On March 3rd, 2020, #1 New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas launched her brand-new Crescent City series with its first installment, House of Earth and Blood, which tells the story of half-Fae and half-human Bryce Quinlan as she seeks revenge in a contemporary fantasy world of magic, danger, and searing romance.
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.
Dear reader, to say that House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas was my most anticipated novel of the year is perhaps a bit of an understatement. This may very well have been my most anticipated novel ever (and that’s saying something, because I grew up as part of the Harry Potter generation). And yet, Sarah J Maas managed to live up to all of my wildest expectations, giving readers a story that is rife with emotional introspection, a sizzling romance, an inventive and modern fantasy world, and plenty of action.
Let’s begin first with the central characters of this story – Bryce Quinlan, Hunt Athalar, and Ruhn Danaan – for it is through their shared perspectives that the story is told. Bryce is undoubtedly the primary protagonist of the story, with much of the action revolving around her. And as the story progresses, she certainly becomes a force to be reckoned with, even if she doesn’t wield nearly as much magic as the full-blooded Fae, Angels, Werewolves, and other magical beings around her. Initially, her character (like Danika’s) seems to be quite superficial, but readers will have a hard time not falling in love with Bryce as the story progresses, and the secrets she keeps closely guarded are revealed. For his part, Hunt bursts onto the page as a fully-fledged individual, with Bryce assuming she knows everything there is to know about the Fallen Angel, given his reputation. But like Bryce, readers will quickly learn that Hunt isn’t all that he seems, and will find that the dark, brooding Fallen Angel has a heart of gold lined with good intentions – if only he ever gets the chance to act upon them. Finally, there’s Ruhn Danaan, who doesn’t quite get his moment to shine like his half-sister Bryce, or her brooding partner-in-crime, Hunt, but who will still steal readers’ hearts with his unwavering devotion to seeking out the truth and protecting those he cares for.
“Through love, all is possible.” ―
Revolving around this trio is a cast of diverse and complex characters, including (but not limited to) Danika Fendyr (formidable Werewolf pack-leader, party girl, and Bryce’s bestfriend), Lehabah (Bryce’s cheeky and outgoing Sprite co-worker), Jesiba Roga (Bryce’s enigmatic and slightly threatening Witch boss, with a penchant for all things illegal), Tristan Flynn and Declan Emmett (Ruhn’s best friends and inevitable sidekicks), Micah Domitus (Archangel of Valbara, Governor of Crescent City, and a terrible being who makes Hunt do terrible things), and Hypaxia (a mysterious med-witch with an intriguing history). They, along with other secondary and tertiary characters, add quite a bit to the story, and as is typical of Maas’ style, many of these characters end up playing significantly larger roles than one might initially expect.
“That’s the point of it, Bryce. Of life. To live, to love, knowing that it might all vanish tomorrow. It makes everything that much more precious.” ―
Beyond the characters, what will really blow readers away as they dive into House of Earth and Blood is the world that Sarah J Maas has built, seamlessly blending high-fantasy and modern technology in a way that is both intoxicatingly magical, and utterly believable. Crescent City is a city filled with various magical and non-magical creatures, living in a sort of segregated society based upon the nature of their magic (or lack thereof), with non-magical beings (namely humans) finding themselves at the bottom of an impenetrable hierarchy. While Maas has a lot going on in terms of world-building in this one (it can feel a bit dense from time to time, especially in the early pages of the book), readers will likely be so intrigued by this new “modern, high-fantasy” world that they won’t mind too much – especially once their curiosity about the lore gets the best of them.
“Then let the world know that my first act of freedom was to help my friends.”
Finally, if the characters haven’t stolen readers’ hearts, and the world-building hasn’t snagged their attention, the plot of House of Earth and Blood will undoubtedly draw them in. In the beginning, readers will be intrigued, waiting for the inevitable tragedy that will leave her “bereft, wounded, and alone”. Then, once the other shoe has dropped, readers will find themselves engrossed in the tangled mystery of Bryce’s friends’ murders, grasping for clues and hints that Maas leaves peppered throughout the pages.Then, as it becomes evident that Bryce, Hunt, Rhun, and perhaps even the entirety of Crescent City, as careening towards inevitable disaster, readers won’t be able to look away as the story builds to a stunning crescendo, bringing everything together seamlessly for a breath-taking conclusion.
Overall, House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J Maas exceeds expectations set by Maas’ previous works, showcasing a new maturity and prowess in her writing. With an engaging cast of characters, an inventive and refreshing High Fantasy setting that seamlessly blends magic and modern technology, and a story that is sure to keep readers wanting more, House of Earth and Blood is certainly a must-read (5/5).