by Jess Macaulay.
If you’re at all involved in the side of the book world where fantasy and romance exist or have found yourself on BookTok or even BookTube at some point, then it’s highly likely you’ve come across or at least heard of Sarah J Mass. A best-selling author with over 12 million copies of her books sold worldwide and translated into 37 languages, Mass is hard to miss.
With 14 books out and more in the works, it can seem hard to know where to begin. You may be asking: which series do I start with? What order do the books come in? Which ones are the best? Wasn’t there some controversy floating around about her work?
Mass began writing Throne of Glass, perhaps her most well-known work and the first in the series of 8 books (including the prequel) when she was 16 and revised it for publication when she was 26. It quickly gained and has sustained a cult following of readers who pick up the books for the high fantasy, action, mystery, plot twists and steamy romances. A Court of Thorns and Roses is her second series, made up of 5 books and continues the themes of fantasy, complex plot and romance seen in Mass’ other work. Her books stand out because of their strong female leads who refuse to bow down to oppressive powers or rulers and don’t rest in their pursuit of a better world.
You might have seen conversions happening around the internet (predominantly TikTok and Instagram) discussing a lack of inclusivity or diversity in her books. Throughout all of her novels, there are hundreds of characters who are, for the most part, straight and white. One of the few characters who was a person of colour didn’t feature for too long, despite their popularity, and was killed off in order to further the white protagonist’s storyline. In a separate series, when a character comes out as gay, they continued to sleep with people of the opposite sex, the reason given that it was nesecary and for self protection. There is also abuse which happens in a romantic relationship. Fans questioned the protagonist’s handling of the situation and Mass’ portrayal of such a sadly common occurrence. These sometimes problematic storylines, the lack of representation for such a large number of people and the mishandling of abuse in relationships are things that can’t be ignored. Surely in a world which is entirely fictional has a space for all people, regardless of skin colour or sexuality?
But whilst her books are by no means perfect, there are other instances in Mass’ books where oppression, inequality and harmful stereotypes are challenged in a positive way. There are also examples of relationships where both parties are on equal footing and all of the sexual activities are consensual and empowering, showing readers a more progressive model of sexuality.
So you’re ready to pick a book up? The beginning is always a good place to start, whether it’s Throne of Glass or A Court of Thorns and Roses. Both books are a great gateway into a more mature version of fantasy fiction and are most definitely meant for young adults rather than teens. Think high fantasy, ancient wars, battles and evil rulers with the addition of personal development, sex and steamy relationships.
The Throne of Glass (TOG) series begins when trained assassin Celena Sardothien is removed from slave camp Endovier where she is serving time. Given no choice but to compete with other criminals, assassins and thieves for the title of King’s Champion and eventually, her freedom. Whilst living in the castle, Celena begins to uncover just how corrupt the kingdom has become under its tyrannical ruler.
- Throne of Glass
- Crown of Midnight
- Heir of Fire
- Queen of Shadows
- Empire of Storms
- Tower of Dawn
- Kingdom of Ash
- Assassin’s Blade (prequel)
A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR) series starts with the story of Feyre who, after unknowingly murdering a faerie, is taken to the faerie realm of Prythian to pay for her crime. Loosely based on Beauty and the Beast and a number of lesser known fairy tales, the story follows hatred turning into passion and the quest to overcome fates seemingly set in stone by an ancient curse.
- A Court of Thorns and Roses
- A Court of Mist and Fury
- A Court of Wings and Ruin
- A Court of Frost and Starlight
- A Court of Silver Flames
The Crescent City series, Mass’ newest release, blends the modern-day with human myth and magic to tell the story of Bryce, who after losing her friends to murder, sets out to avenge their deaths. Forging a friendship with fallen angel Hunt, they set out to unearth mystery, things which have been untouched for centuries and their own dark pasts.
- House of Earth and Blood
It seems intimidating – there are a lot of books. But they aren’t hard to read and they’re accessible for anyone, lovers of big books or of slimmer editions. The thickness is worth it for the depth of character development that takes place, going as far as name changes and entirely new identities; the timelines which span over many years (sometimes even hundreds) and result in characters overlapping in past events which change the future course of the story; and, of course, the steamy bedroom scenes. But perhaps also approach Mass with a pinch of salt and the awareness that not everyone is represented in her work. It is hard to criticise storylines first written by a 16-year-old; how much can someone really know of the world at that age? So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Mass is able to see, on reflection, where she may have caused upset. To learn and educate herself so that she is able to use her undeniable talent and huge platform to be progressive and make minorities feel seen, maybe for the first time.