Sarah J. Maas attends the Tory Burch Fall/Winter 2024 Fashion Week in New York

How Sarah J. Maas Became a Controversial Author

Sarah J. Maas is one of the fastest-rising fantasy authors, with numerous bestselling series to her name. However, those less familiar with the author may wonder why some within the BookTok community have been withdrawing their support for her.

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Maas is the author behind hit series such as Throne of Glass, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and Crescent City, which have sold a combined 38+ million copies worldwide and been translated into 38 languages. Her books skyrocketed in popularity when they caught the attention of book influencers on BookTok. The community is a force to be reckoned with, as billions of users rely on recommendations and reviews from book enthusiasts on TikTok to determine what’s next on their reading list. Even major booksellers, like Barnes and Noble, have acknowledged BookTok and devoted sections of their stores to the top BookTok picks.

Anyone who has perused the BookTok section of their local bookshop or library will surely see Maas’ books there. The hashtag for A Court of Thorns and Roses alone has racked up several billion views. With interesting worlds, characters, and fantasy concepts combined with some juicy drama and “spicy” content, Maas’ books are very entertaining and palatable for readers of all ages. However, getting into the literary world of Maas does take some commitment, given the sheer number of lengthy books in her series. Meanwhile, those deciding whether to dive in may also be concerned by allegations that Maas is a problematic or controversial author.

Why do some readers find Sarah J. Maas’ books problematic?

One of the most common reasons Maas has been labeled problematic is due to a lack representation and diversity in her books. However, the significance of this problem has been hotly debated on social media. Readers have noticed that, especially in her earlier books, such as Throne of Glass and the first few books in A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne, there are little to no BIPOC or LGBTQ+ characters present.

Some believe that the absence of diversity could be a sign that Maas doesn’t care about marginalized communities and inclusion, especially when a fictional realm opens endless possibilities to represent every individual. However, many Redditors have spoken in defense of Maas, pointing out that she may feel unqualified or uncomfortable trying to represent communities to which she does not belong—though fans coming to the defense of a celebrity is hardly proof that criticisms are unfounded. The more concerning criticism is that the BIPOC or LGBTQ+ characters she does include are poorly depicted.

For example, TikTok user @baesdaze points out how the BIPOC characters are almost always very minor characters. Meanwhile, Throne of Glass decided to kill off its sole major and positively represented BIPOC character to further the plot of the white protagonist.

User @samanthaistan also expressed discomfort at how A Court of Mist and Theory included one of the only bisexual characters being blackmailed into outing themselves and stating they sleep exclusively with males to protect themselves. One of the other few bisexual characters, Helion, is also depicted as a stereotypical promiscuous bisexual.

@samanthaistan

Reply to @1nd_frindle sjm’s lgbt rep isn’t good! there’s a diff. btw writing lgbt characters and good lgbt rep #fyp #booktok #sjm #acotar

♬ Wii – Mii Channel – Super Guitar Bros

Meanwhile, the allegedly problematic depictions also extend to women and relationships. While many of Maas’ protagonists are very strong and fiery women, the sexist trope of fridging has crept up in many of her books within the backstories of the majority of male characters. Additionally, the women often find empowerment only through men. Lastly, she has also been accused of romanticizing toxic masculinity and toxic, borderline abusive relationships. The romanticization of toxicity is a problem that has surfaced in many modern romance books, such as those by Colleen Hoover.

The sheer number of toxic men badly in need of therapy in Maas’ works is recognized enough to stir jokes on TikTok, but it’s still possible for readers to become confused and genuinely think the relationships or partners depicted in these books are what they should strive for.

It is also worth noting that the diversity and representation have improved slightly in Maas’ more recent works. As mentioned above, most examples of problematic content or issues with inclusivity come from her earlier work. Redditors and users on FAQ About have stated that her most recent works, such as the Crescent City series, are more inclusive and seem to have acknowledged readers’ feedback.

Other Sarah J. Maas controversies

Maas’ books have also been criticized for contributing to the issue of adult books being marketed as YA novels. Who reads and labels her books is largely out of Maas’ control. Still, the constant misconception that her books are YA novels is problematic as it leads to adults wanting actual YA books to cater to them, which has led to the YA genre largely disappearing as it’s absorbed into adult fiction.

Meanwhile, on one occasion, Maas’ own marketing of her book was controversial. However, it wasn’t because she marketed it towards young readers. In 2020, Maas made an Instagram post announcing the cover of A Court of Silver Flames. What was strange about the post was that she mentions Breonna Taylor in the caption. Taylor is a young woman who was fatally shot at the hands of police officers in 2020, sparking major protests across the nation against police brutality. In September 2020, when Maas made her post, the fight for justice was ongoing as her family was still in the midst of resolving a wrongful death lawsuit.

Maas briefly mentions wanting her book cover to be “a bit of light for you guys today, given the appalling lack of justice for Breonna Taylor.” She also criticized former President Donald Trump for trying to “undermine and destroy our democracy” while concluding with a call for citizens to vote in the 2020 presidential election.

Many felt the post was distasteful. On the one hand, she is a famous author with a vast platform who absolutely should have been using it to raise awareness for pressing issues. However, one must ask why she chose to do it on a post that is still very obviously promoting her book. She easily could have made a statement on those issues without pairing it with a photo of her book cover and large text emphasizing its release date. Some commenters suggested Maas strategically chose the book cover to comment on Taylor since she knew the post would blow up. In contrast, many other commenters felt it came across as insensitive and was an attempt to use a tragedy to promote her work.

Maas has never publicly commented on it, ignoring respectful requests to delete the post in the comments. Even now that years have passed since her book was released, the post remains up, raising confusion about why.

(featured image: Cindy Ord/Getty)


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Author
Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.