The ACOTAR Curse
When something becomes too popular
ACOTAR, or A Court of Thorns and Roses, by Sarah J Maas, is easily one of the more controversial books I have seen. I have never seen a series or author that has as many ardent fans or anti-stans. On one hand, you have people who will overlook every problem with the book. On the other, you have people who hate it with a passion and go out of their way to let people know they hate it. I mean, part of it is understandable--this is the series that spawned the 'soap dick' controversy, it is massive. But that's not what I want to talk about today.
What I want to talk about is how ACOTAR has somehow cursed the writing and people that come after it. Perhaps this happened in the pre-ACOTAR world, but I wasn't around on the internet or in fandom before it happened. There has been this weird phenomenon I've observed where some people cannot seem to fathom that a world exists outside of ACOTAR. To me, it would be similar to people accusing British schoolchildren of wanting to be prefects only because of Harry Potter.
As a writer, this is frustrating because I write things that may align occasionally with ACOTAR's contents, using a similar trope or character. But I write this because I like to read it, not because I am copying Maas. For example, I once wrote a twin set piece about the 'City of Stars' and the 'City of Nightmares'. I wrote this because I was obsessed with the stars and because I suffered from horrible nightmares at that time and my only outlet was writing. And somehow, people thought the similarities were too much--the city names, the fact that the people of the City of Stars awoke at sunset and slept at dawn, and because I used the name Lucien meant to some that I was inspired by Maas and incapable of formulating a truly original thought. This is incredibly frustrating, as it feels like anything written in proximity to ACOTAR must be inspired by it. For the record, 'City of Stars' was inspired by the painting Starry Night, its name from the song City of Stars from La La Land, and I've always loved Lucien as a softer version of Lucius. Lucien is also an apt name because it literally means light.
I am not the only writer who has experienced this. My friend, author of A Twist of Night and Day, has experienced this too. One of her reviewers tells her that her book is similar to ACOTAR because her idea of 'realm-walking' was the same as 'winnowing'. They're both words for, in short, teleporting. Maas did not invent teleporting. Why did the reviewer not say that realm-walking was too similar to apparating, from Harry Potter? Or stolen from tessering from A Wrinkle in Time? All of these series have the concept of teleporting, a magical technique that is common in fantasy books. My friend also mentioned that she had originally intended to name her main character Azriel before she read ACOTAR but changed it because she was afraid that people would try to associate it with Maas' Azriel.
The stans and the anti-stans both also make my life incredibly annoying when I have any interests that are loosely linked to ACOTAR. I like ACOTAR, especially the Night Court, because I love stars and darkness. I did not spend my childhood memorising stars and begging to go stargazing and making constellations out of toilet paper rolls to be told that I only like stars because I have a crush on Rhysand. I loved the names Cassian and Nesta to the point that I thought about giving them to my kids, but I certainly can't do that now! My point is more this: I have a personality outside of the ACOTAR series, despite the beliefs of some stans and anti-stans. My likes and dislikes aren't dictated by what happens in ACOTAR, but rather I enjoy ACOTAR because of my likes and dislikes.
I don't know what the conclusion of this piece is, but I just find the entire premise incredibly frustrating. I don't write things because I read about them, I write and read similar things because I'm driven by a specific interest. This is the ACOTAR Curse--an inability for some stans and anti-stans to see anything beyond their love or hate for it and assume that others cannot be original because it is somewhat similar.