It’s worth repeating something that I have mentioned before when talking about my reading habits and that is this – I am not normally a fan of the fantasy genre. It is far and away my least read type of writing. However I decided to challenge myself after seeing many favourable reviews of this work. And by choosing this I was going in hard. This is classed as ‘high fantasy’ and is over 800 pages long with vampires, archangels, fae, water nymphs, satyrs, witches, magic, sacred objects and the like so yeah … an easy one to start!
Was it worth the effort? In a word … YES!
Please remember that I don’t have much to compare this to in the way of other fantasy reads so I’ll just go ahead and talk about what I felt and thought when making my way through it.
Because of the type of book it is I’m not going to go into great detail about the plot. In fact I think part of the enjoyment of reading this book is letting the world and story unfold before you. At it’s most basic it is a murder mystery thriller set within a fantasy world. The main character Bryce Quinlan, half fey half human, is tasked with solving a series of vicious and brutal murders and she is accompanied by a fallen angel and assassin, Hunt Athalar. The murders closely resemble those of two years previous when Bryce’s best friend Danika Fendyr, a wolf, and her pack were savagely dispatched. Someone is actually in prison for the deaths, but obviously it now seems that he was not responsible. There is of course much much more to it than that but if I went deeper I would need a lot more time and space so I’ll leave it there.
I’m going to say that I was really pleased that the murder mystery thriller element was woven into the book. I was a little worried that if it had more of a quest type scenario as the dominant plot driver I might not have lasted the distance. It gave it a foothold in the more, and please excuse the phrase, mainstream general literature space and therefore I connected to it better than I expected. There are personal quests that some characters go on (Bryce making ‘the drop’ to pass from a mortal to an immortal life) and while they are important to their emotional journey in deeply moving ways, I feel like they don’t overwhelm events. I also liked the little ‘ordinary’ touches like the use of cellphones. It was not something I expected in a book of this type and I found it amusing to think of powerful angels using such devices. Or for the same angel to wear a cap backwards, watch sports on TV while drinking beer. It was a clever way to link the reader in the real world to this one of make believe.
But for me this book was a love story between Bryce and Danika. And I don’t mean one of romantic or sexual love. They were soulmates in friendship if that makes sense. Strongly tied to one another in deeply emotional ways, they gave each other comfort and support and supplied many of the things that were missing in their respective lives, not in any material sense but almost spiritually. They both had difficult relationships with one parent – Bryce her father and Danika her mother so they understood the emotional difficulties and hurdles this represented. They said ‘I love you’ to one another and meant it. They helped each other through trauma in life and this depth of connection lasted into the next world with Danika making the ultimate sacrifice to give Bryce another chance at living. It is a beautiful and powerful relationship and is the emotional heart of the book.
Family and the complexity of familial bonds is also a strong theme in the book. Bryce has a close and happy connection with her human mother and step father but is estranged and cold towards her biological father (with good reason I might add) the Autumn King, a rather important man in the leadership strata of Crescent City. She has a half brother with whom she used to be close with but is now stormy and angry towards as the result of an argument. Deep down they care for one another but each is hurting for different reasons making it hard to say ‘I’m sorry’. Danika has an equally tortured relationship with her mother, each bitter and resentful towards the other. They push and bait through actions and words making honest interaction difficult. The politics of the world in which they live contributes to these struggles between generations, with the need for independence in thought and the way to live their lives making the conflicts raw. But these are all circumstances that are mirrors of real life so they are understandable and relatable to readers. Yes it is dressed with all the elements of a fantasy world but underneath we can all see and understand what is taking place.
I also was thankful that the writing was not bogged down by great tracts of dense descriptive world building. There was quite a lot of information given to the reader in the first part of the book in order to establish who, what, when and where but I thought it was woven into the story well and wasn’t an anchor on the plot or events. The writing is crisp, the chapters are not over long and despite being 800 pages plus, everything feels like it moves at a good clip. I will say that I would have appreciated more notes at the front with information such as lists of characters and the societal structure of the world within the book. I think it would have helped as I often had to pause my reading to compile my own notes and it kind of broke the spell a bit if you know what I mean. Other than that there wasn’t much to complain about.
There is some use of explicit language but nothing that you haven’t heard walking down the street in your hometown. However there is some quite dark content – descriptions of brutal deaths, rather unsavoury elements and pastimes in the less salubrious parts of the created world etc. – so this is not for the younger readers as I understand this author has written more young adult fantasy in the past. If you’re a more mature YA reader then this might be ok but if not, then maybe wait a year or two before attempting this book.
Overall I can happily say that I really enjoyed reading Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood, something I thought I would never say about a fantasy book. Despite being of that genre, it has elements within that make connecting with the characters and themes achievable which is a huge success in my opinion. The length can make it look daunting but once you’re in and your mind is attuned to the world that the author has created, I don’t think you’ll have any bother making it through to then end. And it displays great emotion in its relationships which is the mark of any great book.
A highly recommended read and my first top rated book of 2020!
Rating: 5 Stars
(Header Image: Sarah Kreig)