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Inside the sprawling fantasy universe of Sarah J. Maas — and the fans who want to live there

So, you’ve heard of “A Court of Thorns and Roses.” Strap in: There’s so much more to this fae-filled world.
TODAY Illustration
/ Source: TODAY

Warning! This article contains spoilers about the three fantasy series by Sarah J. Maas: “Throne of Glass,” “A Court of Thorns and Roses” and “Crescent City.” 

So you’ve reached the corner of TikTok where book fanatics cannot stop talking about “A Court of Thorns and Roses.” (Seriously: The hashtag #ACOTAR has over 5 billion views).

It’s piqued your interest — but the book cover, an illustration of a dragon-type creature before a crimson backdrop, doesn’t tell you much. Maybe you’ve stumbled upon more clips with obscure references like “Tamlin” and “the Bat Boys” and “under the mountain” and “Helloooo, Feyre darling.”

“ACOTAR!” the people are shouting. “What is this?!” you’re shouting back.

The simple answer? “ACOTAR” is a fantasy-romance series for “new adults,” a publishing term that denotes a book for people in their 20s who have graduated from the YA genre (and maybe moved onto things playfully called “fairy smut”), about a young huntress taken captive to mystical faerie lands. She finds love in a powerful Fae who’s half man and half beast.

Except, “ACOTAR” readers know this series is not about that at all, yet it’s still entirely about that. (If you know, you know.)

Sarah J. Maas
Sarah J. Maas, the queen of modern romantasy fiction.Frank May / picture alliance via Getty Images

The long answer is that “ACOTAR” is this immersive and epic saga, but — and here’s where spoilers may come in — it set the groundwork for author Sarah J. Maas to spin a web of a magical universe that expands to other fantasy series she’s written: “Throne of Glass,” the first of which was published in 2012, and “Crescent City,” which came in 2020.

These made-up worlds are expansive and picturesque, the romances are lyrical and intense, the adventures are thrilling and agonizing, and all of it is held together through intelligent planning and foresight.

Many BookTokers will say these books have the extraordinary world-building of “Harry Potter,” the romanticism of a Taylor Swift album, and the jaw-dropping crossovers of Marvel movies. 

SJM’s publishers are certainly seeing the hype too. Bloomsbury this month not only revealed a third “Crescent City” book coming in January 2024, but also said Maas signed a new four-book deal in addition to her existing three books currently under contract. 

So if you’re sold, come along further for the ride. There’s so much more to know.

I want to read SJM’s books. What’s the proper reading order?

Sarah J. Maas fans out there will have differing opinions on this. Sarah Mori, 28, a reader from Austin, Texas, who’s been leading a virtual SJM read-along book club since 2021 and also runs an SJM-centric TikTok, says that SJM series to start with depends on your interests.

“Anyone who loves fantasy first should read ‘Throne of Glass’ (this is what I read first). It is the first thing SJM wrote and it is just an incredible series to dive into,” she tells by email. “For my romance ladies, I recommend starting with ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses.’ It is the perfect thing to (dip) your toe into Sarah J. Maas.”

One thing all SJM readers will agree on is that “Crescent City” should be read last. 

The first “A Court of Thorns and Roses” book, which is now a six-book series.
The first “A Court of Thorns and Roses” book, which is now a six-book series.

Let’s say you start with “A Court of Thorns and Roses," aka “ACOTAR.” Like most readers, Mori says to read this series in publishing order:

  1. “A Court of Thorns and Roses” (2015)
  2. “A Court of Mist and Fury” (2016)
  3. “A Court of Wings and Ruin” (2017)
  4. “A Court of Frost and Starlight” (2018)
  5. “A Court of Silver Flames” (2021)
The first “Throne of Glass” book.
The first “Throne of Glass” book.

Now, let’s turn to “Throne of Glass.” This is where readers will debate about the reading order. Mori created a TikTok of her recommendation.

  1. “Throne of Glass” (2012)
  2. “Crown of Midnight” (2013)
  3. “The Assassin’s Blade” (2014, a prequel book) 
  4. “Heir of Fire” (2014)
  5. “Queen of Shadows” (2015)
  6. “Empire of Storms” (2016) and “Tower of Dawn” (2017) in tandem 
  7. “Kingdom of Ash” (2018)

The biggest sticking points in this reading order are when to read “The Assassin’s Blade,” the prequel book, and whether the two penultimate books, “Empire of Storms” and “Tower of Dawn,” should be read in tandem or as separate novels.

Mori notes that SJM herself recommends reading the prequel book first. As for the tandem read, that’s up to you. If you decide to tackle it, Mori created a chapter list to follow for her book club, so you can alternate.

(Writer’s note: I did the tandem read as a first-time reader and it was very fun. I’d recommend it.)

The first “Crescent City” book, “House of Earth and Blood.”
The first “Crescent City” book, “House of Earth and Blood.”

After “ACOTAR” and “TOG,” you’ll read the “Crescent City” books. There are only two books published so far, the third coming in January of next year. Here’s your (breathtakingly straightforward) reading order:

  1. “House of Earth and Blood” (2020)
  2. “House of Sky and Breath” (2022)
  3. “House of Flame and Shadow” (2024)

I read all of SJM’s books, and I think I missed the crossover moments. What were they?

Here’s the part where we’ll delve into some spoilers. 

Let’s start with the most prominent crossover event, which comes in the conclusion of SJM’s most recent book, “House of Sky and Breath,” in the “Crescent City” series.

Its protagonist, Bryce Quinlan, jumps through a port that ends up taking her to Velaris, a setting in “A Court of Thorns and Roses,” and right into the arms of familiar characters. She beholds the “ACOTAR” crew and clocks some uncanny physical similarities to her brother Ruhn and friends back in Crescent City.

Bryce also comes bearing a blade, dubbed the Starsword in “Crescent City,” which turns out to be an ancient weapon called Gwydion that’s gone missing in “ACOTAR.”

This was a major turning point in the SJM universe, as the author confirmed what readers suspected all along — these worlds are tied. Before this, SJM had left possible easter eggs throughout her books. Mori provided some notable ones:

  • Characters in “Crown of Midnight” (page 276) and “A Court of Silver Flames” (page 154) referring to different “worlds” and “realms.”
  • Aelin, the “Throne of Glass” protagonist, in “Kingdom of Ash” falls through worlds and sees Feyre and Rhys in Velaris (page 800).
  • Bryce in “House of Earth and Blood” notices two book titles — “The Walking Dead” and “The Book of Breathings” — that respectively play roles in the “Throne of Glass” and “ACOTAR” books (page 691).

What’s going to happen in “Crescent City” 3?

Now that the “ACOTAR” and “Crescent City” worlds have officially crossed over at the end of “House of Sky and Breath,” the forthcoming third “Crescent City” book could go in so many directions. 

What most predict is a full-blown “Captain America: Civil War” moment, where you think you’re getting a “Captain America” movie but it’s actually a “Spider-Man” and “Iron Man” and everybody-else movie.

So, while this is a “Crescent City” book, its protagonist has landed in the “ACOTAR” world — so we’ll expect to see how all these characters intertwine. (Particularly how Elain’s fated mate shakes out, but that’s a much longer story for another day.)

As for actual plot points, Mori says she expects “lots of pain but a happy ending.”

“Sarah has hinted we should be worried about Ruhn and we know he is most likely not doing well. I am trying to remember this is the same author who put Aelin in a coffin and tortured her for (over) 20 chapters. But on an exciting note, I expect a lot of answers to the Maas Universe.”