How Portland-Area Bookstores Got Swept Up in the Controversy Surrounding Sexuality in Sarah J. Maas’ Fantasy Novels

After much brouhaha, the debate over whether the suggestive “Throne of Glass” series should be classified as YA may be over.

For a decade and change, Sarah J. Maas has been one of America’s biggest fantasy authors. She debuted in 2012 with the young adult smash hit Throne of Glass, followed by six more novels and a short story collection.

Maas has been a consistent YA bestseller, both popular and polarizing. Over the years, she has aimed for an older readership, and now, with the entire Throne of Glass series having been rereleased Feb. 14 with a brand-new cover art style, Maas’ transition to the adult section of the bookstore is largely complete.

While still writing the Throne of Glass novels, Maas began another romantic high fantasy series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, first published in 2015. It was to be marketed as “new adult,” unlike Throne of Glass, aimed at college-age, rather than high school-age, readers. New adult didn’t really take off, however, as Maas herself admitted while speaking on a panel at New York Comic Con 2019. So ACOTAR was, with Maas’ blessing, marketed as YA, regardless of its more explicit sexual content.

By 2020, ahead of the fourth novel, A Court of Silver Flames, the entire series was reissued with new cover art, and booksellers moved the books out of YA. This didn’t stop Virginia State Delegate Tim Anderson from naming A Court of Mist and Fury in a 2022 lawsuit against Barnes & Noble, alleging B&N would give minors easy access to obscene content. (Virginia Circuit Judge Pamela S. Baskervill dismissed Anderson’s case several months later.)

Meanwhile, the Throne of Glass series wasn’t immune to complaints that it, too, was too spicy for YA. The fifth novel, Empire of Storms, features a sex scene in which two Fae lovers set a beach on fire, eliciting a divided response from fans.

Hence, Maas has also had the Throne of Glass series rereleased. Protagonist Celaena, who used to be front and center, has largely vanished from covers in favor of natural patterns and buildings with relatively dark, muted colors. Copies with the original covers are no longer widely for sale at B&N; by Feb. 17, the Clackamas store had pulled them all off the shelves. Other stores in the metro area—Tigard, Vancouver, Lloyd Center—still had some old-cover copies in their YA sections as of March 4, albeit very few in number.

In contrast to B&N, Powell’s has both versions sharing space on its YA shelves, with the old-style covers all on lower-priced used copies. A Cedar Hills Crossing bookseller said it would be up to company higher-ups to officially move the books, and until then, Maas’ work may stay accessible “in as many sections as possible.”

Meanwhile, the Multnomah County Library still catalogs Maas’ pre-2020 backlist as YA. Fort Vancouver Regional Library does the same. A representative for FVRL said that to change this would require filling out a comment form online, which would then be forwarded to the library’s collection development department.

Moving existing series out of YA (twice) has made Maas unusual among her peers. Female fantasy writers’ works are usually seen as YA for marketing purposes if nothing else, likely because YA is often perceived as more inherently “feminine.”

Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu’s Eldest Curses trilogy was to be billed as the first “adult” Shadowhunters series, but was ultimately marketed as YA instead at the publisher’s behest. R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War was always marketed as adult, befitting its violent retelling of the Second Sino-Japanese War, but was often mistaken for YA due to its boarding school setting. The trend has continued in 2023 with Mia Tsai speaking out against mislabeling her debut adult fantasy novel Bitter Medicine as YA.

At NYCC 2019, when Maas spoke with Laurell K. Hamilton, she acknowledged that time as a “golden age of YA.” Her books may no longer sell in that section, but her past sales remain the foundation of her present influence and success, as the new covers grace local bookstores. The content inside remains the same, though, whichever cover one might collect. For now, collectors of the original style can borrow from the library, buy from Powell’s, or, if lucky, obtain one of the last copies at various local B&N stores.

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