromising her story. Feyre’s tribulations aren’t plot devices to make you like her or care about her more, they’re an integral part of the story, and who Feyre is at the beginning and who she’s becoming.

Feyre can be sexual and romantic. She is self aware enough to wonder about who her feelings make her and how her decisions affect others. Honestly, Maas’ Throne of Glass series made me admire her as a storyteller, but ACOTAR makes me admire her as a woman. Perhaps I identify with Feyre in a lot of ways, so I feel more strongly about this than I would otherwise, but I love the way this series is going and I hope you will too. Fans of Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty will enjoy this one.

Alyssa, Nicola and I are wrapping up our discussion of A Court of Mist and Fury as I write this and we’ll be sharing with you on Friday. Cheers!

Allison Carr Waechter will always root for the bad boy with a heart of gold and the broken-hearted heroine.


Liminal Space: When the Lines Between YA and Adult Get Blurry

22698568Allison: Recently, after finishing The Invasion of the Tearling, I shouted at Alyssa (via the internet) “THIS IS NOT YA!” and she gently reminded me that, no, it’s not. This launched a discussion between me, Nicola and Alyssa about the recent blurring of lines between YA and adult novels in a certain subset of the sci-fi/fantasy world. Today, we’d like to share some of that discussion with you.

What is YA, anyway?

Nicola: Part of the issue with the blurred lines between adult fantasy and YA is that it is so difficult to pin down a definition of what YA is. It generally features teenage protagonists, who usually grapple with some kind of coming-of-age theme. It’s often told in a close POV, frequently first-person. You see I’m using lots of generalisations, because YA The Shattered Courtis a very varied category, even if we just restrict ourselves to fantasy, or even fantasy set in a secondary world.

But if we look at my list of characteristics above, we see that something like Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses has more in common with much of YA fantasy than something like Lord of the Rings, which, in spite of its age, is still what many lay people think of as characteristic fantasy. Maas’ Feyre is a young woman (19), who tells the story in first-person and who discovers that the world is not as black-and-white as she imagined, with the Fae not being the utter monsters of her imagination.

Allison: I think that one of the definitions I would add to “YA” is that it’s often more quickly paced than “adult” fantasy (such as LOTR). I think that’s why ACOTAR, the Tearling books and A Darker Shade of Magic and The Shattered Court are all enjoyable for people who like the subject matter and pace of YA fantasy, but with more adult subject matter.

A Darker Shade final for Irene Alyssa: I agree with everything you’re both saying. YA in general is in a very liminal space between children’s and adult books. In the bookstore where I worked, the YA section used to be in the children’s area. Then Twilight happened. YA (ages 12 & up), now re-categorized as Teen, moved to the adult fiction area and the old YA section in the children’s area became Middle Grade (ages 8-11).

Also, the line between YA and adult is even blurrier for fantasy than for contemporary because their teen protagonists (whether 15 or 19 yrs old) are not typical teens, dealing with what we think of as typical teen issues. The conflicts in fantasy are usually more extreme and demand much greater heroics. To become a hero, teen protagonists must “grow up” and demonstrate physical an16096824d mental strength more quickly because there’s usually a greater sense of urgency and emergency. They usually face multiple life-or-death situations and must undergo a more significant self-transformation to not only stay alive but defeat their enemies. Often teens in fantasy (I’m thinking of Celaena) seem more adult than real world teens.

Nicola: That’s a good point, Alyssa, about how the teen protagonists in fantasy tend to be facing much more severe situations than the teens in contemporary novels and the teenage audience. I’d also argue that epic fantasy themes have a lot of crossover with YA themes in general. Kelsea in The Queen of the Tearling and Sophie in The Shattered Court are 19 and 21 respectively; like so many YA protagonists, they’re young women coming to terms with who they are and their place in the world.

