SARAH J. MAAS is the internationally bestselling author of the ‘Throne of Glass’, ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’, and ‘Crescent City’ series. This year marks the 10-year anniversary since the publication of her first novel that set the scene for her mammoth career and millions of books sold. AKINA HANSEN delves into her life and writing.
In 2002, at the young age of 16, author Sarah J. Maas began writing her first novel, Throne of Glass. In hopes of getting feedback, she posted an early version of her novel on an online writing forum called FictionPress. The online response is immediately overwhelmingly positive and, in turn, Sarah amassed a huge online following who encouraged her to get her work published.
Over the next 10 years – in between a busy life, college and work – she steadfastly continued to refine, revise and rework her novel, until 2012, when Bloomsbury published Throne of Glass.
Although she didn’t know it at the time it is the beginning of a hugely successful writing career that has seen her sell over 20 million books worldwide.
This year marks 10 years since Throne of Glass was first published and Sarah has garnered an even larger and more loyal fan base who have enthusiastically followed her many works, enabling her to get over 15 novels out and into the hands of her ever-growing and eager reading audience.
Each of her series is set in elaborate and intricately built fantasy worlds that are drawn from a variety of myths and fairytales. They are packed with romance, action and strong female leads.
Yet despite the depth, detail and imagination that goes into Sarah’s world building, the space that she writes in is surprisingly ordinary – a standard home office with a few movie and TV posters like Alien and What We Do in the Shadows hung on the walls. Sarah says, ‘The most important thing is that it’s a room where I can close the door, put on some classical music, and immerse myself in writing.’
Music is at the heart of her writing process.
‘I’m always listening to music while I’m writing. Making my writing playlist for each book is a crucial part of my process – it’s almost like making an outline.’
She is inspired by any music that tells a story and shares that an idea can strike at any moment. This is particularly true for her first novel in the ‘Crescent City’ series – House of Earth and Blood.
‘I was on a flight listening to some music and I randomly saw the whole climactic scene at the end of House of Earth and Blood play out in my head as if it were a movie. I was so moved by what I was seeing, even though I hadn’t yet met or learned about these characters, and I started crying in the middle of the plane. After that, I had to know who these characters were and what their world was like, and the story just opened up to me,’ she says.
• #1 New York Times bestselling author
• Over 20 million books sold worldwide
• Published in 37 languages
• ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ coming to Hulu
House of Earth and Blood follows Bryce, a half-fae, half-human woman who spends her days working for a magical antiquities dealer and nights partying with her friends in Crescent City. But when her friends are murdered by a demon, she is left devastated, and in pursuit of justice she tags up with the beautiful and chisselled fallen angel, Hunt Athalar, to investigate their deaths. Despite butting heads initially, Bryce and Hunt go on to develop a deep and erotic connection – think ‘True Blood’ or ‘Bridgerton’ but even more tantalising and intense.
Fans of Sarah’s previous series will be glad to see many similar tropes, ranging from mythical characters, a fierce and intelligent female protagonist to a plot riddled with sexy romance and action.
The ‘Crescent City’ series is set on a planet called Midgard where angels, wolves, fae, mermaids, and other mythical characters co-exist. This world combines the old and new, drawing from a range of ancient and contemporary subcultures.
‘Norse mythology and Celtic mythology [are] in there, along with dashes of Greek and Roman culture. Lots of things from our everyday lives which I reimagined for this world!’ Sarah tells me.
While her other series similarly explore the mythological, they were instead inspired by two well-known fairytales. ‘Throne of Glass’ was inspired by a musical score from Disney’s Cinderella.
‘I thought the music that plays when she flees the ball (and the whole scene, to be honest) was really, really dark and intense – my imagination, not surprisingly, made the jump to “Well, what if she had done something really bad?”
‘Then I went one step further and asked: “What if she was an assassin who tried to kill the Prince?” And so Throne of Glass was born. As I wrote over those 10 years and explored more of that assassin’s world, it became its own story, not a straight-up retelling, though Cinderella was the original spark!’
I think most people can agree that these older Disney films are products of their time – and in turn have outdated stories which are steeped in sexism – from non-consensual kisses to needing a male saviour. Sarah’s novels stray from these narratives and her female characters break the mould of archetypal female leads. They are instead versatile and have complex interests and qualities.
Bryce Quinlan is a strong and powerful fighter who simultaneously loves fashion, sex, dancing, and history.
‘There are all kinds of women in the world, and I want everyone to be able to find pieces of themselves in my books. So a big part of it is making sure these women are multi-faceted enough to seem both real and sympathetic,’ Sarah says.
The female heroine in the ‘Throne of Glass’ series, Celaena Sardothien, is a fierce, teenage assassin who is equal parts interested in bloodshed and luxurious clothing. Feyre Archeron, the female lead in A Court of Thorns and Roses, is both a hunter and a painter, a rebel and a lover.
These women are many things, and that’s what makes them so compelling. I ask Sarah whether she has drawn from her own life to capture these characters and their relationships.
‘None of my stories are about me, but they all have little pieces of me in them. So many of my real-life friendships have played a part in my own personal journey that they always seem to find a way into my books,’ she says.
While each of her novels is centred around a burgeoning romance, it’s these friendships she talks of that I found myself most drawn to. Love is a theme running throughout her novels – and regardless of whether it’s between lovers, friends or families, Sarah explores how powerful that emotion can be.
‘I truly believe love conquers all – love is an incredibly powerful force, both in this world and in fantasy ones.’
New editions of the ‘Throne of Glass’ series are coming out in February 2023 and she’s currently working on another book in the ‘Crescent City’ series. When I ask about what readers can expect, Sarah is unwilling to divulge too much about her upcoming novel in fear of spoiling the series for new readers.
‘Let’s just say that I am having SO much fun writing about worlds colliding and leave it at that!’ she says.
Of course, there is a project we can discuss. A Hulu adaptation of her book series ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ is in development with ‘Outlander’ and ‘Battlestar Galactica’ showrunner Ron Moore heading the project. If you’re familiar with his other works, then I’m sure you’ll agree that he’ll do justice to this series. If you’re not familiar, then let’s just say, I’m sure we can expect to see lots of steamy romance, drama and well-executed battle scenes.
‘It’s really fun to have this new creative challenge and get this new perspective on the stories and characters I’ve been working on for so many years!
THRONE OF GLASS SERIES ( New jackets – released February 2023)
The Assassin’s Blade (prequel)
Throne of Glass
Crown of Midnight
Heir of Fire
Queen of Shadows
Empire of Storms
Tower of Dawn
Kingdom of Ash