Throughout my teenage years, I spent many hours reading YA fantasy books. Some were trashy, some were of a better quality, and none did I loved more than Sarah J Maas’ books. Yes, they were filled with classic tropes, cliches and questionable descriptions of intimate scenes, but I’m a romantic with a liking for escapism. I also have a huge amount of respect for Maas, because one of her books helped open my eye to the toxic relationships that we romanticise so easily in teenage and YA books. 

 Maas’ second series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, started with a book of the same name in 2015. It was filled with magic and fae creatures and a romance between a Fae prince (of course) and the main character, Feyre. He was the classic mysterious, protective, royal type that I saw time and time again in the media. It wasn’t my favourite book of hers, but I lapped it up nonetheless- it was romantic after all. 

 And then, Maas released the second of the series, A Court of Mist and Fury. Plot technique wise, it was a hugely successful sequel, as it dealt with the immediate consequences and fallout of the solution to the first book. One of those consequences was that Feyre and the Fae prince’s relationship, that was filled with YA cliches and tropes, was in reality toxic and abusive. It took chapters for this to be realised, a slow and deliberate move by Maas to show how these things can escalate from seemingly small beginnings. Safe to say I was stunned. Most of all, I was almost embarrassed that I didn’t notice how damaging his behaviour was, how I didn’t notice the abuse until it resorted to violence. I kept thinking- would I not notice if it happened to me? To a loved one? We can always try to divorce the idea of fantasy reading from reality and say these are fictional tropes that don’t matter, but they do. This couldn’t have had a more real outcome for me. The mirage of book romances and tropes peeled back and beneath I found a mess of misogyny, toxic behaviour and insecurity. 

By destroying the central relationship, a void of romanticism had been created. The issue this causes is that, as unhealthy romantic tropes plague our media, this hole in many romantic hearts will be simply filled with another idealism equally as damaging. So, Maas was smart. As the book continued, she wrote something to fill the hole she had created. Another Fae prince was made, but this time he was not over-protective and controlling, and didn’t take his anger out on those around him. He was strong and terribly handsome, of course, but also supportive, caring and (unbelievably) a communicator. He supported and encouraged Feyre to heal herself from past traumas and become a stronger person. Maas pointed out a bad relationship, then romanticised a healthy relationship for us romantics to aspire to in its place. 

Once I had an idea of what a relationship shouldn’t and should be, I started to spot these tropes everywhere I went. The over-protective boyfriend that used to feel so dreamy now showed my insecurity of wanting to be wanted and showed him to be a jerk. A bad boy simply wasn’t worth my time and effort anymore and neither was anyone who was too jealous, thinking that they owned me. You can imagine characters like Edward Cullen got a rather large bashing in my mind. 

I didn’t read the book and end up being having this perfectly feminist and healthy idea of love and relationships. Like with everyone, it’s a process to slowly see your own worth and let that be reflected in the people who you choose to keep close to you. It wasn’t an entirely realistic depiction of a relationship either- I think that’s quite difficult in a fantasy novel. It certainly still perpetuated the idea of soulmates and beautiful men all fawning over the totally unique girl. However, it sent me down a path that I couldn’t have stopped if I tried. It was a smack in the face about toxic relationships and forced me to revaluate the media I was blindly consuming. As we approach to Valentine’s Day 2021, it’s a time where we can revaluate what romance really is and what it means to have it in our lives. Relationships and romance are all about the highs, but also the lows; we want to be surrounding ourselves with people who help us at our lowest moments. We must also decide whether they are helping and hindering us in who we want to be.  We can all start this journey towards living a healthier life, but sometimes it takes a nudge, and A Court of Mist and Fury was that for me.