Saturday, August 15, 2020

Review: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)



House of Earth and Blood centres around a fantasy world in which werewolves, angels and all manner of creatures are very real. There are four houses: 
"House of Earth and Blood: shifters, humans, witches and ordinary animals belong to this house
House of Sky and Breath: malakim (angels), Fae, elementals and sprites
House of Many Waters: River-spirits, mer, water beasts, nymphs and kelpies
House of Flame and Shadow: Daemonaki, reapers, wraiths, vampyrs, draki, dragons and necromancers." -The Four Houses of Midgard, from Crescent City book one. 

This house system is not at all like Hogwarts, and the rest of the book sure as hell isn't either. This is Sarah J Maas's first foray into the adult fantasy genre. 

The Plot:

The plot centres around Bryce Quinlan and her efforts to solve a series of murders. Quinlan is asked (actually, told is more accurate) to investigate by the city's commanders and is assigned a partner/babysitter to make sure she does so to the best of her ability. Her minder is Hunt Athalar, a fallen angel who is enslaved by Micah Domitus, a governor. Hunt is frustrated at being made to look after Bryce who is half Fae, however as time progresses they find themselves drawn to each other. Chaos, romance and some smut ensues. 

The Writing:

I'm the first to admit that I'm not a big fan of SJM. I've read the three primary books from the A Court of Thorns and Roses series (I haven't read the novellas and you can't make me, nor can you make me read anything else she publishes that's set in that world) and while they are easy to read, quick and dirty, they are not what I would call... great books, at all. 

THIS BOOK caught me by surprise. I originally coerced my good friend into doing a buddy read, with the intention of probably hating it and laughing at it. However Crescent City book 1 made me feel about ten different emotions and about 99% of them were positive. 

SJM's writing in this book is far superior to the way she wrote ACOTAR and its sequels. The settings, descriptions and world building are almost flawless. I do think it is perhaps a little too long and could have been edited down, however I still read every single page with intense interest. I even considered doing a reread as soon as I'd finished it because the ending made me feel so many emotions. 

The Characters:

The characters were by far the best part of this book, especially Lehabah the fire sprite and Syrinx the chimera. From page one I was hooked by the characters, by their interpersonal relationships and the ways they all went about their lives, SJM managed to break my heart within the first 30 pages, which is frankly impressive, if not a little callous. When Bryce first meets Hunt you immediately know where it's all going to go in terms of their relationship but I found I didn't mind that it was a bit predictable in that regard, because the rest of the book sure as hell wasn't. Hunt is a bit of a curmudgeon (not that I blame him, he's had it tough) and he plays off Bryce's personality perfectly. By the time they meet Bryce and Hunt have both been through some heavy trauma and their mutual understanding of that is crucial to the trust and friendship they slowly build. I was thoroughly in love with Hunt by the end. 

One of the other main characters Ruhn Danaan, is related to Bryce (spoilers if I go into much more detail) and my friend who I buddy read this with was firmly in camp Ruhn, so much so that she bought a Ruhn themed candle from our favourite bookish candle shop. You can pry my Bryce/Hunt ship from my cold dead hands though. It was at points melodramatic, over the top, cheesy and at points poignant, sweet and romantic, and sometimes downright filthy. Five stars to SJM for managing to pull off the best romance I've read in a long while. 

The Atmosphere:

This book is so atmospheric, dark, creepy and downright depressing at times. I loved every minute of being inside Bryce's mind as she struggled to come to terms with loss, grief, depression, and anxiety. It felt intensely realistic to me and I related to Bryce on a level that made her journey throughout the book so much more moving. Her struggles and triumphs were perfectly offset by the grim circumstances she found herself in and SJM wrote those perfectly. Her descriptions of surroundings, smells and sounds were so evocative that it felt almost real. I could picture parts of Crescent City with great clarity and loved exploring parts of it for the first time with Bryce. I was stunned at how well SJM could write a grim-dark setting without falling back on overly flowery descriptions of colour and sound and instead let the inner monologue of Bryce and her emotions carry the weight of the setting. It was incredibly well done.

The Good:

Oh so many good things in this book. I cried no less than 5 times in this book, all of them in the last 250 pages, the pay off to the long read was so worth it for that ending. Like I said, the characters are flawless in their execution, even if they are incredibly flawed in their personalities. Those flaws make them all the more charismatic, charming and downright likeable. 

The Bad:

The book is about 200 pages too long in my opinion. There's a lot going on and parts of it feel a bit unnecessary especially when they aren't fully explored by the end of the book, however this is book one in a series and I have hope that SJM will explore those issues more fully in the coming books. I personally feel that Ruhn could have played a bigger role and would have been a great asset to the main storyline if he had been used more fully. His angst was a little overplayed and repetitive and the reminders that his father is a bad guy got very repetitive and frustrating. I wish I'd done a tally of how many times the Autumn king was shit talked in that book. 

Final Thoughts:

If you love SJM's other books read it and rejoice, if you hated her other books (like me) read it and be stunned at how well she can pull off a whole adult fantasy that left you desperate for book 2 immediately. Basically just read it, because even though it's not perfect, it's a damn good read that will suck you in for the entire time you're reading it and will leave you with so many emotions that you won't know what to do with. It's the kind of book you'll gladly stay up until 3am reading even though your eyes keep closing and you're so tired you can barely think. 

Don't be mad at me when you get to the end and realise book two isn't due to be released until 2021.

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