Review: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1)

Image from BarnesandNoble.com

Synopsis

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 deeper 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 only they’d let it.

Review

Read: July 2021

Rating: ?????

Spoiler warning! Major plot details will be discussed in this review. Turn back now if you don’t want to see them!

After reading the atrocious abomination that is A Court of Silver Flames, I dabbled in negative reviews of both that book and House of Earth and Blood. My plans to read HoEaB were scrapped, at least for the moment. But I decided that my stint of good books had continued long enough, and I wanted some trash. (Reading garbage amplifies your appreciation for the quality material, you know.)

Basically, I picked HoEaB up as a hate read, but I ended up not hating it. I liked it. This book chronicles a substantive mystery with deep personal connections to one of our detective heroes. Bryce Quinlan lost her best friend, her romantic interest, and a whole wolf pack of friends to a particularly gruesome murder and is struggling to cope with the grief and guilt even two years later. Counting on Bryce’s interest in avenging her friends’ murders and in not looking like a suspect herself, Governor Micah Domitus, an Archangel, pairs Bryce up with his slave (yes, you read that correctly), Hunt Athalar. Hunt’s primary motivation – a drastic reduction in his slave debt – is soon joined by his burgeoning feelings for Bryce (which you probably will see coming if you’ve ever been exposed to any kind of romance). If you hate slow-paced stuff, this book isn’t for you, but I found that the pacing fit well with the story HoEaB has to tell.

I didn’t expect to be as invested in the characters as I was. Ruhn is shaping up to be a promising character, and I hope that the next installment will focus more heavily on him. (Bonus: I think Maas is setting up an excellent slow-burn romance between either Hypaxia and Ruhn or Hypaxia and Tharion. Either would be fine.) Also, I love hacker-type characters, and I didn’t know I needed a Fae hacker until Declan Emmett came along. He had better have more point-of-view pages in the next book too, damn it. Even Bryce grew on me. Above all, though, Danika is unquestionably the real star of this book. Her love of animals and sense of justice are eternally endearing. Her friendship with Bryce is so wholesome. Her machinations foil the bad guy, an immortal of several hundred years, for two years after her own death. Micah isn’t exaggerating when he says, “Danika’s the smart one.”

So if you enjoyed so much of the story, why couldn’t you just pick a rating? you wonder. Well folks, between those reviews I read and my own experience reading literally every single one of Maas’s novels – and in particular, the abomination that is A Court of Silver Flames – I noticed stuff that once would have flown under my radar. Here’s my shit list:

Many people have been complaining about Maas’s dearth of diversity in her books, and I absolutely understand where they’re coming from. Juniper, a faun, is basically described as being Black, but she doesn’t really have the page time or character development for her presence to amount to much more than tokenism.

  • The slapdash tokenism diversity is frustrating. Lack of diversity alone is not usually enough to sink a book, but it certainly can degrade the quality, and it can give the impression that authors are neglecting to raise awareness about minorities and their treatment through their platforms. Many people have been complaining about Maas’s dearth of diversity in her books, and I absolutely understand where they’re coming from. Juniper is basically described as being Black, but she doesn’t really have the page time or character development for her presence to amount to much more than tokenism. What’s more, Juniper is in a lesbian relationship with Fury… and that’s all we hear about it. I mean, I guess it’s nice that being LGBTQ+ is such a non-issue in Crescent City; however, I think that Maas should remember the context in which the real-world audience lives when approaching these sorts of things. Maybe Maas is planning to focus more on Juniper and/or Fury in House of Sky and Breath, but if past behavior is any indicator, she likely will not.
  • Certain phrases are repeated ad nauseum. I get it. Bryce thinks Hunt is hot. That said, the phrase “her toes curled” does not need to appear as many times as it does. And of course, because this is an SJM book, we got a visit or two from someone’s “considerable length.”
  • Danika surrenders her eternal life in the Bone Quarter for Bryce’s Ascent. Can’t my girl get a break?
  • Does Bryce really need to end up with that much power? Stories tend to be more interesting when your characters aren’t living battering rams or nukes. I love seeing characters solve problems with their intelligence, their skills, and/or their grit. Unfortunately, by the end of the book, Bryce is a battering ram. A Court of Silver Flames, as another review points out, has the same damn problem. Bryce already has the Starborn ability and the Horn. Now she gets to be more powerful than the Autumn King? The crappiest part is that Bryce probably would have not needed Danika’s spirit to evaporate in order to survive the Ascent if she’d just stuck with her inborn power level.
  • Shut the hell up about how hot Bryce is. We get it. A character crushing on another character is bound to remark upon the physical appearance of their crush multiple times. Still, not all thoughts should be shared – or at least, not all thoughts should be shared more than once.
  • Maas needs help writing men better. “He’d admit it: males would do a lot of fucked-up things for someone who looked like that” seems pretty insulting to men, if you ask me. Maas seems to be under the impression that men have little self-control. Also, what the fuck with “Fucking Hel, his voice – silk and steel and ancient stone. He could probably make someone come by merely whispering filthy things in their ear”? Does Micah have to be a walking talking orgasmatron? That’s fucking ridiculous.
  • One of the biggest problems with this book is the potential plagiarism at the very end. Other readers have noticed that “like calls to like” is an axiom in the Grisha trilogy. (The Tumblr post in the link includes other examples that I think might be a stretch.) I’d heard about this in relation to the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, but I brushed it off. Those words are relatively common, and maybe it’s toeing the line of copying, but it’s not that huge. Demon-fighting light powers don’t belong exclusively to Leigh Bardugo either; it’s a theme as old as shit. But when those two things – a demon-fighting light power and the phrase “like calls to like” – it definitely crosses the line from “uncomfy but not horrible” to “yikes.” Alina’s power is light that can combat darkness and monsters. Bryce’s Starborn power is basically the same thing. Combined with “like calls to like,” it seems like pretty blatant plagiarism – or at least bad editing.

