Illustration by Marlowe Pody for an article on A Court of Thorns and Roses

Why ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ Is an Iconic YA Fantasy Series

As readers await the release of 'A Court of Silver Flames,' it's a good time to revisit the series'  unbelievably intricate worldbuilding, strong women and realistic character development.
January 11, 2021
8 mins read

Full of deadly faeries, beautiful lands and vicious enemies, the “A Court of Thorns and Roses” (ACOTAR) series has captured the attention of millions of readers worldwide. The first book in the three-book series (plus a novella) launched in 2015, and the series has only increased in popularity. The highly anticipated next book in Sarah J. Maas’ iconic series is set to release this February. So, what makes this series such a must-read? Caution: Mild spoilers ahead.

The series is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” and begins with 19-year-old Feyre Archeron as she is stolen away from her troubled human life after murdering a faerie she mistakes as a wolf. As punishment, she is plunged into a life of the faeries she despises. She becomes accustomed to the Fae lands and their courts, even falling in love with her captor, until she is thrown straight into the life-threatening conflict that plagues the faeries.

The series is widely talked about on social media and blogs by avid young adult (YA) or fantasy readers, who praise the “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series for its strong female characters, steamy scenes (Chapter 55, anyone?) and dreamy High Lord, Rhysand.

Maas created powerful female characters that all push against a world that values men more. There are women challenging male authority figures, exploring their sexuality and standing up for what they believe in. The most powerful character in the series is an ancient death angel that’s capable of destruction beyond measure and comes in the form of a small female body.

The protagonist of “A Court of Thorns and Roses” begins the first novel as a strong woman, but her strength only grows with her journey, becoming stronger with supportive people by her side and a better sense of herself. This helps as she is put through many physical and mental challenges. One of the best things about this series is how Feyre slowly figures out what she wants and what she deserves to have. “A Court of Thorns and Roses” introduces a love interest that the reader assumes will be her endgame, and it’s not until the second book when she slowly falls in love with Rhysand that she — and the reader — realizes how unhealthy that first relationship was, and she walks away from it. Blogger Suzanne from The Bookish Libra wrote that she “thought that was a positive message for Maas to send out there to her female readers.” It also fights against the common trope that the first love interest will be the last, which is a rare occurrence in real life.

Speaking of love interests, one of the most talked-about characters of the series is Rhysand. He’s a hidden softie under a bad boy persona. After reading the “A Court of Thorns and Roses” series, he becomes everyone’s favorite book boyfriend because of his honest compassion, love for his friends and feminist values. Rhysand treats all the women in his life with equality and respect, and he reminds Feyre that she always has an independent choice in every matter. Maas didn’t plan for Rhysand and Feyre to be feminists, “but in thinking about them that’s who they were and those are the characters that I’m interested in,” she said in an interview with Cosmopolitan. “I’m more interested in exploring relationships between equals. Guys who treat women like human beings, I find that to be very attractive.”

Rather than skip over the hardships faced by the characters while creating her series, Maas took the time to explore real-world problems, such as PTSD, familial abuse and depression. Each of the characters in ACOTAR has their own backstory and problems that they are dealing with. Maas does a great job in acknowledging these problems, as well as introducing the aftereffects of the current troubles they face. Because of this, the characters feel more realistic to readers who face similar problems.

One of the strongest characters, Mor, faces her trauma more than once in the series. Due to her overwhelming power, her family sold her off for marriage. Denying the forced marriage, Mor lost her virginity and was shunned by her family. Her family nailed a note to her midsection basically saying she was not their problem, and sent her to her betrothed — he left her there, bleeding and broken. The ACOTAR series acknowledges her pain upon interacting with her father and her formerly betrothed. Although she is feared among most and is herself a strong woman, the trauma still remains from the abuse and betrayal of her family.

In Buzzfeed’s “42 Books That Made 2020 A Little Less Awful,” Elizabeth R. contributed, “Rereading an old favorite, [ACOTAR] pulled me out of my reading slump. Reading about the resilient young women Maas creates — and how they always push through to the end, no matter what the sacrifice may be — always helps me during tough times.”

Maas’s world-building in ACOTAR is a big reason why her series is as iconic as it is. With faerie courts divided by the four seasons and by dawn, day and night, her writing adds gorgeous imagery of star-kissed nights and the blooming scent of spring. Maas carefully crafted a world of one-of-a-kind characters and an expansive land filled with faeries, humans, gods, creatures and, of course, magic. From Illyrian war camps to the carved sleighs of the Winter Court, the world of ACOTAR offers a beautiful escape into a new land and a chance for creators to explore Prythian with artwork, clothing and even candles.

The next book in the series is titled “A Court of Silver Flames” and will veer from Feyre and Rhysand’s points of view to follow the perspective of Nesta and Cassian and their love-hate relationship. Together with their inner circle of friends and family, they will tackle the looming threat of the human queens as well as learn to cope with the trauma inflicted from the previous books’ war.

Sarah J. Maas has been releasing sneak peeks on her social media to ready fans for the release of her new book, adding to the fans’ anticipation. Most spoilers hint at the budding relationship between feisty Nesta and sarcastic Cassian, whose relationship was rocky in the preceding novella. The previous books set up many questions about their relationship that fans are eager to have answered. Like, what was in the box Cassian threw in the Sidra? Another plot point fans are interested in seeing is the story of a now unfeeling Nesta and how she will heal and cope with the trauma inflicted on her.

Overall, fans of the series are excited to be back in the world of Prythian that Maas has intricately created, and the characters that readers have come to love. This next book will be a rollercoaster of emotions, especially with the characters dealing with the aftermath left from the last book.

While waiting for “A Court of Silver Flames” to release, fans of the ACOTAR series can pick up Maas’s debut series, “Throne of Glass” and “Crescent City,” her newest piece of work.

Samantha Havela, University of Michigan

Writer Profile

Samantha Havela

University of Michigan
English and Women’s & Gender Studies

Samantha Havela is a passionate senior studying English and Women’s & Gender Studies at the University of Michigan. She loves writing almost as much as she loves her dog.

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