Book Review : House of Earth and Blood

Book Review : House of Earth and BloodHouse of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1) by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on March 3rd 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 803
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three-stars

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.
Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.
As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.
With unforgettable characters, sizzling romance, and page-turning suspense, this richly inventive new fantasy series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas delves into the heartache of loss, the price of freedom—and the power of love.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas launches her brand-new CRESCENT CITY series with House of Earth and Blood: the story of half-Fae and half-human Bryce Quinlan as she seeks revenge in a contemporary fantasy world of magic, danger, and searing romance.

After being less than thrilled with Kingdom of Ash, the ending to Sarah J. Maas’s much beloved Throne of Glass series, I was a little skeptical when I preordered  House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1). Never did I expect to sit down and read the entire 803 paged book in one sitting. House of Earth and Blood offers something completely unlike anything I’ve ever read–a murder mystery in a fantasy world–and I loved the originality of it. Every character was multidimensional, the world-building complex and layered, there was twist after twist, and the author finally attempts to move away from some of her more problematic issues with romance.

 

However, the pacing was a bit off–House of Earth and Blood  was very slow to get started in order to build the world in what felt like an overwhelming information dump. I also struggled to like the main character, Bryce Quinlan and both the character Hunt Alathar and her developing relationship with him for most of the novel. Though the author tells us that Hunt is not an “alphahole” or a powerful Alpha-male type (combined with supernatural powers), he definitely acts like one. My only other complaint was that there was some serious cheesiness, questionable character development, and “telling” that took me out of what I was reading every once in awhile.

 

“There was only one testimony to provide: that the humans were wasteful and foolish, and the war was their fault, their fault, their fault, and must be ended. Must be avoided here at all costs. There was to be no sympathy for the human rebellion, no hearing of the human’s plight. There was only the Vanir side, the good side, and no other.”

 

Main character Bryce Quinlan is a half-human, half-fae living in Crescent City, one of the few places on the planet that humans are not enslaved. In other parts of the world, humans attempt to rebel against their powerful masters, known as Vanir, supernatural creatures, who make up everything being on the planet other than humans and normal animals. Despite having some basic rights in Crescent City, humans are treated as dispensable creatures and have few protections against their more powerful counterparts in the Vanir, like the Fae, shapeshifters, witches, reapers, and more. These powerful Vanir, in turn, answer to the Archangels, who answer to powerful beings who hold stars, known as the Asteri. And what’s more, each of the Vanir are segregated into Houses depending on their type and answer to six City Heads, and the Archangel of Crescent City, Micah Domintus. 

 

There’s literally so much to take in during the beginning chapters of House of Earth and Blood, that I struggled to wrap my head around it all, even after reading the first five chapters twice (I was lucky enough to read the first five chapters before release thanks to NetGalley), and I reread them to try to get a grip on the world when the novel released). The way that all of this information–not only just about the hierarchy of the world, but also about a Vanir’s “Drop” into immortality–is presented in narration through Bryce in what felt like a marathon information dump, didn’t help me either. I wish I could have learned things in more of a trickle of information versus a constant flood. I would have gladly given up the gorgeous map at the beginning of the book in exchange for an Appendix of characters, terms, and a hierarchy graph. Heck, I drained three highlighters dry trying to keep track of it all, but once readers get their head around it all (which hopefully I did correctly in the above paragraph), they are met with a complex and fascinating world, and a city that feels like it has a beating heart of its own. 

 

As a half-human, half-fae Bryce Quinlan falls into the cracks of even Crescent City’s society. She’s too Fae to be completely human, and too human to be completely Fae. Plus, her job dealing in rare antiquities isn’t exactly legal and her personal life is filled with drugs, partying, and a constant stream of men. Met with prejudice and loathing from everyone–including her biological Fae father, Bryce is lucky to have her best friend Danika Fendyr by her side for much of her life. Danika is the infamous alpha werewolf of the Pack of Devils and future Prime of Werewolves in not only Crescent City, but the world, due to her massive and unheard of power. It’s Bryce and Danika against their parents, the prejudices of the world, and everything else that comes along. 

 

That is, until something brutally murders her best friend and her wolf pack, and literally rips them to pieces in their shared apartment–a feat that would take an incredible amount of strength. Put on the case to figure out what happened to Danika and to find a relic of the Fae, Luna’s Horn, which went missing around the same time as their death, Bryce becomes entangled with all manner of her supernatural society, including enslaved Fallen Angel and known demon hunter, Hunt Alathar. 

 

Though a romance develops between Bryce and Hunt, it takes a back seat to the platonic, sisterly love that Danika and Bryce had for each other. I really enjoyed the focus on their relationship, which we get to know more in flashbacks than actual time where the two are both alive. Like Bryce, I too, wished the characters had had more time together. But House of Blood and Earth does a phenomenal job dealing with the emotions and concept of human grief. In fact, the novel often brought me to tears–anyone who has ever lost someone can relate to opening old text message threads and rereading them, losing interest in doing favorite things, or wanting to hold onto the person no matter the cost. 

 

Because once that wound is gone, once it stops hurting, then Danika is gone. The pack of Devils is gone….It will all be some memory, some dream that happened for a flash and then was gone. But this scar and the pain….I can’t let that be erased. I can’t let them be erased.”

 

Maas is so deft at building emotional moments and breakthroughs that it’s almost shocking when she actually doesn’t hit the mark. The same author that made me cry at moments like the above, made me cringe when Bryce tells another character they are dead to her, which is more than awful, but then emphasizes it by holding up her phone and hitting delete on his contact. Um, what? Another thing that made me pause was Bryce telling others on two separate occasions that Danika’s death made “a light go out in her.” This may be nitpicky, but I feel that this is the type of thing is something someone would say about a character, not something a character should spell out themselves for the readers or other characters. Plus, I didn’t even need to be told this directly, as the author had already aptly demonstrated that Bryce was not the same person just through her writing. Sometimes while reading, I wondered if I was reading the same writer.

