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How to Mess Your Readers Up (Not in a Good Way): House of Earth and Blood Review

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City): Maas, Sarah J.: 9781635574043:  Amazon.com: Books

Have you ever impulsively purchased a doorstop of a book (hang on, let me finish), dove into it straightaway, gotten about 200 pages in, felt that you hit a wall, and put it down…but then couldn’t stop thinking about it?

I’m not referring to the general disappointed feeling we’ve all experienced when we discover that newest addition to the TBR just isn’t for us. I don’t mean that moment of going, “It was such a good idea, too bad the _________ just stunk.” Rather, I refer to the syndrome of If-I-Don’t-Finish-This-Title-It-Will-Haunt-Me-But-I-Can’t-Say-Why. (Yes, I’ll think of a better name, I promise.)

And then once you start reading again, you can’t stop until you reach the final pages… Even as the bottom drops out and you realize that foreboding sense you had early on was in fact a reliable indicator of things to come…

This is exactly what happened to me with Sarah J Maas’ latest release, House of Earth and Blood.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the title alone grabbed my attention rather than turning me off? Explicitly violent and erotic and constant rude language content generally isn’t my thing, and I know all of these can be expected, if not guaranteed, in an urban fantasy by the author of A Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses. But I also absolutely judge a book by its cover, and I was totally sucked in by the aesthetics of this new series.

And, 3 months later (yes, of course it took me that long, it’s 800 pages!), I have this to say about House of Earth and Blood:

I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK.

I. ALSO. HATED. THIS. BOOK.

And now I don’t know what to do with it, or myself.

We’ll start with the good.

(Warning: Spoilers!!!)

To begin with, the worldbuilding of this story is INCREDIBLE. Set in a more or less modern place that sounds like California, but called Crescent City (or Lunathion), this universe establishes right away that faeries, shapeshifters, witches, vampires, merfolk, and humans all live together, under the rule of a group called the Asteri (but in laymen’s terms, angels). The Asteri have near god-like status, and no one really dares to mess with them — except a group of human rebels that started a war that’s still raging in another country.

So the main focus of HOEAB’s setting is life in Crescent City, which blends magic and technology, normal stuff like restaurants and cell phones and tourist destinations, but the industries and culture and history all swing in the favor of the Vanir (all the non-human creatures described collectively). So shapeshifters walk the streets in their animal or bird forms; the Vanir run the city government and police force; the witches are basically doctors, because of their healing abilities; the local sport is played by fae and shifters, with plenty of human fans.

The depth and breadth of thought put into how this system works was ASTOUNDING. It was really easy for me to picture the city and its inhabitants as I read, and get a pretty good idea of what their lives could be like. The protagonist of this tale, Bryce, is a half-fae, half-human woman, working for a sorceress who sells and buys magical artifacts on the black market. (WOW – no sarcasm, things like this were SO well developed.) Anyway, in the prologue, Bryce and her best friend and roommate, Danika (a wolf shifter) are party girls in their early 20s, forever loyal to each other, more like sisters, and then something terrible happens. BEGIN SPOILER ALERT.

I loved most of the characters:

Bryce Quinlan is a sassy on the outside, soft inside heroine. She used to dance, wanted to be a professional ballerina (OMG, YES), but was told she didn’t have the “best body type” for the stage, so eventually, she quit. (RELATING SOOOO HARD) Early in the story, she suffers a traumatic loss, and her grief is palpable. The writing of Bryce’s agony, avoidance, and angst following the brutal murder of her best friend is SPOT ON. Grief isn’t logical, it doesn’t take the same path for everyone, and Bryce’s behavior is raw, realistic, and so easy to feel. Two years after the crime, she’s put herself in a routine of work, exercise, and cheesy television, so that she can keep going, but all she wants is to erase her present and have her past be real again.

The love interest, Hunt Alathar, is introduced in the prologue, but really enters his role when a murder mirroring the one that gave Bryce PTSD occurs in the city, and Hunt is assigned as guard duty and investigator. Hunt is an angel, but he’s a slave to the Asteri, because there was an angel rebellion centuries ago, and he was on the losing side, so since then he’s been punished for rising up against his masters. (HOLY EXCELLENT LEGEND RETELLING, BATMAN!) Hunt’s conflicted feelings about wanting to complete his sentence so he can be free, while not really regretting the rebellion, while being very aware he could be killed for any tiny infraction, and mourning those already lost to the cause — was all AMAZINGLY written. Hunt considers himself a soldier, not a killer, and the author brilliantly captures the trauma he’s already endured along with a pushing desire for revenge.

There’s also Ruhn, a faerie with family connections to Bryce, and he is the definition of a LOVABLE CINNAMON ROLL. He’s the heir to a massively influential and powerful throne, and he doesn’t want to be, and he hates his father, but he doesn’t want to disappoint his father, and he loves Bryce, who’s mad at him AND SOBBBBING!

Let’s totally bring up SYRINX, who is Bryce’s pet chimera (ENOUGH SAID), and Lehabah, a sweet little fire sprite, who has Bryce’s back no matter what. THE FEELS, MY SON, THE FEELS. Ruhn’s besties, Declan and Flynn, are awesome, too — I really wish they got more time on page! And we can’t forget Bryce’s college friends, Juniper — a faun who’s a dancer in the city ballet!!! — and Fury, a totally badass assassin who is completely there for Bryce at the eleventh hour.