Overall, this first installment of Crescent City is both intriguing and also… uncomfortable and disappointing at times. I don’t regret reading it, but it’s not my new favorite thing like it might have been three or four years ago. Maas’s various issues can, have, and will diminish the fun that this book, in a less adulterated state, should be.

Enjoy my review? Buy Me a Coffee!

Disclaimer: This review contains links to other blogs/social media posts associated with other reviewers. I am not collaborating with them, nor does the appearance of their links in this review imply endorsement of my blog or this post. I have simply included the links to connect my readers with the material to which I am responding.

Book Review: Dead in the Water

Image from Barnes and Noble website

Synopsis

Camille Ellis is the Earthen Conclave’s golden girl. Her peculiar talent solves cases with a touch. She isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty, but every bright star casts a shadow, and her deepest scars lurk just beneath the skin.

A routine consultation goes sideways when a victim’s brother gets involved in the investigation. Riding the edge of grief, the warg will go to any lengths to avenge his sister’s death. Even if it means ensuring Cam’s cooperation at the jaws of his wolf.

When the killer strikes again, Cam is caught between a warg and a hard place. To save the next victim, she must embrace her past. Even if it means dragging her darkest secrets into the light of day.

Amazon

Review

Read: March 2021

Rating:

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Spoiler warning!

This is one of those books that I read just for the sake of meeting my Goodreads goal this year. I never thought it looked spectacular, but what the hell, it was short, so why not?

Here are my highest praises for Dead in the Water: It isn’t an agonizing read, and I don’t wish death upon all the characters. In fact, I’m rather fond of Harlow and Dell and would almost be interested in learning more about their stories.

Edwards seems like she might have a grasp on how to write mysteries, but her potential is obfuscated by her terrible world-building. I actually had to check Goodreads to ensure that I was definitely reading the first book in the series or double back in the book itself because I felt like I was constantly missing huge chunks of information. Edwards has stints in the book where readers flounder for information and others that consist mostly of amazingly awkward infodumps. For instance, there’s a scene in which Cam scores a gigantic lead in her case – a moment when readers should experience vicarious triumph and realization through her. Instead, the prospectively intriguing conversation is repeatedly interrupted by Cam’s lengthy explanations about the book’s setting and system. There’s a balance between providing background to readers ahead of an event and filling them in as they go, and Edwards absolutely does not strike it.

I’m overall unimpressed with the characters too. I mentioned above that I kind of like Dell and Harlow, but it’s worth noting that that affection isn’t terribly strong. Cam is a prosaic protagonist – and an unimpressive detective. She’s just not that good at her job. The book I’m currently reading features a young woman who is decidedly not a career detective, and she is much better at solving mysteries, noticing details, reasoning her way through problems, and utilizing the tools at hand than Cam ever proves herself to be. Immediately following Dead in the Water with Firekeeper’s Daughter only highlighted Cam’s shortcomings as a detective. You know who else is a better detective than Cam? Her love interest. Cord Graeson has no access to all of the awesome law enforcement resources that Cam does, and he still puts stuff together much more quickly than she does. Also, if you’re a detective who routinely gets into cars with strange, grief-ridden people who can turn into wolves, you’re even more of a fucking moron than a civilian who does the same thing. And when she’s trying to figure out one female character’s motive for doing something for money, she reasons that the girl just wants the money to buy more makeup and clothes because that’s all that matters to that little hussy, right?!?! She doesn’t need food or shelter, just stupid shorts and expensive cosmetics! So yeah, I’d feel completely comfortable calling Cam an idiot.

