Book Review – House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. Maas
“What she wanted was a true heart to love her, to run wild with her through the forest.”
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Romantic Fantasy
Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Nora Roberts in this romantic urban fantasy which will capture readers of Kelly Armstrong and Laini Taylor alike. Sarah J. Maas, known for her YA novels, took her fans by storm with the second instalment of the Crescent City trilogy, described by Bloomsbury as her first foray into Adult fantasy. If you are searching for a roller-coaster of steamy scenes, unbridled emotion, heart-wrenching revelations, and unexpected moments of betrayal and redemption, this book will certainly not disappoint.
While in the first book, House of Earth and Blood (2020), Maas presented us with a symphony of worldbuilding, developing characters, and a rich and convoluted urban back story, in House of Sky and Breath, we are plunged deeper into the history and politics of Midgard. The first book focussed not only on the friendship between Bryce Quinlan and Danika Fendyr, but most of all on the sorrow and pain caused by the loss of that friendship. The emotional trauma also led to mental health issues, which Bryce tried to deal with partly by investigating the shadow-shrouded dealings which led to the blood-massacre resulting in the loss of Danika and her wolf-pack. In House of Sky and Breath, Bryce, Hunt, and their posse of friends, investigate the disappearance of a young boy known to wield amazing forces. While this investigation is slower paced and not nearly as engaging as the one in the first instalment of the series, it allows us to meet not only new characters, but also different types of magics.
The novel picks up around three months after House of Earth and Blood. Dazzling archangels, brawny werewolves, graceful fae, sensual witches - all of these and more populate the city of Lunathion, home to most of the main characters. Being a half-human, half-fae with a chimera for a pet is not easy in a world which looks down on humans and relegates them to the lowest tier of society. Bryce is attempting to process the events that concluded the first book, while navigating a society which now views her with awe and fear after the public revelations which led to her saving the city. The discovery of Bryce’s parentage and her mysterious powers have resulted in a considerable change in her status and in the way the rest of the city and the Vanir treat her. Both Bryce and Orion ‘Hunt’ Athalar, her love interest, are still coming to terms with what happened, and focusing not only on healing, but on getting to know each other better, without letting their relationship deepen too fast. A precarious edge to tread, especially with the ever-burning sensual energy sizzling between them.
It is important to note that this book is not for younger readers, given the graphic nature of some of the scenes.
Although received with high enthusiasm by both avid fans and new readers alike, the novel is far from perfect. First of all, House of Sky and Breath does feel very much like a novel that’s in the middle of things and kind of dragging in places. Also, I cannot help but comment on ‘the males’ (as Maas calls them). Reminiscent of hunks like Geralt the Witcher of Rivia and Dean from the TV series ‘Supernatural’, be they fallen angels, rogue Fae princes, or brooding shapeshifters, the ‘males’ tend to communicate in grunts, growls, snarls, or even roars, especially when they feel that their females are being threatened. Seriously, I get that these paragons of masculinity are big, bold, and physically astounding, but the repetition of expletives does get old after a while. And it’s not like the ‘females’ are weak or reticent in any way! On the contrary, I love Bryce’s plucky sassy attitude, which is more or less reflected in most of the other women in the novel. Though to be fair, you wouldn’t know it at times, since Maas describes how their ‘toes curl’ again and again each time a handsome male makes a move towards them. And of course, everyone seems to fancy Bryce, since she’s apparently physically perfect in every way. But even though every ‘male’ cannot help but fall in lust with her on sight, she has eyes only for Hunt, whose energy ‘sizzles’, ‘thunders’ and ‘pulses’ each time she’s in sight.
Maybe this kind of puerile cliches are one of the reasons why I personally think this series belongs more in the ‘New Adult’ rather than the ‘Adult’ category. The ‘New Adult’ genre is a bridge between the Young Adult and Adult genres, which, though using YA tropes, such as exploring one’s sexuality and the consequences of one’s actions, has a grittier and more explicit content.
New adult fiction is usually marketed for post-adolescents and young tweens (twenty-something year olds), however Maas’ addictive writing style and dynamic characters fascinate readers of all ages, who, tethered to the edge of their seats, cannot help but be caught up in the endearing camaraderie and smouldering tension enriching the story.
In House of Sky and Breath, new forces are shifting, the Ophion rebels on one side, the questionable Asteri on the other, with the powerful Princes of Hel also making an appearance. Bryce and Hunt need to discover the extent of their powers and unleash their potential before things come to a head. We are also given a closer look at the machinations of the Merfolk, the River Queen, and the Ocean Queen.
Unpopular Opinion - the sex scenes served as a cold shower for me. An unwanted interlude between one action packed or emotionally charged, scene and another. Then again, it all depends on what the reader is looking for of course. If like me, you are more fascinated by the mysterious Mystics, the cruel Underking, the internal changes in the wolf pack, and the mystery behind the Asteri’s dominance of Midgard, then yes, the slow sex scenes might seem dragging and repetitive. On the other hand, if you are more interested in the love story and the steamy scenes, you are in for a treat. This does not mean that the plot is not engaging or exciting – it is. Which is perhaps why I was so impatient with all the sensual deviations from it. I wanted to get on with it and discover what happened next!
As with House of Earth and Blood, although the story is full of twists and turns, the biggest revelations happen towards the end. And they are truly explosive and well worth the wait!
In conclusion - while I used to adore Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I must admit that personally, Nora Roberts’ style of writing is not my cup of tea, and maybe that is why I did not much enjoy certain parts of this book which instead of focussing on the plot, focussed in detail on the sexual tension and the romantic push-and-pull dance between the characters. I would have preferred more worldbuilding and character development, instead of what I felt were long drawn-out sex scenes written with the aim of titillating the reader, rather than furthering the plot. Of course, this is just my personal opinion, and if what you are looking for is romance and sensual drama, you will be swept away by these sizzling scenes for sure. However, I DID enjoy this book - its revelations, the emotions and relationships between the characters, and the bustling, moody, changeable urban landscape that is Crescent City, with its hidden turmoil and secrets. There are of course, things I also did not enjoy, and this repetitive and irritating perspective sometimes marred my objectivity when it came to Maas’ writing. I am however, definitely looking forward to the next instalment in the trilogy and hoping it will be even better.