My biggest issues with the characters were how underdeveloped the wolf shifters were, after hints in the prologue that they’d be a much bigger part of the story; and how the antagonists were, generally, just chewing the scenery. Only Jesiba, Bryce’s sorceress boss, was more than one-dimensional, but Jesiba was legit so hateful I simply waited to see someone kill her, kill her a lot.

Okay, now onto the bad:

The romance between Bryce and Hunt did not click for me. As their relationship developed from not liking each other — for no apparent reason, I must add — to tolerating one another to lust on steriods and then of course LURVE, I really felt the LURVE aspect didn’t fit. By the halfway mark (page 400 or so), I could absolutely see them becoming close friends, maybe like cousins, NOT as a couple. Something about the author’s insistence that they found each other hot-hot-hot…turned me off the notion.

None of the antagonists had believable motivations. Sabine (Danika’s mother) did not act one bit like a grieving parent; she was just a bitch, all the time. Her biggest character trait was slut-shaming Bryce (when the narration suggests Bryce had a few past boyfriends and a couple of one-night stands — erm, o-kay???). The Autumn King (Ruhn’s father) was a cardboard cutout of an all-powerful Fae king — who did nothing when his city was in dire peril. Even the Viper Queen, who seemed interesting at first, really faded off the scene as a murder suspect — or as a secret ally — until the very last minute, as if the author forgot about her for 27 chapters.

Even when the real Bad Guy behind the murders was revealed, it wasn’t surprising. It wasn’t even coherent, as — SPOILER ALERT! — the person in question was reputed to be so powerful, he WOULDN’T HAVE NEEDED THE ARTIFACT HE CLAIMED HE DID TO END THE WAR. That was the other MAJOR letdown on the plot — that the civilian murders tied in to the war against the humans, WHICH WASN’T EVEN HAPPENING IN CRESCENT CITY. Which DIDN’T EVEN NEED TO BE A PLOT POINT, since, if the Asteri were really practically divine, they could have JUST SMITED ALL THE REBELS AND BEEN DONE WITH IT. The concept doesn’t hold water against the established rules of this universe. Especially given the fact that Maas never provides us with reasons why some of the humans are fighting the Asteri. All the humans in Crescent City seem to like being around the Vanir just fine. Where Bryce’s parents live, in basically the suburbs, humans seem to have a bias against Vanir that’s akin to racism, but again, no reasons for this are presented. Some of the Vanir don’t like Bryce for being half-human, indicating the bias might very well go both ways — but, once more, we need reasons for the discrimination, and those never take root.

So, here we are at the worst moment of when-it-all-fell-apart for me:

THAT. ENDING. Holy Crow and all of the Raven Cycle, WHAT HAPPENED to the narration?!?! For the majority of the text, we switch back and forth between Bryce’s and Hunt’s POVs, so we get a pretty good understanding of what’s going on and who knows what. BUT THEN, somewhere around page 600, the author drops a BOMBSHELL that turns Hunt into a possible Bad Guy. And then does THE SAME EXACT THING about 50 pages later WITH BRYCE. It’s revealed — in a really lazy style, in the manner of, “Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention” to the reader — that BOTH HAVE BEEN LYING TO EACH OTHER, and the author KEPT THAT FROM HER AUDIENCE. So now, we don’t know who to root for, whether they should end up together because they’re both so awful, or if it’s all a trick leading up to the Big Reveal in the climatic action (which wouldn’t be cool, either, by the way).

This meant I couldn’t cheer for Bryce as (MASSIVE SPOILER) her hidden power came out to save the city. I couldn’t cheer for Hunt as (MASSIVE SPOILER) he finally defeated those who enslaved him.

I felt Bryce didn’t deserve Danika’s loyalty, or Ruhn’s. Bryce’s mother, who I admired, turned out to be a CONNIVING BITCH. Bryce had kept from Ruhn information he NEEDED, for YEARS.

I felt Hunt didn’t earn his release from slavery. I didn’t support the other angels and Heads of the City rallying behind him. In fact I wondered who had had a lobotomy when.

I was so disgusted with their behavior that I wanted to see the other Vanir take down our two main characters.

I wanted to throw the book. I almost threw it in the recycling bin. I did toss it on top of my donation pile. Then I thought of Syrinx, and Ruhn, and Juniper, and moved it to a corner of my bookshelf.

I could literally CRY with the feeling of betrayal I’m experiencing.

The author is a jerk, for using a “surprise, they’re keeping secrets!” technique as a “twist” — plain and simple.

It actually HURTS. I connected to these characters, and now…I want them written out.

This is messed up. Seriously. WHY would an author obviously spend a great amount of time and energy developing such an intricate world, with so much worth exploring, draw us in, get us invested, and then — literally ruin it??

I don’t think I’ve ever felt this way. I’ve disliked characters for being whiny, shortsighted, selfish, making bad decisions, using people, and even having questionable taste in music — but never I have felt like an author earned my trust and then stuck their middle finger up to it.

YOWCH.

YE-OWCH.

Anybody want to help me figure out what to do with my copy?

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