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

Review: House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. MaasHouse of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1) by Sarah J. Maas
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy, fantasy romance, paranormal, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Crescent City #1
Pages: 803
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on March 3, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

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.

My Review:

In the beginning there is Bryce Quinlan and Danika Fendyr. And in the end, there is Bryce Quinlan and Danika Fendyr, linked together by their hearts and the translation of a tattoo on both of their backs, “Through love, all is possible.”

That’s the way it begins, and that’s the way it ends. In between, there’s a long walk through very dark places that Bryce is forced to take alone. Or so she thinks. Or so it seems.

Ultimately, House of Earth and Blood is a story about love. Not just romantic love, although there is a slow-burn romance at the heart of this story. But the romance at the true soul of this saga is not Eros, as the Ancient Greeks called sexual passion, but rather the deep friendship of the soul that they named Philia.

What seems like a star-crossed romance between the half-human, half-fae and barely magical Bryce Quinlan and the fallen angel Hunt Athalar is the stuff of which Romeo and Juliet tragedies are made. The deepening angst of their enemies into lovers story gives this saga both its biting wit and its too-frequent descents into over-the-top melodrama.

But it’s Bryce and Danika’s sisters-of-choice, bone-deep connection that gives this story its lowest depths of despair – and its wings.

Once upon a time, when my parents were still among the living and we used to play cards together, at the end of hand someone would frequently say, “Read ‘em and weep.” In a nutshell, that’s House of Earth and Blood.

Read it and weep.

Escape Rating B-: There were points during my reading/listening of this book that I just couldn’t stand not knowing what came next so I dove from the audio right into the ebook the minute I got home.

And there were times when I was ready to throw the thing against the wall and end the torture because there were so many things that just drove me crazy. That I was considering this course of behavior in the car, listening to my iPhone while I was driving shows just how tempted I was.

So I’m not remotely neutral about any of this. Not at all.

The short version of this review is that the first 100 pages were terrific and ended in a gut wrenching drop. The last 100 pages were so damn compelling that I couldn’t wait to finish in audio THEN couldn’t flip pages fast enough.

Much of that final 100 page compulsion was provided by a clichéd villain exposition to make the heroine see just how brilliant his villainy had been, but the reader – and every other character in the story – needed to hear it. But villain clichés are still villain clichés.

In the middle there were 600 pages that would have been better as 400 or 450 pages. A metric fuckton of stuff happened, a lot of it was stuff the reader really, really needed to know. But there was also an equally metric fuckton of over-the-top angst that may have needed to happen but didn’t need to happen with that many repeats or nearly that much overblown language and description.

My feelings about this book are absolutely in the category of splinters up the ass fence sitting. The parts I loved, I really, really loved. The parts that I hated, I hated just about as much. There’s no middle ground here that isn’t a quagmire of blood, sweat, tears and angst.

Initially, what dragged me into this story was the sheer complexity of the worldbuilding. This is not a place I’d EVER want to live, because it is seriously fucked up – especially for the original recipe humans – but the mixture of 21st century technology with high-powered magic and authoritarian rule by powerful immortals blends into a world that is both easy to envision and fascinating to explore.

The vibe of Crescent City and its world feels very much like the heady aura of the organized menace of power and magic that permeates Fonda Lee’s marvelous Jade City, the first book in her Green Bone Saga.

As much as the way this world works reminded me of Jade City, in the end it read like a whole bunch of recent SF/Fantasy worlds thrown into a gigantic blender set on high. The resulting mélange is generally pretty tasty, and I found the depth of the worldbuilding to be the strongest part of the book.

Especially considering that, as much as this reads like an urban fantasy in a high fantasy setting for much of the story – rather like the Chronicles of Elantra by Michelle Sagara (start with Cast in Shadow), technically this is science fiction of the “walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, but isn’t a duck,” variety. Like A Chorus of Dragons by Jenn Lyons, where it turns out that the gods aren’t really gods, but rather immortals who came from another planet. Although Lyons sends the world of her series careening off its tracks in an entirely different way. Still, if you like The House of Earth and Blood and can’t wait for the next book, check out The Ruin of Kings.

