#Review: House of Earth and Blood, by Sarah J. Maas

It’s always interesting when an author whose previous work is all in the same series breaks away from it and writes something new. This isn’t quite true for Sarah J. Maas, whose eight-book Throne of Glass series I read in its entirety last year; she has a second series out there that I’ve not read any of, but ToG is something like seven thousand pages all by itself, so I’m pretty well acquainted with her style.

One way or another, though, when an author does something like that you get an idea pretty quickly of what sorts of things are just part of her books and what was just meant to be included in that previous series. Stephen King’s books tend to be set in Maine. John Irving’s books tend to include wrestling, bears and dismemberment. Stuff like that.

Well, Sarah J. Maas likes to write about the following things:

  • Beings of incredible power opposing one another;
  • Female main characters with hidden pasts;
  • Smartasses;
  • Explicit sex;
  • Nonhuman, long-lived races, particularly the Fae, which appear to be pretty similar in this book and in ToG;
  • The words “male” and “female” to refer to nonhuman races, used instead of “man” and “woman.”

The main thing that seems to make this an “adult” book and not an incorrectly-shelved YA series like ToG is the swearing. I’m not about to go back and look but I feel like the word fuck is used about three thousand times more in this book alone than in the entirety of ToG. Beyond that, though, the tone is basically the same.

When I talked about this book the other day, I was 200 pages into it, and the most interesting thing about it was the worldbuilding. The fact that so many ancient Earth cultures seemed to have representation in House of Earth and Blood, and that one of the main characters is literally an angel, was mostly passing without comment, and at the time that was what had me the most curious. Well, you don’t really get any resolution on that front, but a couple of interesting things do get dropped in later on– an explicit reference to the date, where the year is in the 15000s somewhere, and a reference to an angelic rebellion on Mount Hermon. The rebellion part was there from the beginning, but the idea that it happened at an actual place on Earth kinda erases any idea that there’s not something going on here, and not just the author reaching for names.

As far as the book itself: it does this amazing thing where the last three hundred pages or so are one long action scene, and I basically finished the last half of the (800-page) book at a sitting after taking longer than I’d expected to read the first half. It takes a while to get going– and if you balk at the idea of four hundred pages being “a while to get going,” I’m not going to blame you– but Jesus, once this book shifts into high gear it just never lets up, and it has one of the most memorable deaths I think I’ve ever read at about the 700-page mark.

I am, I admit, more interested in the stuff going on in the background than I was the A plot, which does end up being a nicely satisfying and twisty murder mystery, but as a guy with advanced degrees in Biblical studies that can’t really be helped; that’s more of a personal reaction than “the background is more interesting than the plot” would normally indicate. I think it’s pretty fair to say that if you enjoyed her previous work, you’ll enjoy this; it’s a little more tropey than I expected, honestly, but where it does right it does really right and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, which hopefully will get out of the titular Crescent City and tell us more about the rest of the world.

12:44 PM, Sunday May 17: 1,474,127 confirmed cases and 88,836 Americans dead.

#REVIEW: The THRONE OF GLASS series, by Sarah J. Maas

Right around exactly a year ago, Kingdom of Ash, the final novel of Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series released in hardcover, and I found that a bunch of my friends were reading it and talking about it, and talking about it with the sort of reverence only due to the end of a major, major series. And I’d … never heard of it. I eventually bought the first book, though– any time more than a couple of my friends start talking about a book at the same time I’m going to check it out; I’m predictable that way– although I didn’t get around to actually reading Throne of Glass until February.

That was seven books and five thousand and eight pages ago. The final book came out in paperback a couple of weeks ago; I’d been spacing out my reads so that I didn’t finish the series too far away from the last book’s release, but if you click through my Monthly Reads you’ll notice I’ve read a book or two from this series most months since reading the first one in February. And I finished the final book, the thousand-page Kingdom of Ash, perhaps fifteen minutes ago.

I need y’all to understand something.

Fantasy literature is in my damn blood, kids. I first read The Lord of the Rings— the entire trilogy, plus The Hobbit— in second grade. I have been reading epic fantasy for my entire life. I am fully and entirely qualified to make the statement that I am about to make.

The fact that Sarah J. Maas’ name is not spoken among the fantasy literature community with the same reverence as Tolkien, or Eddings, or Brooks, or Sanderson, or Jordan, or Rothfuss, or Martin, or any of those motherfuckers is a Goddamned crime, and I can attribute said omission to nothing other than the purest sexism.

In fact, I would go farther: Throne of Glass is better than a lot of these men’s magnum opus megaseries are. It is, for example, undeniably better than Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire, although I admit no individual book is as good as A Game of Thrones. It is better than Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. Better than, if not, perhaps, as beautifully written as Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind.

And because Sarah Maas is a woman, and because the series was (criminally, incorrectly) slotted into YA, a designation that I think probably hurt a couple of the early books until she was selling enough to be able to write whatever she wanted, I had never heard of the Goddamned series until my (entirely, incidentally, female) friends told me about it.

