3.5 out of 5 stars
If ever there were a porn movie turned down due to budget, it’s every Sarah J. Maas novel.
There is always so much in a SJM novel, and her latest – and first foray into “adult” fiction – does not disappoint.
Welcome to Lunathion, also known as Crescent City, on a continent called Pangea, in a world called Midgard. I think. SJM is off to a dense start, as this book begins with about 100 pages of the setting, people, government, weapons, wars, politics, breakfast options, and sexual preferences of everyone and everything in her new world. But get through that, and it’s pretty well worth your time.
Basically, the world of A Court of Thorns and Roses and New Orleans have a baby, named Crescent City. All kinds of creatures live there: fey and angels and werewolves and shapeshifters and humans. Magic and powers abound. The angels are top of the heap, and everyone’s ruled by a group of super-powerful archangels. Humans are at the bottom, though in Crescent City, they live more freely than in other parts of the world.
Our heroine is 23-year old Bryce Quinlan. Where Feyre of ACOTAR was always clever and Celaena of TOG was always deadly, Bryce is… not much. She’s a party girl with little ambition besides getting wasted and having a lot of sex in club bathrooms. (Like a LOT.) It’s an interesting choice for a protagonist: she’s very tough to like, at least initially. [This is an actual plot point: Everyone hates her because she’s trashy. And they’re right.] Of course, she turns out to also be quite special. I’d recap the plot, but it’s bonkers and impossible and there are mermaids. I’ll cut to the chase:
Half-human, half-fey Bryce, forever in a skin-tight dress and stilettos, gets in some trouble. She’s assigned police protection in the form of a live-in bodyguard. Of course, he’s the most powerful/deadly/terrifying/hot AF angel, Hunt Athalar. They work together to – and this is where the porn goes over budget – solve a mystery, stop demons, find antiques, topple government, end slavery, and save the world. Baste that turkey with some heavy breathing and a lot of muscle admiration, and you’ve got a feast.
I’ve got to give it to SJM: she goes for it. This new world so complicated that it could have (should have?) been described over two books. The House of Earth and Blood is one of the four Houses that people in Midgard claim allegiance to, mostly by their species. I assume the next three books will use the other house names. Maybe she got all the description out of the way here, and the other books will be all action. (One can hope.) But House of Earth and Blood is not boring, even when it’s dense. The modern setting is a breath of fresh air. Faeries with cell phones? Snake ladies with search engines? There’s plenty of plot, and characters die left and right. Eventually, Bryce becomes quite likeable. Hunt is a lusty, Winter Solider-level mix of tight shirts and trauma, and the rest of the cast is less paint-by-numbers than her other series. Inevitability, every character will find their soulmate in the immediate vicinity of this story. I don’t call her Sarah J. Match-dot-com for nothing. She can’t help it and, saccharine and stupid as it may be, I don’t want her to.
Perhaps the biggest evolution in SJM’s work is that she clearly bought a thesaurus. (Is this why it’s “fiction” instead of YA?) In previous series, her prose was not only repetitive, but she doubled (and quadrupled and octupled and….) down on the most tawdry vocabulary this side of fanfic. Nothing ever hurt, it barked. Everything rippled. And phantom! Kill me. There must be 250 phantom winds in the TOG series. There are – I counted! – only two in House of Earth and Blood. A miracle. Grown up, indeed. (Sidebar: I just started A Court of Silver Flames, and she uses f$&@ing phantom on page two. Brace yourselves.)
The surprise at the end of this book isn’t very surprising, but it’s satisfying. And it shows SJM is cutting to the chase much more quickly than in TOG. (Who knows WTF is happening in ACOTAR, where Feyre’s horse will probably get its own book.)
I’m not sure why this book is adult and her other series have been Young Adult. There’s just as much violence in her other books, and this one actually has less sex. (That won’t last.) There’s no “you have to wait, Rhysand can’t unfurl his wings in this tiny bed” or Rowan melting the beach to glass. I guess we’re going somewhere beyond that, and we’ll just have to wait for the next 27 hour audiobook to take us there.