Review: House of Earth and Blood – Sarah J. Maas

Review: House of Earth and Blood – Sarah J. MaasHouse of Earth and Blood
by Sarah J. Maas
Series: Crescent City #1
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Genres: Romance, Fantasy
Pages: 803
Source: Library

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Bound by blood.
Tempted by desire.
Unleashed by destiny.

Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.

With unforgettable characters, sizzling romance, and page-turning suspense, this richly inventive new fantasy series by #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas delves into the heartache of loss, the price of freedom—and the power of love.

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Content warnings: View Spoiler »

“Despite his suspicions, Hunt had the creeping feeling that this assignment was either going to be a fuck-ton of fun or a nightmare.”

That quote? My mood when I started this book. Given that I had mixed feelings over SJM’s last two books, I went into this behemoth (1109?!? pages on my ereader) with quite a bit of trepidation. But once you get past the first eight chapters, this is some pretty solid old school SJM, complete with lots of freckled golden skin and too many instances of the word “male.”

Bryce reminds me most of an Urban Fantasy AU Aelin, which is not a bad thing. Bryce, to put it bluntly, is a party girl, mostly content with just putting in her hours at work and then partying with her friends. And if her friends are all wildly more successful than her (her roommate’s famous and poised to take over the shifter pack, and her other two best friends are a ballerina and probably-an-assassin), well, that’s because she’s half-human and they’re not. All of that changes rather abruptly one night, and Bryce is left to pick up the pieces. And that’s just the first eight chapters…. the rest of the book is a murder mystery complete with political shenanigans and lots of breaks to take selfies.

The world building is both too much and not enough. Crash course? There are four Houses comprised of various beings known as Vanir, which include (deep breath) sprites, angels, shifters, merpeople, witches, and Fae. All of it is ruled over by star-beings known as the Asteri, and at the bottom of the heap is, as usual, the humans. There’s some vaguely Judeo-Christian mythology (Fallen angels who attempt to overturn the Asteri, demons from “Hel”) and the angel legions are vaguely Roman, even down to using crucifixion as a punishment. There’s a lot of time (and pages, so many pages) spent setting all this up, and it still somehow ends up being confusing and never quite gels. It’s all packaged up in a sort of magical urban fantasy complete with cellphones, night clubs and pizza.

“Isn’t it exhausting to be an alphahole all the time? Do you guys have a handbook for it? Maybe secret support groups?”

I was particularly amused by a conversation between Bryce and Hunt about “alphaholes” – a pretty well-known trope in romance circles – and watching Hunt subvert that stereotype. Am I completely sold on the relationship between them? I’m not sure. Like any romance, there’s a dark moment – where something happens that makes the two characters question their relationship – and in this case, it’s a doozy. I certainly didn’t feel like the character in the wrong groveled enough. Plus, this is SJM, and her MO seems to be setting up one ship and then torpedoing the *@#$ out of it later on. I was much more invested in Bryce and Danika’s friendship, honestly, and her messed up relationship with Ruhn.

Speaking of Aedion – I mean Ruhn…. There’s a lot that feels very reminiscent of her two previous series in terms of characters and plot developments… even the one sex scene. I can’t really complain too much about that, though, as it does read as a sort of “best of” of those series, though I really wish the disordered-eating-as-grief thing hadn’t made another appearance. It did make some of the twists not as surprising. I mean, if you’ve read SJM before, by halfway through you know exactly what’s coming. Also, this book is long. It’s really, really, really long, and the pacing in the middle suffers as a result. Even at the beginning, getting through those first 8-10 chapters is… not for the faint of heart, and I bounced hard off both the pre-release excerpt (those first seven chapters) and the actual finished book several times before I managed to actually make some headway. Once it finally clicked, though, I was firmly hooked and couldn’t put the book down.

Overall, despite its flaws, I still enjoyed the book, the developing relationship between Bryce and Hunt and the multitude of side characters.

50s housewife vacuuming

My take-aways: I will forever be thinking about Jelly Jubilee and Bryce vacuuming.
Also, SJM? Stop trying to make “rootling” happen.

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