Books Are Mostly Good: My Recommendations #2
Hello everyone, and welcome back! This week, I’ll be comparing two books of the same genre, as a continuation to last week’s piece. Last week, I discussed some of the elements of YA dystopia and compared two cult classic trilogies- Divergent by Veronica Roth, versus the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
Missed it? That’s okay! Go check it out at the link below.
Alright, so this week, I’ll be diving into a whole new genre – fantasy. Fantasy books in the YA category have a lot of variety, and each year, the selection only gets more and more diverse every year, from worldbuilding based on cultures all around the world, new characters with a multitude of differences, and intricate, complex plots.
Recent YA fantasy can range from lighter series’ – think Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, or His Fair Assassin by Robin LaFevers – to heavier, more complex and intricate series with more than two or three books – such as Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, or The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater.
The 2010s has been a good run for fantasy and epic fantasy, be it romance standalones or intense trilogies, to extensive series with novellas and spinoffs of their own. For this piece, I’ll be comparing and contrasting two different books by the same author – Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass series versus the ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ trilogy (or simply, ACOTAR).
Sarah J Maas has risen to widespread YA fantasy fame in the past five or six years, first with Throne of Glass and its six subsequent books, the side-by-side novel of another main character, as well as shorter prequels. Around the fifth book of Throne of Glass, Maas released ACOTAR, followed by two more books and what I like to call “the holiday season novella”.
To start with, let’s go over the synopsis of the first book of Throne of Glass:
“After serving out a year of hard labour in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.
Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for four years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her … but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.
Then one of the other contestants turns up dead … quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.”
The synopsis of ACOTAR reads:
Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …
Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.
This review will contain spoilers, so if you’d like to read the books before this, then please go ahead!
Let me begin by mentioning that Sarah J Maas features a lot of ‘western’ fantasy elements in her books. I mean a lot. Think kings and queens and grey-brick castles with four walls and four towers, ladies-in-waiting and footmen and – you get the point. All the elements out of an all-white Disney princess animated movie. The names are derived from Irish and Welsh stories.
But this works for Maas, as both of the series I’ve mentioned are in some ways, fairy-tale retellings. Throne of Glass itself seems to be a retelling of Cinderella, if Cinderella was an assassin caught and destined to serve the prince, because she didn’t leave the ball before midnight.
I’m exaggerating, of course.
Let’s talk about plot. Throne of Glass is extremely detailed and intricate, with a very prominent plot and several subplots – Elide and Lorcan, Chaol Westfall’s entire novel, and the witches, Manon Blackbeak and Dorian Havilliard. Even the central plot about Celaena and Rowan against the evil Fae queen is incredibly twisted and complex.
The plot of ACOTAR is considerably less compilated- perhaps owing to the length of the series. The main plot revolving around Feyre and Tamlin and Rhysand is fairly straightforward, except for the big turnaround in Tamlin’s character at the beginning of book two, ‘A Court of Mist and Fury’.
The villains and antagonists in Throne of Glass were far more compelling- the king and the duke, Lady Kaltain, Erawan and Maeve. I felt that with ACOTAR, the stakes weren’t high enough, and by the end of the first book, Amarantha had been reduced from a fearsome figure whose name couldn’t be spoken, to a cartoonish character assign challenges the way Aphrodite gave tests to Psyche in the story of Eros.
Celaena Sardothien was a frustrating character to read, but she had a distinctive personality and a distinct way of thinking that didn’t fall into the traditional YA cookie-cutter-protagonist mould. Feyre Archeron, the lead of ACOTAR, however, was a little simple, and the way she handled her situations wasn’t necessarily reflective of the “brave and fierce huntress” that she is supposed to be.
Overall, I felt that Throne of Glass was more compelling with its plot and characters than A Court of Thorns and Roses. However, the setting in ACOTAR was more interesting to read, with the concept of the land being divided into seven different courts, than a conventional ‘European-style’ kingdom. ACOTAR also tends to be more descriptive in separating its settings – the Spring Court is lush and green, filled with flowers and warm weather. The Autumn Court features the harvest bounty, red and gold leaves, rolling hills and cliffs- you get the idea.
If you liked either of these series’ I would recommend trying the other. Additionally, some of my fantasy recommendations include Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard for an interesting combination of modern-day technology and medieval society, or The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani – a series that involves fairy-tale retellings in a magical set of schools.
Have you read these books? Tell me your thoughts in the comments! Signing off for this week.
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