Gather around, my friends, and pull up several seats. I give you my worst book of 2020. My god.
My first introduction to Sarah J. Maas's work was through THRONE OF GLASS, which sounded kind of like POISON STUDY when I heard the premise: a disgraced assassin fighting for the saving of a kingdom? YAS. But POISON STUDY was a much better book. "But no," said the Stans. "You have to read the entire series. It gets better." Well, I read all seven books, and it actually got worse. Maas either killed off or ruined the only characters who made the series halfway okay, and introduced a sleazy, growling alpha motherfucker of a love interest to match Aelin/Caleana's Super Senshi Sue Powers™. It got so bad that I joked she would literally have to be a god to become any more special and it's like Sarah J. Maas heard me thinking that and was like YAAAAASS QUEEN. I SHALL MAKE IT SO. Ugh.
The A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES series is better... in book one. I'm reading it right now and it might actually be the only book of hers that I'll give more than a two star rating, even though it butchers not just The Ballad of Tam Lin but also Beauty and the Beast. I have a lot of thoughts on making characters in fairytales and stories where the characters are supposed to be unattractive attractive, which I expand more on in my review of A.G. Howard's ROSEBLOOD. But everything that makes A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES bearable is destroyed in later books. Maas swaps out a genuinely tortured and flawed love interest for a carbon copy of Rowan who, once again, is a sleazy, growling alpha motherfucker who makes volcanoes erupt with the force of his come and takes to the skies to make the clouds cower with his incredibly male orgasms. And Feyre, who started out reasonably flawed and realistic, as a human who can't read and has to scrounge to survive, becomes EVEN MORE SPECIAL AND AMAZING, OMG!!!! SO SPECIAL!
Throne of Glass was a young adult series until the last 2-3 books and ACoTaR was a new adult series (even though it wasn't labeled as such), but both of them read as being fairly similar and had similar outcomes. I'll admit that my eyebrows shot up to my hairline when it was announced that CRESCENT CITY would be Maas's first adult novel, because her other books are clearly marketed at a much younger audience and this seems like an attempt to maintain her fanbase's interest as they grow older and outgrow the series. What would her take on "adult" content be?
I'll give you one fucking gods-damn clue what Maas's fucking take on gods-damn content is, but first I have to make sure that my fucking vibrator didn't fall into the gods-damn box of fucking My Little Pony knock-offs that I fucking keep in my gods-damn linen closet!
...That's right. PG-13 sexual content and lots and lots and lots and lots of swearing.
Now, I am no prude, but the swearing in this book was totally unnecessary and just came across as childish. If anything, it made CRESCENT CITY feel like a young THRONE OF GLASS trying to impress all of her older friends with her edginess. CRESCENT CITY fancies itself quite the little edgelord with its filthy mouth, drugs, sex, and violence, but none of it is handled well. Drugs are treated as something casually edgy that the characters do without any sorts of repercussions. Violence is casual as well, and doesn't really serve any purpose in the story. Characters are killed off before we can really care about them properly. And the sexual content is... cringey.
Another issue I took with the book is the way it is constructed. This book was way too long-- about 300 pages longer than it probably should have been max. I think Maas has fallen into the trap of just feeding her readers endless self-fanfiction of the stories she's already written. They adore her worlds and want to read more of it... but both ACOTAR and THRONE OF GLASS were relatively short. They didn't expand in length until the characters (who stayed with her) cared about the series. There is no such emotional bond in CRESCENT CITY, but Maas wrote it as if it were book seven in a seven book series and expected us all to just care. I was reading the comments from stans on the negative reviews who said things like, "Well, it doesn't get good until page 500! You should have kept reading!" and "The last 100 pages made the first 700 pages totally worth it!"
I'm sorry, but no. If your book is 800 pages long and doesn't get good until page 500, that's not okay. If you have 500 pages of info-dumping to get the book get off the ground, you're not a good writer. There was way too much crammed into this book and a lot of it was exposition that probably should have happened organically by us following the character around and seeing her interact with things and people instead of having everything dropped on the reader like a ten-ton weight of narrative. I read about 600/800 of this book and I'm still not sure what I read. It has Norse gods, faeries, vampires, demons, werewolves, shape-shifters, angels, technology, fast food, video games, humans, and a whole host of other stuff, and none of it really meshes cohesively. The world-building is a bigger mess than a drunken mid-2000s party girl stepping out of her limo to greet the paparazzi after an all-night cocaine bender. It doesn't make sense, and I don't really get how any of it fits together.
Then there's Bryce. Bryce is basically a mishmash of Celaena and Feyre. She's gorgeous. She's sexy. Everyone wants to fuck her. She's not like other girls. She feels pity for whores because she only sleeps around to self-medicate for her emotional issues. She does drugs but she's deep. She hates everyone but everyone's okay with that because they can see the pain deep inside her beautiful eyes. Brycaelayre is half-human, half-fae, and ALL Super Senshi Sue™. You just know that she's going to end up being revealed to be a "goddess incarnate" or the queen of everything by the end of the last book. Maas has never been content to let a female character be powerful on her own merits. She's gotta roll her shoulders, roll her eyes, purr, talk sweetly, tap her nails, and flap her aerobicized faerie wings to the heavens while exploding sex, magic, and specialness from every nonexistent pore.
The love interest, Hunt, is basically a stand-in for Rowan and Rhysand. I'm not entirely convinced that he's here to stay, though, as Micah was looking pretty fine and fiery and there were way too many paragraphs devoted to talking about how hot he was. Don't be surprised if on book 2 or 3, Hunt undergoes a total personality transplant, starts being a dick for no reason, and is then kicked to the curb with the story reworked for how he was secretly an evil gaslighter who was imprisoning Bryce and robbing her of her potential with some half-assed betrayal and only Micah could set her free.
WHICH, by the way, the constant use of the word "alphahole" in this book was not only incredibly irritating and ridiculous, it's also incredibly unselfaware. If you're trying to make fun of a trope, it's probably best not to have that be a trope that you're well-known for. One of the alphahole quotes in this book could literally be a description for any book that Maas has churned out in the last five years. Don't even get me started on the whole "males" and "females" and "scents" nonsense.
I don't think it's exaggeration when I say that this is THE WORST MAAS BOOK I HAVE EVER READ. It was so terrible, reading it actually gave me a headache. All of her other books I've read, I could at least finish, but this was unbearable. It was like SJM took everything I hated about her previous books and injected them into CRESCENT CITY in ultra-concentrated form. The only two redeeming things about this book were the *attempt* at sex-positivity (but only for Bryce-- remember, actual whores are to be pitied) and an odd reference to My Little Pony figures (called "Starlight Fancy" figures-- Bryce collects them). Between the terrible, disorganized world-building, the curse-words speckling each page, and the beautiful but two-dimensional shells that served as the main characters, I just could not find one single fuck to give. Maybe because SJM took all those "fucks" and put them into her book, instead. You know, to make it "adult."
1 out of 5 stars