Your Fave is Problematic pt. 2: To Love is to Destroy
Fair warning this is highly critical of Rowan Whitethorn and his relationship with Aelin Ashryver Galathinius and Sarah J. Maas
Unfortunately the Throne of Glass series published five years after The Mortal Instruments has similar troubling portrayals of relationships. Throughout the series, Celaena/Aelin has more than one romantic relationship. For the purposes of this analysis, I am choosing only to focus on her permanent romantic partner Rowan Whitethorn. Celaena’s relationship with Rowan Whitethorn takes the Belligerent Sexual Tension trope to another level. The pair meet in the third book when Celaena is in a deep depression due to the events of the previous books, in particular, the brutal murder of her best friend. She is sent to Wendlyn by her ex-lover Chaol. Once there her mission is to find a way around the king’s orders and to keep her promise to her departed friend: see her kingdom freed. To get answers on overthrowing the King of Adarlan she goes to her long lost Fae Queen aunt for answers.
To say that her interactions with Rowan are tense would be an understatement.
After Celaena’s Maeve hands down the order that Celaena must train with Rowan, Rowan walks her back to the room where she’ll be staying. Neither Celaena nor Rowan is happy about this arrangement. Rowan thinks that Celaena is a spoiled child and Celaena believes him to be an arrogant brute. When Rowan expresses his displeasure for the task, Celaena says angrily, “Fae like you make me understand the King of Adarlan’s actions a bit more, I think.” (Heir of Fire 109) For added context, the King of Adarlan has spent a significant part of the past decade having his army slaughter magical creatures, the Fae in particular. Celaena’s entire family with the exception of her cousin Aedion and herself were among those executed on the king’s orders when she was only 8. She does not actually feel this way. Rowan is infuriated and chooses not to respond with words but with violence.
“Faster than she could sense, faster than anything had a right to be, he punched her.
She shifted enough to keep her nose from shattering but took the blow on her mouth. She hit the wall, whacked her head, and tasted blood. Good.” (Heir of Fire 109)
Rowan punched her the face, so hard that she bled and her lip was swollen. Not in a duel, not in training, not in defense, but simply because Celaena insulted him. This behavior is excused almost immediately. As Celaena is lying in bed later that night she would think to herself that she “deserved it” the following morning she would also find a tin of salve outside her door from Rowan per the orders of the queen attached to a note that said she deserved it. (Heir of Fire 114) Upon pondering the incident when thinking of the power of the Fae and Rowan’s age and experience Celaena observes that if Rowan really wanted to he could have shattered her jaw. So by only leaving her slightly bloodied and bruised the audience is supposed to believe he practiced restraint by not hurting her as badly as he physically could have. In the beginning of their acquaintance, being an immortal being Rowan makes a show of telling Celaena how much older and more experienced he is than Celaena. So having a century or two on Celaena one would think Rowan would be above the taunts and provocations of an 18-year-old girl.
In order to teach Celaena to control her magic, Rowan is determined to get Celaena hone her shifting abilities. He believes that Celaena obtaining control over these abilities are the keys to her having control over her long suppressed magical abilities. Rowan tries to get her to shift through violently provoking her in training sessions. Celaena’s sessions with Rowan often leave her bruised and sore. So much so that those she’s stationed to work alongside in the castle’s kitchen take notice. An important character trait of Celaena is that she’s proud, she hates the thought of anyone pitying her. When Emrys an older man who runs the kitchen is concerned about her bruising she simply says: “I’ve been through worse.” (Heir of Fire 225)