Alyssa: Yes. And we experience that intimately and usually from a close (often first-person) POV. Like you mentioned earlier, YA is usually very personable and immediate. Adult fantasy, however, can depict main characters at more of a distance. For example, one of the reasons the Tearling books are adult rather than YA fantasy is that we as readers are distanced from Kelsea as a main POV character and we sometimes have a better grasp of the other characters’ feelings and thoughts than we do Kelsea’s. Also, YA is usually more hopeful than adult fiction–with a trajectory towards a happy ending, a “love conquers all” romance, and a positive message about self-resilience and humanity in general despite all the ways we humans have messed up and perpetuate violence.

Maas’ books, especially ACOTAR, are perfect examples of this blurry line between YA and adult. They are categorized as juvenile fiction for older readers (ages 14 & up), so they are really in that liminal space between most YA (12 & up) and adult fantasy. ACOTAR is for a more mature audience than her Throne of Glass series and has more explicit sex and violence. (See our ACOTAR discussion post where we go into more detail about these series’ differences). ACOTAR has also been considered New Adult, but that label is tricky too, especially for books that are not contemporary romance.

We also can’t ignore how sales and marketing affect how a book is categorized. Will it sell better as YA or adult? Will as many people buy it if it’s say $25 rather than $18? Will it sell better on a YA or adult fantasy/new fiction shelf? Let’s consider Maas’ books again. What later became her Throne of Glass series was not originally written as YA and these books have a lot of crossover appeal. It seems that if ToG had been published as adult fantasy instead, ACOTAR would be considered adult fantasy. But since ToG is such a popular YA series, ACOTAR is also YA.

Nicola: I’m reminded of an article Nicola Morgan wrote a while back on tips for writing for teens. In it she talks about the importance of ‘teenage interest’:

“If teenagers are interested, you can write about it. If they aren’t, you can’t. Things they are not interested in include: menopause, pensions and midlife angst.”

The flip-side to this, of course, is that teenagers are interested in a lot of the same things adults are interested in: romance, friendship, social justice, politics, magic, scientific endeavour, the list goes on.

Allison: I agree. Here’s my concern: in a book like The Invasion of the Tearling, which I know lots of teenagers will read, things like graphic marital rape aren’t (in my opinion) really “YA” topics. While it might not be something that’s such a big deal (as far as appropriateness) for a 17-19 year old to read, it’s a pretty big deal for a 14 year old. I mean, I’m 33 and I kind of freaked out about that aspect of the book because I had misclassified it as YA and really wasn’t expecting that kind of subject matter. I think that both adults and teenagers can be interested in lots of the same kinds of stuff, but when it comes to more sensitive topics like violence or even consensual sex, there’s different levels of interest and I feel like narrative elements should address the audience the book is “meant” for. That gets a little messy in the kinds of liminal books we’re discussing.

Female authors/protags in adult fantasy classed as YA

Nicola: I think, in a way, the success of women in YA has worked against us, in that I find that fantasy, a traditionally male genre that women have carved out a place for ourselves in in YA, when it’s written by and about women, even when it has explicit sex and adult protagonists, is more likely to be classed as YA than the male counterpart.

I think there’s some unconscious sexism going on here. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that librarians and booksellers, who in my experience are lovely people, are part of some vast conspiracy to discredit female authors. Rather, I think that a lot of people have this unconscious association in their minds, that when they see a fantasy book cover/title and a woman’s name, the default assumption is YA, where that same assumption does not apply with male authors.

Allison: I agree. I think that the “confusion” about whether the books we’re talking about are YA or not (even when they clearly are not YA) has to do with who’s authoring the books. It’s sad that it seems like a slam to YA at the same time, because as we’ve established countless times in the past, the three of us firmly believe there’s nothing “low-quality” about YA, any more than there is in any other genre of fiction.

In the case of Victoria Schwab and Sarah J Maas’s work, both have written YA in the past, so I think it’s tempting to say “Well they write YA too and the subject matter is similar, so it’s a natural confusion!” However, I think in the case of Erika Johansen, we see that even debut authors are being lumped into this blurry category, without much thought. For me, it’s hard not to think that there’s a nasty kind of sexism at work here. It reeks of internalized misogyny.

