BOOK REVIEW: Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas
***Warning - there are spoilers in this review!!!***
I've been waiting a long time for House of Earth and Blood to finally arrive on my doorstep, having pre-ordered it over a year ago. (I do that a lot - It's like sending future me a book present!)
I adored Sarah J Maas' first trilogy,' A court of Thorns and Roses' (want to read my reviews of book 1 and 2? click here and here!) and devoured all eight books of her 'Throne of Glass' series in record time (must review them soon! - if only for the excuse to re-read them!) - and I held high hopes for Crescent City; had high expectations. So it was probably my fault when, after reading through the first half-dozen chapters, I found myself struggling.
As her first 'Adult novel', I knew it was going to be different. I didn't know in what way (because, other than the age of the protagonist, I have yet to determin what divides 'Young Adult' and 'Adult' as a genre) I only hoped it wasn't going to lose the beautiful voice that shone through Sarah's other books, that incredibly detailed vision that she portrayed through words - a talent most writers could only dream of - as I cracked the book and started reading.
The first thing I noticed was the swearing. Now, don't get me wrong - I have no issue with any of the weird and wonderful words that exist out there for people to express themselves with - that's the entire point of most of them - but there were so many 'fucks' and 'shits' and 'hel's crammed into this that it pulled me out of the narative every single time. It was almost like Sarah had struggled herself, with what it was to write an 'Adult' novel, and decided that throwing a tonne of F-bombs into the mix would help.
I didn't like it.
And then, there were the characters.
Half fae, half human Bryce was.... well, to be honest, she was not the well rounded character I'd grown to expect from Ms Maas. She was sassy and confident, but seemed flimsy and empty... a ghost of Aelin or Feyre from the other series' - clunky and unbelievable.
Danika, her wolf-shifter room mate,was nicely set up as the side kick - the stronger, more bad-ass side kick, who ran a militant pack of wolves called 'The Pack of Devils' in a city filled with shifters of any animal you care to imagine, witches, Angels, Fae, Mer-folk, Vampires, dragons, and sprites. Included in this pack was the Love Interest (Connor - a brooding wolf with the hots of Bryce) the nice girl (Nathalie) and the younger brother (Ithan) plus a handfull of others.
The first few chapters followed Bryce as she went about her life - working in an antiquities dealers, finding and selling rare and magical items for her tyrant of a boss - with only the company of a tiny, human-shaped fire sprite called Lehabah, and a comic, puppy-like 30 pound chimera called Syrinx for company - before partying at nightclubs and doing obscene amounts of drugs with her fantasy friends (Danika, plus a possible secret assasin called Fury, and a faun called Juniper - set to be the first faun to become a Principal dancer.)
All of this would have been fine - dull, but fine - if it wasn't for all the info-dumps that had been squeezed into all the gaps. Names of people I didn't know yet, titles and places and hierarchies I didn't understand; wars that held no meaning, and consequences that made no difference as I struggled to piece it all together while following Bryce around the City.
Then everything changed. While out clubbing with Fury, Danika and her pack of Devils were killed; ripped apart by some mystery demon. Bryce, pumped with drugs and alcohol, returned to her flat to find their remains - and the demon just sliding out of the building. Naturally she follows it, in bare feet, high on drugs, and manages to fight off the beast after she found it sinking its claws into an angel in a back street, using the skills she'd been taught by her ex-military human step-dad (cough 'Mary Sue'...!)
After that, it got boring again, and I found myself working hard to stay interested, as we jumped two years into the future to a sober Bryce, drug free and empty, her party girl life a distant memory, haunted as she was by the death of her friends - and all of this was only backstory to the main plot, which had yet to even begin!
At this point, I was wondering what to do. Could I put the book down? write it off as a blip, and hope that the next book was better? Or stick with it, and have faith in the writer I admired so much?
I picked B, and I have to say, having finished the book only moments ago, I'm so glad I did.
Soon after, the PLOT started - Bryce was drafted in to help an investigation into the death of Danika and the Pack. She was ordered to team up with a menacing Angel, Hunt Athalar, nicknamed 'The Shadow of Death' for his fun quirk of being the commanders assasin, who was to act as her guard for the duration of her search.
There's tonnes of plot and story to this investigation - and it's superbly clever, but if you want to know about that, you'll have to read it for yourself. As much as I love the effort SJM puts into her plots, they really aren't the driving force behind my love of her work - it's the depth of her characters, and their interactions with each other, that really floats my boat.
Hunt and Bryce's interactions were clunky to begin with. There was a lot of back and forth in point of view, leaving the reader very little to imagine, very few dots to join for ourselves, which was a bit dissapointing at first. But the more the story grew, the more they both did, and that was when I realised - she'd done it again.
I'd been fooled by SJM before - Feyre from ACOTAR had started as a shell, and it had taken three books for her to develop. Three whole books to share all her secrets with the reader, each one planted in steath, to bloom into something remarkable; unfurling and growing with every page.
Why I thought Crescent City would be different, I'll never know, but I suddenly realised, about halfway through the book, that the swearing was no longer jarring - it was fitting of the characters, and appropriate. The info-dumps were long gone, replaced by vivid descriptions and clever dialogue, and the characters were growning in depth, rounding out and becoming the full versions of themselves - because of their interactions with others.
By the grand finale (and the plot-shaking twists and turns that SJM threw at me!) I was smiling and nodding and crying at every page, drawn into the fresh new world that she had created.
Needless to say, Sarah J Maas remains my favourite author - and Crescent City a perfect example of what she's so effortlessly good at - that raw, human feeling, that connection to another, and the belief that people make each other better.
I can't wait for the next one.