Adult fantasy work let down by laborious plotting and sub-par banter

FANTASY

CRESCENT CITY #1: HOUSE OF EARTH AND BLOOD

By Sarah J. Maas

Bloomsbury/ Hardcover/ 816 pages/ $35.26/ Available at bit.ly/Earth_and_Blood/3 stars

It seems to be the season for best-selling young-adult fantasy writers to strip off the kid gloves and plunge into adult fiction.

Leigh Bardugo of the Grishaverse books did so last November with occult university tale Ninth House, while Divergent author Veronica Roth will follow suit next month with Chosen Ones.

Now, it is the turn of fan favourite Sarah J. Maas, of the multimillion-selling Throne Of Glass and A Court Of Thorns And Roses series.

She makes her adult debut with a new series, Crescent City, in which “adult” seems to be a byword for “heft” – at more than 800 pages, its opening volume is overstuffed.

House Of Earth And Blood (“x of y and z”: a title formula that has yet to fail Maas) centres on Bryce Quinlan, a half-Fae, half-human gallery assistant in Lunathion, a city ruled by an archangel and populated by vampires, shifters, witches and other regulars on the fantasy species roster.

Bryce and her best friend Danika Fendyr, a werewolf law enforcer, plan to make the Drop together, a magic ritual that will grant them immortality.

But one night, when Bryce is high out of her mind at a club, Danika and her pack are brutally slaughtered by an unseen assailant.

Two years on, a scarred, subdued Bryce is pulled back into the fray when another body turns up and the authorities believe the killer to be the same as Danika’s, even though the culprit is supposed to already be behind bars.

Tasked to investigate, she is partnered with Hunt Athalar, an infamous fallen angel who, as penance for rebelling against the powers-that-be, serves as the city governor’s personal death-dealer.

Also in the mix are a missing horn of power, a dangerous drug and a nasty demon from the deepest pit of hell.

What is the difference between a young-adult fantasy novel and an adult one? Not much for Maas, if Crescent City is anything to go by. Beyond some steamy scenes and profanity every other sentence, the writing still plays at maturity, rather than inhabiting it.

Much is made of Bryce’s lowly half-breed status, but she also has a perfect figure, is irresistible to every male who lays eyes on her and is a crack shot to boot – and that is without getting into spoilers about how very, very special she is inside.

She and Hunt, the brooding bad boy with a literally tortured brow – the halo that enslaves him is inked on his forehead – liberally mix angst with tooth-rotting fluff.

Some credit must be given to Maas for having a fierce female friendship be the driving force behind the plot, not romance – though, unfortunately, there is still plenty of that underfoot.

If there is one thing Maas reliably excels at, it is the epic battle sequence. The last 200 pages of this book deliver a showdown as gripping as anything you might see on a blockbuster screen.

Unfortunately, that leaves 600 pages of laborious plotting and sub-par banter to get through. Maas fans will lap it up, but adult readers might prove a harder sell.

If you like this, read: The House Of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard (Orion, 2015, $18.95, available at bit.ly/Shattered_Wings), another urban fantasy set in a magical city of divided houses and fallen angels, but which also grapples with post-colonial ideas. In a Paris devastated by magical war, the House of Silverspires, built in the ruins of Notre Dame, struggles to fight its decay, even as a shadowy menace stalks its members.

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