“The friends they’d made were what mattered in the end. Not the enemies. Through love, all is possible.”
Well, I surely wasn’t expecting to immediately succumb to the House of Flame and Shadow hype, but here we are. And honestly, thank all that is holy that I did, because Sarah J. Maas is absolutely on fire in this epic, exciting, ambitious, and smoking hot third book in the Crescent City series.
The last published book in this series, House of Sky and Breath, was truly the most middle book to have ever middle booked; except for that damned ending that had me simply jumping in the air with giddy delight. Needless to say, I went into House of Flame and Shadow with mixed expectations, equally nervous and excited. And friends, it blew me away and honestly made me remember why I fell in love with reading in the first place.
Now, I could put my critical glasses on and sit here telling you all about how House of Flame and Shadow is way too long, how the pacing is wonky, that there are unapologetically indulgent infodumps, that it’s got major plot conveniences or that these characters have absolutely ridiculous amounts of plot armour. But you know, I don’t think Bryce Adelaide Quinlan would not approve of those ugly critical glasses, so we are listening to the Queen and will simply not wear them!
There is really not much I can go into in this review without going into spoilers, which I don’t want to do, but let’s just say that House of Flame and Shadow completely exceeded any and all expectations I had for the potential of Maas’ connected universe. The crossovers in this book were absolutely incredible, be it the actual world hopping, the little easter eggs, the cameos from old favourite characters or all the rich lore and history of these worlds.
I can see how some readers might find the delivery of all this new world building information to be clunky and overwhelming, but I was truly so excited that I just gobbled up all the info dumps. And, I mean, I don’t see all the dudebros revolting when Sanderson goes into another one of his indulgent magic system/lore lessons, so you all better not come trashing this book for that reason simply because it is Maas doing the delivery.
With all that said, while House of Flame and Shadow goes wild with the larger universe connections, I really appreciated that the focus still remains on the Crescent City story first and foremost. The characters we have come to love in the first two books only get more time to shine, and I just loved all the earned character development in this instalment. The found family vibes are vibing, the snark is snarking, the sass is sassing, the banter is bantering, and I just ate it all up!!
Sometimes I did wish we got to see a bit more of the minor side characters, but I was honestly okay with giving that up in order to focus more on the world building and plot progression. Though that is not to say that there aren’t some important side characters from books 1 and 2 who just absolutely shot to the top of my favourites list here; mainly Lidia and Jesiba, whose emotional and intriguing backstories I absolutely loved.
And with the more plot/world building focused narrative, I personally loved how tame House of Flame and Shadow is on the romance/smut front, though the smut girlies might be a bit disappointed. Yes, most of the prominent characters do become entangled in a passionate ‘I would die for you’ romance, but the emphasis is much more on the emotional connection rather than the physical. And the few spicy scenes that we do get actually carry a lot of emotional weight and don’t feel shallow at all, which is exactly why I liked them. Not only did I finally adore Bryce and Hunt as a couple here, but I also fell head over heels in love with the complicated but sweet dynamic between Ruhn and Lidia!
And don’t worry, House of Flame and Shadow is still smoking hot and sexy, what with all of these characters being devilishly charming, dangerously sharp-tongued, and ungodly attractive. Seriously, this book is a bisexual’s dream, and I was honestly living my best life. And speaking of queer,I love that the Crescent City series is refreshingly diverse compared to Maas’ earlier works, albeit still mostly in terms of side characters.
Now, I am clearly mostly just here for the characters, but the plot itself also had me inexplicably glued to the page. I loved the Asteri and their deliciously despicable minions as the antagonistic forces in this series, and I thought the big showdown at the end was absolutely riveting and ridiculously anxiety-inducing. Maybe it was a bit rushed, and maybe there were some awfully convenient solutions and insane power-ups, but again, we are not wearing the critical glasses today. All the imagery was undeniably epic, the twists were jaw-dropping, and the emotional beats hit just right, so my heart was truly in my throat.
I seriously couldn’t tell you why I adored this book so much, but I am happy I did. And honestly, I think it is an entire skill in itself that an author can write in such an engaging way that allows you to completely ignore all the flaws and stay completely immersed the entire way through. Maas knows so damn well how to just put you on an intense emotional rollercoaster, completely sweeping you up in all the intense heightened emotions of these amusingly dramatic and sometimes even theatrical cast of characters.
So no, this might not be the most thought-provoking, intellectually challenging, or deeply philosophical fantasy story out there, but it is not trying to be. And if you come here expecting that, it’s honestly not the book’s fault if you are not having a fun time. Though that said, I also think House of Flame and Shadow proves that Sarah J. Maas’s works don’t deserve to simply be labelled as ‘faerie smut’, because this is so so so much more than that.
Themes of mental health, trauma, friendship, dysfunctional families, sexism/misogyny, motherhood, redemption, slavery, and even anti-colonisation are all quite prevalent in House of Flame and Shadow, and give this story way more depth and emotional resonance than people might assume at first glance. Maas’s talent is simply undeniable, and very few authors can get me this pathetically obsessed and giddily excited about fictional characters.
So yes, it is with pride I say that am just trash for Sarah J. Maas, and I doubt that will ever change. Especially with the implications for the wider connected universe, I am just SO excited for the potential of all her upcoming works. Maas expertly balanced a lot of threads in this instalment, and she wove them all together magnificently in the end to create an impressive and utterly satisfying conclusion to this arc of the Crescent City series.
House of Flame and Shadow might not be a perfect book, but it gave me exactly what I wanted and I just devoured, inhaled, and gobbled up this 900+ page chunker in 4 days. And now please excuse me while I go catch up on some sleep and try to get over this book hangover, it was truly a wild time!