Sarah J. Maas is always a delight, but consistently the first book she writes of any series is the worst of an otherwise prodigious lot. If House of Earth and Blood is the low bar of her new Crescent City Series, then she’ll become the mother of the burgeoning New Adult Fiction Genre, if she isn’t already.
The book follows half-fae half-human protagonist Bryce Quinlan in an urban fantasy setting with faeries, angels, demons, mere-people, and additional otherworldly creatures. In this world, magic and science meet under an all-powerful regime of Archangels. The entire system is modeled after the Roman Empire, but at the same time the world has universities, nightclubs, computers, cars, and tanks. The best way I can describe Maas’s setting is as a “Land of the Lost,” a place where everything can coexist.
After a certain point, an invisible faerie with a sword and assault weapons stops being weird and just becomes so, so cool. I’ve seen some authors attempt genre-mixing worlds unsuccessfully, making it more an excuse to bring in any Deus Ex Machina, but Maas walks her tightrope perfectly.
The world she creates facilitates a fantastic plot and even better personas. I was loving and laughing with her characters by the second page, and was heartbroken by the 60th. Maas’ biggest triumphs, however, are in her character Bryce, and the climax she makes that character endure.
Bryce is someone I’ve never seen inside a book before. She is who I think a lot of people happily are, but is rarely written about because some consider her a bad role model.
She’s 24 in the novel, fresh out of Uni. Throughout the book she is snidely called a “party girl” by people who mean much worse. Bryce is aware that she is negatively stereotyped because of her lifestyle, but she chooses to do what she enjoys despite what others think. This outlook on oft overtly villainized stereotype is both refreshing and empowering because it allows for reflection. Though we aren’t condoning risky behaviors, we can applaud her autonomy when many young women have difficulties recognizing their own self-determination as a result of societal factors.
Besides being a New “New Woman,” she is extremely clever, strong-willed, and kind, which we see throughout the book. She is also loyal to and loved by an extremely positive friend group. She isn’t the suffering young adult that people assume a girl like her must be, not in the beginning anyway, but rather one that is coming into her own in a fantastic way. Through Bryce, Maas allows an entire generation of women to be unabashedly themselves inside the pages of her novel.
The book goes on to follow Bryce for two years. Two years of unimaginable, but completely realistic and relatable, torment as she tries to deal with and discover the truth about a mass murder that ruined her life. That journey finally accumulates into the wonderful climax of this wonderful book.
I will say simply, I was so hyped the entire time. I was literally shouting, “Yes!” or “No!” or “Run!” I was closing the book and slamming my eyes shut because I was so nervous for her. I was on the edge of my seat in a way that no other book has made me before. But I guess a city-wide war against magical creatures with not so magical weapons will do that to you. The way Bryce’s ordeal was portrayed, the growth she shows, the pure awesomeness of it, was immaculate.
There is so much more I can say is great about this book, but in the end it all boils down to the fact that it is excellent. The characters, setting, plot, are all superb, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Please keep in mind that it is New Adult Fiction, so it won’t be as clean as one might be used to, but if you can’t read it now, read it when you’re older.
It’s worth it.
Chaunti T. Hatchett
“Carole Baskin killed her husband!”
If you haven’t heard that sentence a million times, you’re lying. We’ve all seen Tiger King by now (or at least are familiar with the premise), as well as the reactions. Some folks are just memeing, others legitimately believe in the conspiracy. The general population seems to view Joe as the hero in this feud, and are certain that he shouldn’t be imprisoned.
Now, let me just give everyone an overview of his acts, so you can really understand how insane that last sentence was. He murdered several tigers, abused hundreds of other tigers, groomed three young men into marriage and ensured that they never left his property, made death threat after death threat to Carole Baskin, and quite possibly tried to hire someone to kill his rival. And those are only the drastic criminal offenses. That list went on for five lines, there is no possible way you can say Joe Exotic is the hero of this narrative.
So why are we solely targeting Carole Baskin? Sure, she’s not a good person either, why are some people hating on her while defending Joe Exotic?
Because Joe is our protagonist.
Tiger King isn’t just an exposé on the exotic animal industry—it’s a narrative of how Joe Exotic landed himself in prison. Whether or not it was intentional, centering the narrative around Joe makes people more empathetic towards him. We see the world through his eyes, we see his tragedies, we feel bad for him. Take the arson of the alligator exhibit. We first see everyone’s melancholy, then the view is centered around Joe. His grief towards the loss of the alligators, how that affects him. We’ve already empathized with his loss. Sure, there are a few accusations and even proof that Joe had a motive to burn the exhibit himself, but that empathy has already set in. And this empathy is reinforced throughout the entire series, masking his terrible acts with our own feelings.
And our empathetic protagonist has himself an antagonist. Evil Carole Baskin is stalking Joe, she’s trying to get his whole zoo shut down, and look! There’s a whole episode on how she killed her husband! Not to mention Joe hates her guts. She must be the bad guy!
While we get to see Joe’s numerous low moments, we only hear of Carole’s previous tragedies. And while Joe is front and center throughout the whole show, Carole has one episode of her own, which is dedicated to her possible murder and nothing else. Then she falls into her role of antagonizing Joe and nothing else. Just as the narrative framed Joe to be an empathetic character, it framed Carole to be an evil antagonist.
Your narratives have the same power. You can make the worst characters seem more empathetic, and vice versa. Make sure you’re portraying the narrative you desire, and that people will take away the morals they should. Take the lessons from Tiger King:
People will automatically find your protagonist empathetic. Make sure they’re a character you actually want to empathize with.
If you want an unempathetic protagonist, don’t give them chances to show empathy. Cast doubt before, not after possibly empathetic situations.
Enemies of your protagonist will automatically be seen as worse than they may actually be.
If your antagonist is meant to be empathetic, give chances for them to be seen as such.
The morality of your text reflects the morality of your characters.
Overall, realize that morally ambiguous characters must be written/portrayed with care. People will accept whatever narrative you present without question, and more impressional readers will accept the morality of your protagonist and go against whatever your antagonist stands for, unless you take the time to cast doubt. Tiger King failed to take that needed precaution, and because of that, people accepted Joe Exotic as moral and empathetic. You can learn from those mistakes.