Sarah J Maas is a best selling author of two massive, best-selling Young Adult series loosely based on fairy tales: The Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass. House of Earth and Blood, the first in her new Crescent City series takes her into more adult, as opposed to young adult territory. Maas demonstrates her shift into this territory from the first few pages which include swearing, drug and alcohol use and plenty of sexual tension. And yet, despite all of these adult trappings, House of Earth and Blood still feels decidedly YA (with a hefty mix of fantasy romance thrown in).
Bryce Quinlan is a half-fae, half-human living in the multi-species city of Lunathion, also known as Crescent City. This is a modern fantasy city in which a huge range of fantasy creatures mingle but also use mobile phones, computers and surveillance cameras. Humans, as in many fantasy cities of this type, are second class citizens but even among the other creatures there is a pecking order and each is a member of one of four houses. When the book opens, Bryce is having a good time with her best friend Danika, a wolf-shifter and head of one of the cities premier wolf packs, and flirting with one of Danika’s lieutenants. Bryce’s life is thrown into turmoil when Danika and her pack are killed but the perpetrator is quickly uncovered. Two years later, Bryce is still trying to come to terms with Danika’s death when more creatures are killed in the same way and it seems that the original solution to the crime was not all it seemed to be. Bryce is asked by the Archangel chancellor to team up with fallen angel Hunt Athalar to try and find out who was behind the killings.
As the previous paragraph indicates, there is a lot of set up in this book (that was just the first part of the first section), and in the first 200 (of a hefty 800) pages, a staggering amount of exposition. After a while the book settles into part procedural, as Bryce and Hunt with the help of Bryce’s half-brother (and full fae) Rhuun , try to solve the mystery and part simmering romance. All the while Bryce is coming into power that she did not know she had (but readers will have suspected) as the plot builds up to a twisted reveal and violent, action filled finale.
Much like fellow YA writers Leigh Bardugo (Ninth House) and Veronica Roth (The Chosen Ones), Maas is seeking to bring her loyal YA fan base into more adult fare. But while these other two writers have successfully delivered, Maas has only succeeded in creating a YA book with adult content. House of Earth and Blood tells an interesting enough story but lacks any real sophistication or nuance and needed a good edit. The main characters of Bryce and Hunt are straight out of YA/ romance central casting – Bryce is spunky and snarky but also ravishingly beautiful (drawing the eye of every male character she encounters) and has hidden powers that slowly emerge and Hunt is tall dark and brooding with a tragic past. That said, the strategy is likely to work. Fans who have grown up with Maas’s work and are now themselves grown up will find plenty to enjoy in House of Earth and Blood and can be assured that at least two more books are planned. Those looking for fantasy for adults (rather than just fantasy with adult content) should probably look elsewhere.