Fantasy was what made me fall in love with books. I didn’t learn to read until I was seven, but after that I was off to the races: I’d read while eating breakfast, while walking to school, I’d read under the table in class. Though I didn’t only read fantasy, it’s what I loved best. When you’re an anxious, traumatized kid looking for a way out of your life and your head, there’s little that does the trick better than a fantastical world in which animals talk, dragons exist, and people can solve their problems with newfound gifts for magic.
Sarah J. Maas’s upcoming adult debut, House of Earth and Blood, was a spectacular reminder of why I love to read, fantasy in particular. It doesn’t take the genre to new heights, it doesn’t transform it into something “greater” or “more literary.” These things are nice — a literary fantasy novel is no better than one that belongs solidly within the genre. It’s just another facet of a book, like how much dialogue it has, or if it has multiple points-of-view.
So maybe House of Earth and Blood isn’t a good novel for someone who doesn’t love fantasy. For those who do, though, it’s the best I’ve read since Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House (a book that does try to shape fantasy into a more literary form, and which for the most part is successful — I wrote about it here, if you’re interested!). It follows half-fae Bryce Quinlan, who, by day, is an assistant antiquities dealer for a mercurial sorceress hawking magical — and sometimes illegal — goods to the rich. By night, Bryce parties hard with her best friend, a wolf shape-shifter by the name of Danika, and their pack of tough, good-natured friends. Danika and the pack are brutally and mysteriously murdered, but it isn’t until two years later that anyone is seriously tasked with finding out what happened. The people assigned to investigate? Bryce and an enslaved fallen angel named Hunt.
I found the world-building really interesting, a mix of old-world epic fantasy, with its strict heirarchies and classical creatures like shape shifters, angels, sprites, and fae, with new-world technologies like cell phones, cars, and email. But what I really loved about this book were the characters: Bryce, whose firey, sarcastic personality may be somewhat cliche but whom I nonetheless adored and rooted for fiercely; Hunt, the enslaved fallen angel who faces the horror of his situation and the moral quandary of its solution with steely resolve; and Ruhn, Bryce’s full-fae brother whose radical devotion to his sister despite her wrath is startlingly sweet. Even the minor characters demand the reader’s adoration, like Lehabah, a charming enslaved fire sprite, or Danika, who’s trying to do the right thing by the people she loves and not always succeeding.
So, no. House of Earth and Blood doesn’t transform the genre of fantasy. It provides exactly what readers love most about it — an absorbing story you can sink into and forget yourself in, with characters you’ll love and relationships that will break your heart. This book is not for snobs, or for people who don’t truly love the genre (two groups that don’t necessarily overlap, to be clear). It’s for people who want to have a good time.