As much as I loved the beginning of this book, and found the ending to be utterly riveting, the middle sagged and bagged.

Some of that was language. It felt like all of the physical descriptions of people were repeated whenever they appeared, over and over and over. And it was very obvious that all of the people in this story were all extremely conventionally attractive. But all of the descriptions were overblown, something that was particularly obvious in audio.

There was also a lot of wordy, emo, angsty, over-the-top emotionalism, particularly on Bryce’s part that I found teeth-gnashing. It made it very clear that she still had a tremendous amount of growing up to do, to the point of really making me wonder about the developing relationship between Bryce and Athalar with its 200 year age gap.

But the entire middle section felt like it had three purposes. Build that romantic relationship – only to cockblock it at every turn, watch Bryce get beaten down and run around at every single turn, and follow Bryce and Athalar as they conduct an investigation that is doomed to fail because there’s a villain they don’t know about hiding behind the metaphorical curtain. Leading right back to that clichéd villain exposition.

All of those things needed to happen, but the runaround was long and repetitive. It also drove home that this is a “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” story, as it seems that every single system and authority is determined to remind Bryce that she is the lowest of the low – and so is nearly everyone else.

There was a hateful sameness to all of the powerful people in this story. While power does corrupt, it doesn’t necessarily corrupt every villain with exactly the same blend of total inability to see anyone else – even their own families – as having any value whatsoever AND utter sadism. Some powerful people would be savvy enough to at least hide their ugly a bit better and at least a few would manage to be slightly enlightened even if that enlightenment is because it’s ultimately in their own self interest to at least seem benevolent.

And we don’t know why they are ALL this way. Villains never think they are the villain, after all. So what’s their story? The sheer number of times that one of the many, many villains reveled in their ability to mentally and/or physically torture others was initially sickening and then it just got old.

Before this review – or rant – goes on as long as the book it covers, one final thought. I loved, and hated, and loved this book by turns. But I never stopped thinking about it – even when I wanted to. It’s compelling when it’s good and it’s compelling when it’s crazy.

But it ended on an incredible high note, to the point where, as much as it drove me round the twist, I know that I’ll be compelled to pick up the second book in the series when it comes out (hopefully) next year. I’m pretty sure this is going to be a story where things get darkest just before they turn completely black – BUT I HAVE TO KNOW!

Review: The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan Camp

Review: The City of Lost Fortunes by Bryan CampThe City of Lost Fortunes (Crescent City #1) by Bryan Camp
Format: ebook
Source: publisher
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Crescent City #1
Pages: 367
Published by John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

The fate of New Orleans rests in the hands of a wayward grifter in this novel of gods, games, and monsters.

The post–Katrina New Orleans of The City of Lost Fortunes is a place haunted by its history and by the hurricane’s destruction, a place that is hoping to survive the rebuilding of its present long enough to ensure that it has a future. Street magician Jude Dubuisson is likewise burdened by his past and by the consequences of the storm, because he has a secret: the magical ability to find lost things, a gift passed down to him by the father he has never known—a father who just happens to be more than human.

Jude has been lying low since the storm, which caused so many things to be lost that it played havoc with his magic, and he is hiding from his own power, his divine former employer, and a debt owed to the Fortune god of New Orleans. But his six-year retirement ends abruptly when the Fortune god is murdered and Jude is drawn back into the world he tried so desperately to leave behind. A world full of magic, monsters, and miracles. A world where he must find out who is responsible for the Fortune god’s death, uncover the plot that threatens the city’s soul, and discover what his talent for lost things has always been trying to show him: what it means to be his father’s son.

My Review:

This is one of those “throw a bunch of books in a blender” things. In this particular case I’d be throwing American Gods, The Map of Moments, possibly some Nightside or Iron Druid or Eric Carter and any halfway decent guide to the Tarot, and I think I’d end up with something like The City of Lost Fortunes. As long as I included a tip of the hat to The Empire Strikes Back.

