Official rating: 1 star
Actual rating: 1.5 stars
I feel about this book the way every dad feels when their child does something stupid: I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.
Imagine you’re watching Zootopia. In the background, someone is playing Bright on Netflix obnoxiously loud. And then, almost insidiously lurking in the corner, comes, of all things, the Winx Club theme song.
Mix it all together, slap a pretty cover on it, and you’ve got this book.
The characters were probably the best part of this, but that’s not saying much, since they were mostly slabs of moist wallpaper.
Meet Bloom Hopps aka Aelsandra and her reluctant partner, Dorichaowanlinsand. She’s a half-human, half-fae girl with red hair, good legs, and curled toes and he’s a tattooed / winged significantly older love interest with a ~dark past~
Between all of SJM’s female leads, Bryce was definitely my favorite (though not my favorite character in the book). She wasn’t as abrasive and sociopathic as Aelin or as plank dumb as Feyre, and on the whole I liked her. The only part of the book that made me feel any emotions were the parts where she recalled her past depression. I can’t find fault in that. It was as well handled as it could have been.
Hunt was someone I wanted to feel connected to but really just couldn’t find anything to grasp onto. He felt, consistently, like 5 different people, each of those people conveniently other characters Maas has written before: Dorian, Chaol, Rowan, Tamlin, and Rhysand (ignoring the fact that two of those guys are weird merges of each other). Considering the fact that I hate 4.5 out of those 5 guys, you’d think I hate this guy too. To be honest, I just didn’t care about him.
The “romance” crap in this was honestly the most cringey thing I’ve ever read in my life. There’s not even ironic enjoyment here; it’s just gross and unnecessary and undermines literally every attempt at connecting these characters in any way other than witty banter. As friends, they were fine, but as lovers, they fell flat. Even if I liked this kind of thing, there wasn’t enough of it to merit any satisfaction.
Ruhn was probably the only character I could say I genuinely liked. He was basically just Aedion but not awkwardly incesty, which was a huge relief because this time, he’s been upgraded from cousin to brother. I would have left this plane of existence if they laid next to each other in their underwear or commented on how hot the other was. (Does the author have family members? Does she know how normal people interact with relatives??) For what Ruhn was, he was nice and not a tryhard.
Related to him, I really wish the doctor girl wasn’t someone important (I kinda hated the instalove he had for her to begin with) because oof that’s so overdone and convenient. Some part of me also kind of thought that if the whole story had been told from her perspective, it might have been a better way of exploring the world and telling an intriguing tale, but I digress.
I don’t have a lot of notes about the other characters other than that I don’t get the Juniper and Fury hype (I understand why people are happy, but this was honestly the bare minimum) As actual characters, they had zero presence in the story and I consistently forgot they even existed.
And leading into the next section, oh my goodness why are ~shifters~ a trend right now??? I’m so sick of all these animorphs! Why are they all hot? Why does SJM refer to them by their animal type? Word choice matters, for goodness sake! Please, stop using terms that make bestiality pop into my head! I don’t want it there! Y’all need to chill!
The worldbuilding itself was half formed and unbelievable. The culture of half-breeds as a second class citizen wasn’t well integrated into the social worldbuilding, so it felt forced whenever SJM insisted that they’re looked down on. Interspecies sex seemed to be extremely commonplace, considering. Besides some snobbery, there weren’t any indications that those in lesser houses or races were restricted by anything other than ability, fiscal backgrounds, and personal interest. The vast majority of characters in this were in some kind of military career, which doesn’t give any indication as to the other jobs available and to whom they are open. Bryce, a half-breed, attended the same university and was even roommates with those of the highest social order, which I find incredibly hard to believe. And besides Hunt, the only lower caste characters we met that had jobs at all were literally just slaves. Most of those aforementioned military positions were inherited or bestowed, anyway, so they’re even less of an indication of the state of the economy or culture of the workforce.
Beyond that, the city itself was a strange mash up of regular real-world things and fantasy jargon. It felt more like urban fantasy and not like the techno high fantasy I was hoping for, which would have been unique and not literally just Bright and Winx Club. The position of the humans in this universe makes the technological advancements created by them seem discordant with their reception in society. You’d think a new money versus old money parallel would be drawn, or a comparison of the working class Capitalist industry of America with the century-old traditionalist feudalism of Europe. The segregated nature of the city could have referenced Jerusalem (or even New Orleans tbh), and lent itself the vibe of an ancient struggle between cultures coexisting in the same space for different but similar reasons. Instead, the plausibility of the setting was questioned every step of the way in this stagnant city. And that’s not even mentioning the severe lack of worldbuilding outside of the city, let alone the other dimensions.
And don’t even ask about the random mythology borrowing. Midgard? Diana? Are you kidding me? She could have smashed the keyboard and gone with that instead. I don’t particularly mind using real-world terms for building a fantasy world, as they can lend a level of familiarity to an unfamiliar concept, but she took from disparate religions and merged them with wanton abandon, making no commentary on the actual purposes and meanings of those borrowed terms. The only thing she sort of used well was Malakim.
Everything wanted to be 5 different things and didn’t manage to be any of them. Was it a mystery? A romance? An action adventure? A political thriller? Well, yes to all and also no to all. It was so confused all the time. And again, there was that ever-present influence of Zootopia on everything, even down to the secret drug in a multicultural megacity and the reluctant partnership to stop mysterious murders, though I’ll admit that the nature of the partnership was significantly altered. Mostly, this was boring and very poorly paced. Things happened at either a snail’s pace or with whiplash speed. Every single event was emphasized with so much drama that nothing felt important after the first fourth of the book. Everything was intense and world changing, so nothing was. Towards the climax, I felt incredibly confused about what was actually going on. I was intrigued by some things early on but this took so long getting to any actual answers, and seemed to change its mind constantly, that I was just impatient for it to end. Sarah J Maas has never been particularly good at mystery thrillers but for some reason, she keeps writing them.
Also, making fun of the tropes she literally helped create isn’t a good look. While I find the uber-masculine, possessive, and downright cringey sex-obsessed ~romances~ to be, well, awful, it’s not good to trash on the fans—her fans—that love those things. She could have just quietly written a healthy relationship but instead she just had to make a joke out of it (and then proceed to do everything she was denouncing). It didn’t come across as growth and reception of rightful criticism, it came across as insulting and haughty.
Honestly, if I wasn’t actively trying to become a better writer and therefore always analyze what works and what doesn’t work in fiction, I probably might have had a better time reading this. The writing was so awkward, and there were several instances where I mentally changed the dialogue or general prose to sound more natural and less forced. I’m wondering more and more with SJM whether an editor reads the whole thing and if she even revises or just goes with the line edit manuscript.
This tried really hard to be too many things and didn’t devote the time needed to make any of those things any good. Every individual element wasn’t bad on its own, but they were all combined so poorly, with so little respect to how a sprawling story is formed, that they were rendered caricatures instead of fully formed devices. I was bored most of the time, and when I wasn’t bored, I was mildly annoyed or faintly amused. I don’t hate the book, but I didn’t enjoy it. It had the opportunity to be something new, something unique and game-changing, but that potential was simply wasted. I mourn the book I could have read.
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