 

“I know people don’t get it. It’s just . . . a light went out inside me when it happened. Danika wasn’t my sister, or my lover. But she was the one person I could be myself around and never feel judged. The one person I knew would always pick up the phone, or call me back. She was the one person who made me feel brave because no matter what happened, no matter how bad or embarrassing or shitty it was, I knew that I had her in my corner. That if it all went to Hel, I could talk to her and it would be fine.”

 

As they seek to unravel Danika’s last steps, Bryce and Hunt become closer in a slow-burn romance. Brought together by mutual loss and survivor’s guilt, the romance should have been a train wreck, but instead, it was really interesting to see Sarah J. Maas’s attempts to distance herself from the toxic masculinity that some of her past male characters have exhibited. In fact, she practically breaks the fourth wall to distinguish this romance from all the others: 

 

“‘Don’t tell me I’m an alphahole, or possessive and aggressive or whatever terms you use.’

She lowered her hands, her face stark with dread. ‘You’ll get in so much trouble for this, Hunt. There’s no way you won’t–’ It was fear for him. Terror for him.”

 

But I wasn’t convinced that, despite the author’s constant reassurances, that Hunt wasn’t an “alphahole.” At one point in the novel, Bryce is cruelly insulted, and Hunt leaps into the air on his dark gray wings and flies off to strangle or to threaten someone, despite Bryce’s desperate wishes for him to let it go. Hunt makes these actions without a thought for the serious repercussions for him in his position as a slave and for Bryce’s position in solving Danika’s murder–or for what it would do to a friend who has already lost most of her friends in violence. And of course, he’s punished, which causes a lot of unnecessary added trauma to the woman he supposedly cares about. 

 

Throughout the entirety of House and Earth of Blood, I really struggled with the characterization of Bryce and Hunt. From the minute I started reading the novel, I knew there was more to Bryce than a shallow party girl that supposedly everyone on the planet found attractive. I also figured from how quickly the novel shared that her father was an important Fae, that there was obviously even more to it than that–and indeed, there was. But I still don’t really know how I feel about it. It seems like a lot that the View Spoiler » It requires a lot of suspension of belief that all of this happens to Bryce, on top of the fact that she, a civilian, is put on this murder case in the first place for basically what equates to reasons and things. Though I genuinely learned to like Bryce, it wasn’t until about ¾ of the way through House of Earth and Blood. 

 

Unfortunately, I can’t say I ever grew to like the male lead, Hunt Alathar. I had this preconceived notion that Hunt, known as Umbra Morris, or angel of death, assassin to Micah, and a general in the Fallen Angels’ rebellion would be more stoic after everything he went through–losing the rebellion he led, watching everyone he loved die, tortured for centuries, having his freedom dangled above his head just out of reach, etc.. I was disappointed to find him judgmental at first, but then with an easy sense of humor, and inane interests like Sunball. Once the Lightning-bearing Angel of Death gets mundane interests, he fails to be quite as spectacular or interesting. Author Maas tries to make him sympathetic and tortured at the same time, but I just felt there was a disconnect between those two sides. Like Maas wanted him to be powerful, awe-inspiring, an “alphahole” but also a good, soft-hearted boyfriend. 

 

I don’t quite think she found the balance between those attributes.  I just didn’t think it was realistic for a character who had gone through all of this to act the way he did. And I never honestly understood what Bryce saw in him, to be honest. View Spoiler » Doesn’t match at all with her character, which holds a lifelong distrust of Vanir males. 

 

I also found it hard to picture Danika ever approving of Bryce’s relationship with Hunt. House of Earth and Blood tries hard to make it seem like Bryce was always supposed to end up with him somehow. View Spoiler » It felt like the novel was really just trying to shove this relationship down my throat at all costs, but I just couldn’t see it. And the beginning of the novel really made me root for her deceased friend Connor, or perhaps one day, his younger brother–who’s approval really mattered to her and used to be referred to as Bryce’s favorite person after Danika. So like in Throne of Glass, I once again preferred a different male character with the female lead. Ack. 

 

I certainly wasn’t reading House of Earth and Blood just for it’s romance. And what I truly loved the most was the murder-mystery in such a layered fantasy world. I can only imagine how long it took for Maas to plan all of the aspects of this world and the many twists and turns.  And though I don’t think she quite pulled it off with this novel, kudos to Maas for recognizing that she needs to move away from some of the Alpha stereotypes in her book and for trying for something new. 

 

If you are already a huge fan of Sarah J. Maas, you will undoubtedly love House of Earth and Blood. In fact, it feels so similar to Maas’s other stories, that I’m beginning to feel like it’s just another incarnation in the same already well-established formula at this point: part Fae female against the world comes into her own, ditches first male lead, finds another male to romance that supports her coming into her power, and then saves the world. One could even argue that if you have read one Sarah J. Maas novel, you’ve read them all–they just have slight differences in their world-building and magical systems.

 

Regardless of this, there’s plenty to like with the complex supernatural world, strong female friendships, and an exciting murder mystery. If like me, you’re put off by alphaholes, questionable character development, some awkward writing, and have a penchant for liking the wrong male character, this may not be the one for you. Despite these drawbacks, I’m still interested in reading future installments of the Crescent City, because there are a lot of questions I still have after reading House of Earth and Blood. 

three-stars
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Book Review : House of Earth and Blood - Blogging with Dragons

Posted March 13, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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