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Friday, 5 May 2017

Is Sarah J Maas' Writing Abusive? | Yomna's Thoughts



A Court of Wings and Ruin came out last Tuesday (May 2nd) so I decided to write my thoughts on Sarah J Maas' writing. These thoughts do not include ACOWAR because I haven't read ACOWAR (yet).


In a world where feminism is a prominent movement, we are forced to question what kind of relationships we see in our literature, and find the line where ‘cute’ becomes ‘abusive’.

I call myself a feminist. I admire the values feminism stands for, and will willingly advocate for its goals. Of course, I am not perfect, and that’s why I don’t pretend that I am always right in demonstrating my feminism, nor do I present myself as a flawless candidate for a movement that is so much bigger than me.




Contains spoilers from the Throne of Glass series and the A Court of Thorns and Roses series! 

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That’s why after much deliberation, I have decided the answer to the question is no. I do not think Sarah J Maas’ books are abusive or justify abusive relationships.


The Rowan / Aelin ship is one that has brought much discussion of the books. Is it cute? Is it romantic?


It’s complicated.


One of the points that people bring up is that Rowan was really mean verbally and physically to Aelin in Heir of Fire. When I first saw these comments, I was a bit befuddled, I couldn’t remember seeing anything as wrong. And that is because of several reasons:


Here’s a direct quote from the book, “Lashing out at Rowan like that, saying the things she did, trying to fight with him …”
And another one, “he halted his second blow before it fractured her jaw and snarled in her face, low and vicious.
Her breathing turned ragged as she purred, “Do it.”
He looked more interested in ripping out her throat than in talking, but he held the line he’d drawn. “Why should I give you what you want?”


  1. She hit him too: Double standards anyone? Aelin was pretty rude and aggressive to him too. She ignored him, insulted his life (and they were pretty personal and wounding insults too) and hit back just as hard. He wasn’t hitting a weakling. It’s like boxing. One of the boxers is a boy and the other is a girl. Is that abusive? Abusers abuse people who are weaker than them, people they can take advantage of. Aelin is neither of these things. She is able to fight back. Victims of abuse usually don't do anything wrong to provoke the abuser. In this case, Aelin insults him, and later also hits back. It's very intentional on her part. She wants that wake up call from him. This can clearly be seen in the quotes above. Sarah J Maas wrote this scene very carefully.
  2. She said something really horrible. She said, “Fae like you make me understand the King of Adarlan’s actions a bit more, I think.” If you’re unaware of the significance of that, it’s the equivalent of saying, “Jews like you make me understand Hitler.” or “Black people like you make me understand the slave trade”. It’s really really offensive. Honestly, I would’ve punched her too.
  3. They weren’t even in a relationship then: You can’t have an abusive relationship if there’s no relationship in the first place. If he had touched her after they got together or became friends, then that would be problematic.


Another thing about Sarah J Maas is how in her worlds, male protectiveness / possessiveness (call it what you want) is normal and romanticized.


Ultimately, that was something she was into (for me, protectiveness isn’t a negative or abusive thing.)  and she made her whole world that way.


This may not be the same for anyone, but if I ever have a lover, sometimes it feels good for them to be a little protective. It means they love you, it means they don’t want you to come into harm’s way. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little jealousy too. It means they want you. And I get the vibe that the female characters feel the same way about the male characters too. We all know that they would walk through hellfire to save their lovers.


I think, really, when a character starts trying to control another character under the ruse of ‘love’ is when it becomes an issue. And consequently, abusive.


There's been quite a debate about Rhysand's actions in ACOTAR and whether or not they are redeemable in ACOMAF. In specificity, a scene in ACOTAR where Rhysand gives Feyre wine to drink that intoxicates her and she danced for him with her mind in an unconscious state. This scene is compared to a real life situation, 'date rape' where which an abuser drugs a victim's drink in order to render them unconscious and then violate them when they cannot consent or oppose to it. Here is my analysis of it:


“Wine?” he said, offering me a goblet. Alis’s first rule. I shook my head. He smiled, and extended the goblet again. “Drink. You’ll need it.” Drink , my mind echoed, and my fingers stirred, moving toward the goblet. No. No, Alis said not to drink the wine here—wine that was different from that joyous, freeing solstice wine. “No,” I said, and some faeries who were watching us from a safe distance chuckled. “Drink,” he said, and my traitorous fingers latched onto the goblet."