George Martin is taking literal entire generations to produce individual books. Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear released in 2011, four years after The Name of the Wind, and the third book has no release date. Sarah J. Maas released the first book of Throne of Glass in 2012 and it is 2019 and the series is done. Or, to put it another way, the entire five thousand page series has been released since A Dance With Dragons or Wise Man’s Fear came out.

When these long series come out, the tendency is to go to filler early and painfully. The entire second book of the Wheel of Time series could have been reduced to a prologue chapter of the third book. Martin’s tendency to pad out his work until it is completely out of control is legendary. And a certain other series that just launched recently managed to feature unnecessary filler material in its first book.

The series comprises six main books, a three-novella prequel novel, The Assassin’s Blade, that should be read second, and a “side novel,” Tower of Dawn, that should be read in between the fifth and sixth main-sequence books, and in that entire time the only time I felt like the series was spinning its wheels was in Heir of Fire, which spends a lot of time doing plot work before blowing a hole in the entire series and upending everything you thought you knew in the last hundred and fifty pages or so. There’s no fucking filler.

I am prone to hyperbole, I say that all the time, and I nonetheless cannot overstate what an amazing achievement this series is, and how grateful I am that so many people made sure I had seen it. If you’ve ever read a fantasy megaseries in your life, you owe it to yourself to read these. They are a highlight of an extraordinary year of reading. Go get started; it’ll take you a while.

Double book review!

I read these back to back, and they are very similar books, right down to my actual opinions of them, so let’s do a dual review sort of thingie here. I ordered Kill¬†the¬†Queen a month or so ago after reading an article that recommended a bunch of epic fantasy by women, and Throne of Glass is the first book in a series whose final book just came out and which apparently a lot of my friends enjoyed, because I saw alllll sorts of tweets and Instagrams and all sorts of stuff when it came out. So I jumped in. Throne of Glass has six or seven sequels out and the series is complete; Kill the Queen’s second book comes out in June or July and I’m not certain how long it’s planned to run.

tl;dr: neither book is perfect but both have a lot of potential and you should check them both out.

Somewhat more detailed: both books feature young, orphaned women as the main protagonist (I’ll admit to rolling my eyes when KtQ’s protagonist first mentioned her parents were dead; I read that book second) although KtQ’s Evie is ten years older than seventeen-year-old Celaena in ToG. Both books spend the majority of their time in or around castles and dealing with the problem of royalty, although in different ways; Celaena, an actual assassin, is freed from jail by the crown prince at the beginning of the book and offered her freedom in exchange for serving as the king’s assassin for four years, and Evie is seventeenth in line for the throne at the beginning of KtQ, although … well, some stuff happens that sorta moves her up in the line of succession a bit. Spoiler alert, I guess. Celaena is uber-competent from the jump– if anything, a bit too competent for a seventeen-year-old; Evie starts off kinda useless but gets over it quickly.

ToG is Young Adults, although it’s the kind of YA that bitchy old men like myself can read without complaint. It’s real YA, as in the publisher markets it that way and that’s where you find it at bookstores, not the sexist “fantasy written by a woman, starring a woman, so it must be YA” YA. KtQ might fool you for about fifty pages and then the shit hits the fan and it definitely ain’t YA no more.

As I said, both books have some weaknesses, although ToG’s are less weaknesses of the book and more consequences of being YA: Celaena is an impressive badass, but I was never really sold on the idea that this seventeen-year-old who has been in jail for a couple of years working the salt mines was a world-renowned assassin. She doesn’t really ever come off as super assassiny, I guess? I mean, she’s a bitchy asshole, and I mean that as a compliment– I like her personality– but there’s a bit too much tell and not enough show, and I want much more backstory on her. But there’s six more books coming, so I’ll probably get it. In KtQ’s corner, the book begins with (spoiler) a Red Wedding-esque massacre that Evie is one of a very small number of survivors of, and I kinda feel like PTSD should have played a bit more of a role in her story? There’s also not as much societal upheaval as I’d guess from a book that starts with the utter destruction of damn near the entire (spoiler) ruling family. Like, nobody really seems to notice much other than a day of mourning.

Both books have romance; in no case does the romance go quite where you think it’ll go, which is cool. Throne of Glass also has a great bit where it is made clear that the book was written by a woman, and one who has thought about the biological ramifications of her protagonist basically being enslaved in a salt mine for a couple of years.

Also! I like the worldbuilding and the magic in ToG quite a bit, and again, I like Celaena quite a bit despite not quite believing in her, and despite being fucking called Kill the Queen, Kill the Queen‘s story managed to surprise me twice. I mean, it’s called Kill the Queen. You might imagine there’s some queen-killing! And there is! And it’s surprising anyway. It’s weird, but it works.

So, yeah: these are both four-star-out-of-five reads, with KtQ’s excellent ending very nearly pushing it up another half-star or so, and they’re both definitely checking out. I’ve already ordered the next two books in the Throne of Glass series, and I’ll be buying the sequel to Kill the Queen, called Protect the Prince, when it comes out in a few months. Check ’em both out.