Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood cover, photo by Kate Onley-Gregson

‘Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood’, by Sarah J Maas

Review by Kate Onley-Gregson

So to kickstart this I just want to say that I love Sarah J Maas, she’s one of my favourite authors, and I really enjoyed Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood, I would definitely recommend reading it! I have a lot of good things to say about this book, but there are also some problems I want to address so as to avoid sounding like a Maas sycophant. As seen in Maas’ two other series she is a fabulous world builder, repeatedly providing her readers with intricate and beautiful backgrounds to her novels which expand and grow in complexity with the progression of her plots. In starting this book it seemed that Maas once again had a very specific image for the world she was creating but tried to convey it to her readers a little too enthusiastically. The first 50–100 pages were overwhelmingly description heavy in a way that could be monotonous and hard to follow. But to reiterate, it develops into a really great story and its definitely worth pushing past that hurdle. I’ve also seen some criticism from other fans that the ending felt rushed, but part of what I love about Maas is the time that she gives her characters to develop and grow together, so I enjoyed the slow burn of the plot as I feel like I’m more attached to the characters as a result. That being said, the ending could have perhaps done with a little more foreshadowing; while its good not to see a plot twist coming, it should make sense on reflection. Overall though, even if the structure needed some tweaking, it’s a well written book.

Now onto the good stuff! One aspect of this novel that I really enjoy, and is pretty unusual for a fantasy novel, is that the main character, Bryce, has parents who are alive and well. There’s no neatly shoving the parents out of the picture in order to give the main character freedom to get up to whatever hijinks they desire. Bryce’s mother Ember is regularly on the phone asking her when she’ll apply for a better job, why she hasn’t made that doctors appointment, and demanding an explanation as to why the most feared warrior on the continent has moved into her daughter’s spare room. There are also mobile phones and cars in the same city as message carrying otters and magic amulets. It’s a really cool collision of the real and the magical in a setting that still feels so far removed from the everyday. This little dose of reality in such a fantastical setting was both relatable and amusing and I felt that Maas integrated it into the story really well. It’s refreshing to read a novel set in a fantasy world that doesn’t completely disregard the factors we all have to deal with in day-to-day life and making the main character accountable to an authority/parental figure was a very effective way to make the book more down to earth and believable. I also loved that this novel, while it’s the first in a series, works as a standalone murder mystery. That premise is just so different from anything Maas has done before and, despite the previously mentioned slow build to the climax of the novel, really kept the plot moving forward and kept me intrigued throughout.

My favourite thing about Maas’ characters though, and this is not specific to Crescent City, is that her female leads always have a form of art or creative expression that is at the core of their character. Aelin is a musician, Feyre loves to paint and our new leading lady Bryce is a dancer. This one particularly resonated with me having danced all my life myself and, similarly to Bryce, having used dance as a way to cope with mental health. In all three series this love of art has been an integral part of the characters and their journeys, but in Crescent City Mass draws an explicit link between dance and Bryce’s ongoing struggle to cope with depression and anxiety. Maas has touched on these issues in previous books, but I felt that this was her best representation of mental health yet. After the loss of her best friend (not a spoiler, it’s in the blurb!) Bryce sinks into depression and feels unable to dance for a long time because she doesn’t think she deserves to feel that kind of joy. Although by the end of the novel Bryce’s depression and anxiety have not spontaneously disappeared, she has progressed to a healthier position of recognising both that she is struggling and that she wants to get better (which honestly is half the battle), signified by her decision to return to dance classes. In addition, the symptoms of Bryce’s mental health problems — such as not taking proper care of herself — are presented through the observations of others, which prevents these behaviours from being romanticised. Depression is obviously a very hard thing to represent in art without people wanting to lean towards a romanticised, sugar coated version of it, but I felt that Maas did a really good job of showing the realities of mental health problems and ending the novel with a feeling of hopefulness for Bryce’s future.

As I think I’ve made clear, I really loved Crescent City! If you’re a fantasy fan looking for something a bit different this definitely ticks that box. Maas has got the better of a lot of now boring fantasy tropes in this one and has set up a host of amazing new characters for us to fall in love with; I absolutely cannot wait for the next instalment!