Thursday 9 July 2020

#CBR12 Book 38: "House of Earth and Blood" by Sarah J. Maas

Page count: 816 pages
Rating: 4 stars

#CBR12 Bingo: Red

Official book description:
Half-Fae, half-human Bryce Quinlan loves her life. By day, she works for an antiquities dealer, selling barely legal magical artifacts, and by night, she parties with her friends, savoring every pleasure Lunathion—otherwise known as Crescent City— has to offer. But it all comes crumbling down when a ruthless murder shakes the very foundations of the city—and Bryce’s world.

Two years later, her job has become a dead end, and she now seeks only blissful oblivion in the city’s most notorious nightclubs. But when the murderer attacks again, Bryce finds herself dragged into the investigation and paired with an infamous Fallen angel whose own brutal past haunts his every step.

Hunt Athalar, personal assassin for the Archangels, wants nothing to do with Bryce Quinlan, despite being ordered to protect her. She stands for everything he once rebelled against and seems more interested in partying than solving the murder, no matter how close to home it might hit. But Hunt soon realizes there’s far more to Bryce than meets the eye—and that he’s going to have to find a way to work with her if they want to solve this case.

As Bryce and Hunt race to untangle the mystery, they have no way of knowing the threads they tug ripple through the underbelly of the city, across warring continents, and down to the darkest levels of Hel, where things that have been sleeping for millennia are beginning to stir…

House of Earth and Blood is the first volume in Sarah J. Maas' new series, Crescent City, and surprisingly, her first book fully aimed at adults. Considering the really very graphic descriptions of both sex and violence in the Court of Thorns and Roses series, I puzzled at that, but it turns out that when Ms. Maas writes for adults, she writes pretty much exactly the same way, but the characters swear a whole lot more. I guess that's how you know it's aimed at grown-ups instead?

There's a lot to like about this book, and I stand by the 4-star rating I gave it back in April, when I finished reading it. It does, however, have quite a few flaws as well, such as the constant swearing to indicate the change in its intended audience.

Secondly, NO way the book needed to be over 800 pages long. Just absolutely no need for it. The first third of the book or so is super slow and Maas pretty much does the opposite of info-dumping, she portions out little bits of relevant plot information so slowly it's infuriating. It isn't until the final 150 pages or so that the reader actually starts getting a clearer picture of everything that is going on and is able to fully engage with the characters and the story. Spending as long as Maas does introducing a bunch of characters that will then not be appearing in the rest of the story, except in flashbacks, seems a little redundant, even if she wants to show just how important they are to Bryce.

Thirdly, I don't want to speculate on whether it's patriarchal expectations or the author's own preferences that make her basically write descriptions of every female character as an exaggerated parody of the male gaze. We get it, Bryce and her various female friends are all super hot, while all looking completely different, they're clearly sexual fantasy fodder for anyone who fancies women. To be fair, most of the dudes seem to be pretty heavily objectified too, but the descriptions of them didn't seem to go into so much detail.

Finally, I understand that in books like this, there is by now an expectation of a central romance. I didn't really see that Bryce and Hunt needed to get together and found their romance a lot less interesting than pretty much all the other inter-personal relationships of the book.

So, what did I like? The world-building is excellent and I found both the ancient history and the details of the way Crescent City is built up really interesting. The various supernatural creatures and the Houses that belonged to was very cool and I'm sure we'll discover more about this in later stories. The failed rebellion and the harsh way the former rebels were punished was also intriguing, and once she actually got the plot underway, and didn't just establish background info, so to speak, the mystery that Bryce and Hunt have to unravel was rather fiendish.

I liked Bryce and her relationship with her brother, for all that it's fraught, shows a lot of promise. Friendship and loyalty is a very prominent theme throughout the book, and Bryce and Danika's friendship, in particular, was incredibly strong and important. The way Bryce eventually reconnect with her other friends after processing her grief was also very encouraging to me.

Once the plot really kicked into gear, I had trouble putting the book down and blazed through the final parts. Not entirely sure that the ending played by the rules as previously established in the story, there seemed to be some "deus ex" involved, but it was nevertheless very moving, and just like I will forgive rather a lot from big dumb action movies that entertain me, I can forgive quite a bit from books like this too (this is TOTALLY the literary equivalent of a summer blockbuster, at least if you ignore the too long, super slow start).

In conclusion, as the start of a new series, I liked it more than I liked Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses. Now, Maas completely blew me away with book 2 of ACoToR, so I have high hopes that this series may improve exponentially now that the parameters of this new fantasy world have been established.

Judging a book by its cover: I know Maas herself loves this cover, and it's certainly elaborate. I just think that there may have been too much red used, and honestly have trouble making out all the details. I can see why the intention to make it look as if the cover image is pretty much saturated with blood is there, there's some pretty bloody and gruesome murders to be solved over the course of this book, but it seems like the various intricacies of the cover image might have been easier to distinguish if there wasn't quite so much red.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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