Alyssa: So true. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s wonderful that women writers have contributed so much to YA’s success and that the majority of YA authors are women, but it also means that YA is often debased due to sexism.

Success in YA leads to similar work in adult

Allison: At the same time, I think this is a step forward for fantasy, which has been led by predominantly male authors for a long time. I don’t read YA because I identify with teenagers, I read YA mostly because I like female-led fantasy adventures, so I would love it if the success in the YA market leads to more similarly themed adult fantasy novels being published.

Nicola: Yes! In fact, YA has gotten SO MUCH better for female-led fantasy even in the past decade. I remember being annoyed when I was a teenager at the dearth of female protagonists in high fantasy books aimed at people my age. I’m sure it was being written, but it was getting lost somewhere between agent querying and my public library, where the only female-led high fantasy books I remember reading were Tamora Pierce’s. In contrast, the vast majority of the books I’ve read so far this year either have a female protagonist or joint/female protagonists. I’d love for the increased popularity of female-led YA fantasy to lead to greater recognition of the women already writing fantasy aimed at adults.

Alyssa: I agree. YA’s success has had a generally positive influence on adult fantasy–especially in terms of the rise in female protagonists. I think women and men are now more likely to read female-authored and female-led fantasy than ten, or even five, years ago.

I think this Guardian article, by Sarah Hughes, is relevant to our discussion. Even though I’m older than the Harry Potter generation, my passion for such fantasy and dystopian series as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games sparked my interest in YA after decades of reading mostly adult fiction that was rarely fantasy and often male-centric. Probably just as many adults as young adults have read Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games series. And these days more adults than youth are reading YA.

Nicola: I would consider myself part of the Harry Potter generation, but when I was growing up most of my peers, male and female, weren’t all that interested in fantasy. Harry Potter was popular, as were the Lord of the Rings movies, but most of my peers weren’t interested in fantasy beyond that.

It’s really only in the past eight years or so that the popularity of SF/F in YA has really picked up, and for today’s teens fantasy is normal in a way it wasn’t when I was their age. I think the knock-on effect of YA SF/F isn’t so much that the adults raised on it are now expecting more female-led SF/F (I was in university by the time The Hunger Games and Divergent, two of the examples given, were released) as it is that these female-led books were so popular that adult women started picking them up and expect more female-led fantasy, this time about people our own age.

Allison: I have always been a fantasy reader, though I think I’m something of an anomaly in that I never got into most of the male-authored fantasy “canon.” I was 30 when I read my first Neil Gaiman book and authors like Terry Brooks that I’m sure I’d love still elude me. I loved Madeline L’Engle, Tamora Pierce, Meredith Ann Pierce, Susan Cooper, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Monica Furlong, Mary Stewart, Patricia C Wrede, etc. I think that was largely because I was a kid who loved to play pretend and it was hard for me to get into any books that wouldn’t allow me to supplant myself as the main character at a later date.

I read The Hunger Games, Twilight and Harry Potter while I was in college, but not much else in terms of SF/F. College and grad school killed most of my desire to read for fun, so I was thrilled to return to the world as an adult reader and find it rich with new SF/F. I remember the day I got my Kindle I downloaded all of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling novels and was immediately itching for more. It wasn’t ’til I got my hands on Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches that I really understood that I’d like to read fantasy with adult protagonists that read a bit like the YA books I liked so well. I think we’re just at the beginning of an awesome trend in SF/F, which makes me really happy.

I think I speak for all of us when I say that I hope that all the success in YA fantasy (and SF) recently will lead to more well-written, female-led books for adults! Thanks for joining us today. We’ll be talking about some of these “liminal” books in the upcoming weeks when we discuss Erika Johansen’s Queen of the Tearling series.

