Hi, my name is Mary and I am a middle-aged woman who occasionally reads YA fantasy series and *gasps* enjoys them.
There really are three age groups in fantasy literature. There are books/series that are clearly Young Adult. The characters are teenage or younger, the subject matter isn’t quite as advanced (violence, sexual content, etc.) and it’s typically a little easier to read (see: Harry Potter, The Mortal Instruments, etc.). Adult fantasy has primarily adult characters in adult situations and can be a more difficult read for those that aren’t longtime fantasy readers (see: Game of Thrones).
Then there is the third category of ‘somewhere in the middle’. And, I guess, my question is who decides which category a book fits into? Hear me out. In Throne of Glass, the female protagonist is 18 years old. She is an assassin and has been in prison for over a year. She was beaten and barely survived. Book one, Throne of Glass, is fairly violent with Celaena beating the crap out of someone or someone beating the crap out of Celaena in many scenes. I know that in future books she has sex with several different characters. This is categorized by everyone as YA. (I’m not questioning this; just making a point.)
In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, the female protagonist is a teenager (I can’t recall her exact age but I believe she was younger in book one than Celaena is here.) She is a street urchin with special powers but isn’t a killer. Spoiler alert: she does have sex in the books but only after she is married and it all happens off the page. While I have in rare cases seen someone classify Mistborn as YA, it is almost always considered an adult fantasy and the bookstores shelve it as such.
Then, what makes Throne of Glass fit YA and Mistborn fit Adult? I honestly don’t know. But I have a guess. Let’s talk world building first. Brandon Sanderson is a genius world builder and the world he created in the Mistborn series is unbelievable. Exceptional. Unsurpassed. Maas’ world in TOG isn’t as well built. But, you know what? There are a lot of ‘adult’ fantasy series that cannot touch Sanderson’s world building and Maas does at least as well as many of them. So, I don’t think it’s the world building.
Also in Mistborn, there also isn’t a love triangle in sight. Pretty much from the start it’s clear that Vin and Elend will be together eventually and there are no other real viable love interests for her. TOG has a pretty clear love triangle beginning to form. Does this make it YA – the dreaded love triangle trope? Maybe. I do think it has something to do with this but let’s be fair and honest. Many adult books also have love triangles. It is a tried and true method of drawing in a certain readership.
So, why is TOG classified as YA? I’m still left in the dark. My guess is that it’s a combination of the love triangle, the young female lead character and the female author. But maybe I’m wrong. Tell me what you think in the comments below. I’d love to understand.
(P.S. I gave Throne of Glass 4/5 stars. While I can see the problems some people had with a few things, I thoroughly enjoyed it and found Celaena to be an interesting character. I’ve already ordered book two.)