Sarah J. Maas fans, if you’re not in this position already, you probably soon will be. You finished A Court of Wings and Ruin. All 70 million billion Bible-thin pages of it. And it was utterly fabulous, and now the whole world looks dull by comparison.
What to read next? I just had a friend message me in dire need of SJM-equivalent recs, and I figured she can’t be the only one in this position. So if you’re looking for something that stands a chance of holding up to the glory of ACOWAR, I think the following titles just might do it for you.
(spoiler-free series sum-up at the link)
Bardugo’s work is by far the closest to SJM that I’ve encountered in terms of overall quality, emotional tone and general vibe. I think Six of Crows is stronger than the Grisha trilogy, and since it’s not necessary to have read the Grisha trilogy prior to Six of Crows, I’d recommend that as the better SJM hangover cure. Heists, magic, romance, danger and a whole lot of snappy dialogue make these solid choices. The characters and world are also a lot more diverse, which has been a criticism of Maas’ work. If you decide to go straight to Six of Crows and enjoy it, then definitely check out the Grisha trilogy as well, starting with Smoke and Bone.
(spoiler-free full reviews at the links)
Like Feyre and Rhysand in A Court of Mist and Fury, these both involve a young magic-touched girl thrown into a mismatched partnership with a grumpy immortal who has very specific ideas about how the world should work. Needless to say, neither girl fits into the mold, eliciting occasionally humorous, occasionally dramatic tension as the leading ladies try to get a handle on their abilities. Uprooted takes place in a purely high fantasy world while The Bear and the Nightingale is in Russia, but they both also incorporate the same type of court intrigue that SJM fans can’t get enough of.
This one actually doesn’t come out until Tuesday (May 16), but that’s close enough to include. It’s technically a Mulan retelling, but Ahdieh has added so many elements to flesh out the feudal Japan setting that the book exceeds this comparison rather than being dragged down by it. Far more than being a simple retelling, Flame in the Mist captures the spirit of Mulan, but with all the in-depth characters, layered plots and complicated motivations of a satisfying novel. Don’t expect the plot to replicate Mulan, because it doesn’t, which I found to be a good thing.
This series does not get enough talk, but it totally deserves it. Elisa is a young, unromantically married queen who is by no means perfect, but is ready to take on the challenge of ruling a foreign kingdom. She’s not glamorous or stick-skinny, but she knows her sharp mind is her greatest weapon and wields it to great effect. The trilogy’s overarching question is whether Elisa’s accomplishments are a result of her own hard work or because of her predetermined fate as a godstone carrier. Like the ACOTAR world, this trilogy features a wild variety of settings with several distinctive cultures, a heroine who struggles to understand the scope and meaning of her power, and a strong supporting cast with some swoony men and resourceful women.
These are by far the most mature books on this list; I’d recommend them for an adult who enjoys YA rather than an actual teen. They exchange ACOWAR’S glamour for grit, but lie in a similar fantasy vein with a flawed, broken heroine, a strong supporting cast, and centuries of secrets to uncover throughout the trilogy. It’s starts with a typical “17-yr old queen takes the throne and doesn’t know what the crap she’s doing” story, but evolves into much more. Not only does Queen Kelsea tangle with her inner demons of body image and intense loneliness, but her kingdom is poisoned by slavery, rape, greed, violent homosexuality, church abuses and drug use. While book 1 is pretty much a straight fantasy story, books 2 and 3 evolve with touches of post-apocalyptic and utopian storylines that connect Kelsea’s Tearling realm to a not-so-distant future America. I’d strongly recommend reading them back-to-back, since author Erika Johansen doesn’t do extraneous detail – small clues and promises are often called back into play later on, and you’ll be googling a synopsis to connect all the dots.