Here, I agree to an extent. Yes, what Rhysand did was wrong, but his actions come across as justifiable because of his intentions. He wants to protect her from psychological trauma. Also, the text does not explicitly say that he forced her to drink. He extends the drink to her, but she makes a decision to grab the goblet. It is possible that Rhysand mentally manipulated her to do it, but all through ACOTAR and ACOMAF when Rhysand does that, she is mostly actively aware of it, or becomes aware of it, which never happened here. Also, if she didn’t want to drink the wine, why would she keep drinking it night after night even after she knew what happened to her when she drank it? I doubt Rhysand would force the drink down her throat if she protested and refused. She chose to, she wanted to forget. She was in an increasingly awful mental state and didn’t want to be aware of more horrors, lest she be unable to manage.
Comparing this situation to ‘date rape’ is quite a stretch. First of all, Rhysand does not rape her. Sarah J Maas makes a point in that Rhysand does not touch her beyond her waist and arms, even though Feyre expects him to. In ACOMAF, Feyre points out that Rhysand was helping her way more that Tamlin Under the Mountain, and says that he really wasn’t her enemy. Third of all, an abuser committing 'date rape' or any other form of it lacks good intention. In this sense, Rhysand does what he does because he wants to protect her from the horrors that would've destroyed her mind. However, he did not explicitly force her to drink it, so she is responsible for her intoxication.
Usually in ‘date rape’ a victim is unaware of any kind of intoxicating drug inside their drink. However, here Feyre is aware. In the first encounter, it’s safe to say she knows that the wine is intoxicating, because first of all, it’s wine, and second of all, he says that she will need it, which can be interpreted as that she will need it to forget the horrors, she must know that it is intoxicating and will make her unaware of what is happening to her. In all the other encounters, she’s already experienced what the wine does to her, so she’s clearly aware and not blind to its effects on her.
In summary, Rhysand could’ve forced her to drink the wine, but there is also proof of otherwise, and either way, she is or becomes aware of its effect on her and what she does under its effect, and still continues to drink it, which is a sign of her consent. Please know that this is not in any way me trying to defend 'date rape' or its consequences and effects on women, but I honestly don’t think this is an example where it has occurred. This is an extremely difficult scene to analyze!
"After I drank the wine, though, I was mercifully unaware of what was happening."
Here is another example of Feyre's knowing consent while drinking the wine. She doesn't say, "Rhysand forced me to drink the wine." She drank it, she chose to relinquish control of her situation. And she even says the fact that she wasn't aware of what was happening was 'merciful', another sign of her consent and her gladness that she wasn't experiencing the horror. Victims of 'date rape drugs' are not glad that they are intoxicated. Feyre’s words show that she approves and is thankful for Rhys’ actions. Rhysand also gives her some form of control by making sure she knew where anyone had touched her by the paint.
And I get it, he could’ve just talked to her right? I totally agree! But still, it still doesn’t relate to a ‘date rape’ situation and me analyzing this is not me defending ‘date rape’. Or justifying ‘date rape’ by any means. I think this scene is morally grey at worst. It could've been more clear in the writing.
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In terms of diversity, yes, we could also use a lot more diversity in Sarah J Maas’ books. And no, I don’t enjoy reading assumptions in books of how people of color die in Sarah J Maas’ books because they’re people of color. No, they die based on their significance to the story. You can’t immediately label the whole work racist or abusive. Although admittedly, I understand that different people might have different opinions of what ‘abusive’ is and what ‘racist’ is.  For me, I’d rather have no colored characters rather than have characters added in to satisfy a diversity checklist. Yes, we do need diverse characters, but if they’re not done right, they’re no good. White authors often don’t understand other cultures and the ways they are different. I’d rather they stick to a culture they know and understand. Although, to be fair, in a fantasy it is much simpler. But saying that people shouldn't read a book because it's not diverse is like saying you shouldn't read any classic. And I honestly don't think Sarah J Maas is staying away from it on purpose.


As a person of color, I do understand the need for diverse characters. But I think people spend too much time looking for what’s not there to appreciate what’s there. I certainly appreciate Nesryn Faliq, who has an Arabic name, as someone I can identify with. Sarah J Maas has created a boundless universe, just think about how much more we have yet to see!


This is Sarah J Maas, you guys! Remember ACOTAR? She made us fall in love with an abusive relationship. I myself shipped Tamlin, despite outstanding signs that I chose not to notice. We chose to ignore it. In ACOMAF, however, Sarah J Maas, showed us all up! If it weren’t for that I would’ve kept on shipping Feyre with Tamlin. And don’t lie to me, because I know a lot of us would. We never realised Tamlin was abusive until it was obvious to us.


So, this is why I choose to trust Sarah J Maas. She’s a brilliant story-teller, and I remain (and suspect will remain) a major fan.


Tell me YOUR opinions about Sarah J Maas' work! What do you think? Please keep the comments respectful though! I am always okay (and eager) for discussion but not insults or disrespect please! I have come to terms that people have different perception of any given book and while we don't have to agree, we must respect that people's opinions are different!


Love,


Yomna


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