Until next time,

Nicola, Alyssa and Allison


What Next? Wednesday: A Court of Thorns and Roses

16096824Nicola, Alyssa and I have some serious longings for sequels going on! There have been so, so many awesome fantasy books this year and we’re dying to know what happens next. We’re willing to bet that a bunch of you are in the same boat as us. So what to do when you’re dying to read the next book in a series, but you’ve got months to wait?

Our suggestion is that you find something new, but similar, to read and start the cycle all over again. This really is meant to be a solution, but you know how it goes with being addicted to reading… there’s always more books. So for the next few weeks we’re going to run a little series we call “What Next? Wednesday” and give you some ideas about what you might read after you’ve finished one of this year’s totally awesome bestsellers.

No shock here, we’re going to start with Sarah J Maas’ smash hit A Court of Thorns and Roses. Remember when the three of us gushed over that one?

To refresh your memory:

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 grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

If you’re as wild about Feyre and Tamlin as we are, here’s what might help you get your fix ’til the next book comes out!

Nicola’s Re22535481commendation: A Wicked Thing

Like A Court of Thorns and Roses, Rhiannon Thomas’ A Wicked Thing is a retelling of a popular fairytale, this time Sleeping Beauty, beginning when Aurora wakes up from her coma. Aurora is a very different protagonist to Feyre, her strength coming from the depths of her convictions moreso than her actions, but readers who loved the rich, magical backstory of Prythian and Feyre’s struggle for freedom from her imprisonment will find much to love about A Wicked Thing.

15839984Allison’s Recommendation: Cruel Beauty

Like A Court of Thorns and Roses, Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. In its own way, it is similarly faithful to the original fairy tale. So, if you’re looking for another creative B&B retelling, this may interest you. Unlike Feyre and Tamlin, who are essentially good, Nyx and Ignifex are a little more in the grey area, which makes Cruel Beauty a lot of fun. Cruel Beauty is as full of dark magic and rich fantastical tradition as A Court of Thorns and Roses, but with its own very distinct voice. It is not anywhere near so sexy though, so if you’re looking for a steamy fantasy read scroll down!

Allison’s Recommendation: The Shattered Court

The Shattered CourtThe Shattered Court, by MJ Scott is not a fairy tale retelling. However, if you’re looking for an engrossing romance in the fantasy genre, I think you’ll like The Shattered Court. Much like A Court of Thorns and Roses, The Shattered Court is ripe with magical secrets, a looming war between nations and a sexy love story. I really enjoyed the love stories in both these novels and I found Sophie to be a similarly dispositioned kind of character to Feyre. By that I mean, I think they’d easily be friends.
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Alyssa’s Recommendation: The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh, is a perfect choice for ACOTAR fans. It is a reimagining of A Thousand and One Nights, with a “Beauty and the Beast” twist. Every evening Khalid, the ruler of Khorasan, takes a new bride whom he executes at dawn. After Shahrzad’s best friend becomes one of his victims, she volunteers to marry Khalid. She intends to stay alive long enough to kill him (by cleverly telling him stories), but then…she falls for him. Like ACOTAR, The Wrath and the Dawn reworks “Beauty and the Beast” in fresh and compelling ways, and Shahrzad is a tough heroine who reminds me of Feyre and Celaena. She’s strong-willed, confident, bold, snarky, knows how to fight, and believes in self-sacrifice.

We’ll be back next week with more cures for the “What Next?” woes. Until then, keep cool and keep reading.

Yours in books,

Allison, Nicola and Alyssa


Love For Feyre (and Celaena too!)

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!

16096824Alyssa: 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 seeHeir of Fire 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!

Alyssa is head witch at our sister site, Spellbinding Books and you can read all her fantastic posts for CBC here. Catch up with her on Twitter on her personal account or that of Spellbinding

Nicola is one of CBC AND Spellbinding’s regular contributors. You can read her insightful CBC posts here. Catch up with her at her personal book blog, The Prattle of Hastings or on Twitter

Allison is the humble head witch around these parts and you can holler at her on Twitter.

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!