Not that it’s a bad blend by any means. Except for the necessity of the Tarot guidebook, I love all those stories. But that doesn’t mean that this one isn’t a bit derivative. But still eminently readable..

And I have a long running “thing” for books set in New Orleans. So there you go. Or here I am. Or there we are. All of the above.

This is a story about post-Katrina New Orleans, like The Map of Moments or Royal Street. And even though in this particular story Katrina is several years in the past, the breaking of the levees and the diaspora of its people is still a very present force in the city. Something was lost in the storm – something that still hasn’t come back. In spite of, or perhaps because of, all of the rebuilding.

Jude Dubuisson is the protagonist of this story. A hero he isn’t. Anti-hero is probably a lot closer to the mark – or at least that’s the role he grows into over the course of the story. At the beginning, Jude is mostly just a loser, scared of his own magic and trying to keep as low a profile as possible.

And it’s ironic that Jude begins as such a loser, because his gift, his magic, is his ability to find lost things. He can find the earrings you lost last week, the child who was kidnapped last month, or the soul that you signed away decades ago.

There’s someone on the supernatural side of New Orleans who needs Jude to find what the city has lost – before someone with less benign intentions finds that something and twists it to their own purposes.

Jude is supposed to play the game, and lose. He doesn’t even know what the rules are. By the time he figures out that the stakes are his soul, he’s already all the way in – and halfway back to the person he was meant to be.

The question is whether or not he has enough tricks up his sleeve to solve all the puzzles before the puzzles solve him. And just how much of a son of a Trickster he truly is.

Escape Rating B+: In the end, this story really got to me. Once Jude finally figures out what he really is and what he is meant to be, the final chapters are a wild ride that leads to a marvelously satisfying conclusion.

But the book still reminded me a bit too much of the stories that make up its gumbo flavor to stand up to an A grade – but it was close.

Although the feel of this book is that of a gritty urban fantasy, complete with snarky noir-ish detective, the ambience felt so much like American Gods, just writ on a slightly smaller scale – New Orleans instead of the entire American continent  But The City of Lost Fortunes is still a story of gods and monsters and hidden agendas and powerful beings that hide in plain sight and manipulate events to suit themselves.

There’s even a hidden Trickster pulling the strings behind the scenes, but unlike Low-Key Liesmith in American Gods, I recognized just who S. Mourning was from his first appearance.

Because this is New Orleans, in addition to the more usual pantheon of gods and monsters, the loa of Louisiana Voodoo play a big part of the story, both as guides to the perpetually perplexed (our “hero”) and as movers and shakers of events – even if some of their moving and shaking serves merely to upset other beings’ apple carts.

Jude Dubuisson is an interesting choice for a hero, or even an anti-hero. On the one hand, he certainly has a LOT of growing to do. He hasn’t been able to accept who and what he is, and has been kind of in hiding from himself since Katrina. I want to say he’s lost his mojo, but that really doesn’t cover it. It’s more like he deliberately threw his mojo away, and isn’t sure he ever wants it back. Once his choices are finally reduced to take it back and maybe get out of this mess in one piece or die AND lose his soul (these are not necessarily the same thing) he finally looks for what he himself has deliberately lost.

He also spends a significant part of the story lost in other meanings of the word lost. It is certainly a metaphor for his gift, but it is also the kind of lost that gives readers headaches. It’s not merely that he doesn’t know what he’s doing or why he’s doing it, but the reasons why it needs to be done or even what “it” is are obscured from both the protagonist and the reader.

In other words, Jude is confused for the longest time, and so are we. Following him as he grasps and gropes at what the problem is and whether or not he can find or trick his way into a solution is the story.

And in the end, it works. It really, really works. Sometimes a bowl of gumbo is exactly what you have a taste for – reading-wise or otherwise.