House of Earth and Blood by Sarah Maas (Book Review)
How apt that my first review of 2021 should be a young adult fantasy novel that’s just brimming with gory details, lustful relationships and a set up that promises at more adventures for our heroic but flawed protagonists in the future. Just like how 2021 is shaping up, the dust is clearing and we’re beginning to see the first vestiges of hope for the fantasy genre, which has too long slumbered in the doldrums, beating the same ‘orc-elf-wizard’ drum since time immemorial.
Sarah Maas’ refreshing take on modern fantasy, mixed with young adult tropes, sprinkled with a good old fashion murder mystery mayhem is an amazing reinvention of the fantasy genre and just want the doctor ordered. Despite being slow paced at first, the novel does pick up about a quarter of the way through and the world that she’s built really sucks you into the politics, history and culture, all of which feeds and plays an important role in the story that Sarah is trying to tell. I can’t recommend this book highly enough to those looking to find their feet in the fantasy genre without repeating the same good vs evil storyline. Lust, gore and surprises at every turn should be the status quo at the moment and I can’t wait to see what Sarah has next with the sequel to this excellent first novel.
Deep History Hinting At A Wider Conflict
For me, it gets overwhelming when a novel just regurgitates history that has come before, without giving the reader time to appreciate and think critically about the significance of the past background of the world they inhabit, that inevitably shape the protagonists and antagonists of that world.
It’s much better, and easier, to just sprinkle in information as and when needed, whether through a character’s thoughts or insinuated through their conversations. Sarah Maas does a brilliant job at teasing out the wider lore of her world, knitting together nuggets of information that just make sense by the time you reach the novel’s end game. From the angel’s rebellion, to the wider magics and players in Crescent City, to the politics and relationships that fester and boil under the surface, every character’s actions are motivated by the bloody and mysterious history of the city, which Sarah gives readers just snippets to live on, until it makes perfect sense to the very end.
That’s one way to keep a reader hanging on every word, just yearning to learn more and more about the intricate and complicated world that Sarah has crafted. And it just works.
Flawed And Hurt Protagonists
Hunt Athalar and Bryce Quinlan are probably the most compelling protagonists I’ve ever read in any novel over the past few years. Both are not your typical heroes — Bryce doing anything possible to forget the burden of Danika’s death, Hunt hurting after being defeated during the angel rebellion and serving time as the Governer’s assassin, doing his bidding and his killing.
However, because both are flawed in their vaery nature, it compels readers to be drawn towards their hurt and suffering, to cheer them on as their relationship blossoms and they draw closer together due to everything that they’ve been through. We see Bryce transform from a person running away from her problems, to someone that embraces her destiny as the Starborn Fae and completing her journey from abject nobody to significant somebody. Hunt himself undergoes a radical change from Governor’s slave to all-powerful lightning lord, who would do anything to love and protect Bryce from the potential dangers that she faces.
Both protagonists show sides of themselves that will surprise readers — the normally gruff Hunt being soft and goofy in front of Bryce, or the reluctant Bryce being a confident and leading presence by the end of the novel. Both bring so much to this character-driven novel, and both are amazing protagonists that really draw readers in and convinces them to continue turning every page to find out what happens at the very end.
Gory Twists And Epic Surprises At Every Turn
After reading several hundred books in the same genre, I thought that I could predict everything that would every happen in a fantasy novel. Boy falls in love with girl, both battle evil, both win and both live happily ever after. Throw in a cacophony of orcs, elves, wizards and just ‘totally evil’ people and you’ve got yourself a classic, fantasy trope novel. That was the expectation I had set myself going into this novel.
Boy, was I wrong! There was plenty in this novel that did follow those tropes — at least the boy falls in love with girl part. Other than that, everything else was a breath of fresh air. Witches, angels, demons, fae (fairies I presume) and humans — all live in this carefully constructed world but with little twists here and there embedded in the history and culture of this story that throws up twists and turns in the story at every corner. From the real person that stole Luna’s horn, to Danika’s sudden and untimely death, to the surprise finale that caught me offguard (no, it seriously will!), there was so much to love in turns of surprises at every turn that, when I put the novel down, I wanted to pick it up again and read it from the very beginning.
That’s how you know you have a winner — when a reader is excited and enthusiastic to return to the world and story you’ve crafted, even though they already know the ending!
This was an amazing read and perfect way to start off my 2021 review calendar. Highly recommend for those that love fantasy with a twist, and just looking for something new and fresh to read this year.