I’m not rooting for Graeson as the love interest either. He is a smug, smarmy asshole – and he’s creepy. He follows Cam covertly because he needs her help and doesn’t trust her bosses. That’s a tad weird, but on its own I can understand that. But eventually his behavior descends into grabbing Cam and sniffing her and fucking abducting her. After kidnapping her, he tries to defend his behavior by arguing that Cam wouldn’t leave the case behind anyway. Well then, dickbag, if that’s the case, why didn’t you just ask her?? Bonus: When Harlow is getting attacked by magical hedgehogs, he stands around observing the event and inquiring whether Harlow, Thierry, and Cam need assistance. Oh, so now you’re good with asking before acting, pal? Fuck you.

When I began writing this review up, I intended to award it a whole two stars; as I wrote, however, I realized just how stupid this book is and downgraded my assessment to 1.5 stars. Only read this if you have a quota to fill. Otherwise, skip it.

Book Review: Blackbird, Volume 1

F1B99D42-ECB4-44D9-A0CB-A3F444ACB4CB

The Blurb

Nina Rodriguez knows there’s a hidden magical world run by ruthless cabals hiding in Los Angeles. And when a giant magic beast kidnaps her sister, Nina must confront her past (and her demons) to get her sister back and reclaim her life. Perfect for fans of SYFY’s The Magicians, CW’s Riverdale, and THE
WICKED + THE DIVINE
, don’t miss the first collection of the smash-hit neo-noir fantasy series from fan-favorite writer SAM HUMPHRIES (Harley
Quinn, Nightwing) and red-hot artist JEN BARTEL (Black Panther, Mighty
Thor)!

Review

Read: April 2019

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

*Thank you to Edelweiss+ for the free digital ARC!*

*Spoiler warning!*

It’s worth noting that this is an ARC in the sense that it’s not yet been released in this bind-up format. (The content of Blackbird, Volume 1 has already been released.) Still, this is my first time reviewing a graphic novel ARC, so it’s nevertheless a cool experience. Blackbird isn’t the best graphic novel I’ve read (I’m trash, the ATLA graphic novels hold a special place in my heart), but it’s certainly enjoyable.

Art style heavily influences my opinions of graphic novels. Earlier this year I read a graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred, and although I understood the purpose of the story, the art style prevented me from truly appreciating it. Blackbird circumvents that problem with its skillfully rendered art. Its art isn’t just not so terrible or weird that it detracts from the storyline; it’s actually good. If I’d known who the artist was before I read this, my expectations would have been higher and I’d have been moderately less surprised by the quality of the illustrations. Best of all, the illustrations are in color – something that, after reading black-and-white manga for so long, I didn’t realize I missed until I started reading Blackbird.

Blackbird chronicles the adventures of some interesting characters. I’m a sucker for cats, so I of course adore Sharpie and care about him more than any of the human or Paragon characters. Clint is pretty much the stereotypical flirt with a golden heart and a scheming father. I’m curious to see how he’ll decide to play his cards in the next installment. Despite her tendency to be a little petulant, Nina is nonetheless portrayed as a complex character with a pregnant development arc. As she grapples with poverty, addiction to painkillers, and a broken family, Nina sets off on a journey to seize back control of her life as much as to rescue her sister, Marisa, with whom she has a complicated relationship. If I’m being honest, Nina’s character arc intrigues me more than any aspect of the Paragon world – excepting Sharpie, obviously.

The world the authors have constructed is fluorescently dazzling, but on some level it feels shallow. Occasionally it felt like they skimped on important events, causing those events to feel anticlimactic. Even when details are plentiful, the solutions to problems are often too simple given the storyline and what is known about the universe. In particular, Nina’s initiation as a Paragon is way too… comfortable, considering the horrific deaths that most of the other Paragons had to undergo. I mean, yeah, she was already sort of initiated partially after she died in the earthquake, but still, her full initiation is, perhaps fortunately dull.

All in all, Blackbird is an amusing read, even if it sometimes errs on the side of superficial. If you’re into urban fantasy like Shadowhunters, this might be a good graphic novel to try.

Cover image and blurb are from BarnesandNoble.com.