Ashley Ram

Favourite reads and life in writing!

While all the chaos brewed by both Mother Nature and her mischievous children who can’t seem to follow simple safety rules, the book industry still continued to soar with some new releases.

One of the most popular and talked about releases was Crescent City by Sarah J. Mass. I spent a good month or four reading this book so today I have compiled my thoughts below.

Note: These book reviews are my own personal observations and experiences so if it does not align with your own views then that’s completely normal. Stories will have different interpretations and the beauty of it is that no view is the same. Friendly debates are welcome but please keep it civil.

Content Warning: mentions of murder and sexual content.

Book Information:

  • Author: Sarah J. Maas
  • Year Published: 2020
  • Page Count: 800
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Pacing: Drawling | Slow | Suspenseful Build | Fluctuating | Steady | Fast | Vague
  • Type: Fantasy | Mix | Realism

Plotting:

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Crescent City surrounds Bryce Quinlan, a half Fae and half Elf whose best friend (and wolf shifter) Danika is brutally murdered by a demon thought to be summoned by a Human rebel. However two years later with the rebel behind bars, similar murders erupt once again and the case re-opens.  Bryce is assigned to investigate this murder with an Angel hitman and slave Hunt as they explore to discover the dark truths of their fantastical world.

The plot is a murder mystery with a fantasy twist and it is advertised to be an epic adult fantasy. Though if you go through the motions of the book, it isn’t quite the usual epic fantasy one would be looking for. The author uses the suspense factor of the mystery genre where an extremely large percentage of the action happens in the very final pages. It’s very sneaky and under the wraps which is fitting for a modern setting.

Manuscript:

This is going to be slightly technical manuscript stuff spewing out in this section that most readers probably don’t care too much about. But I’m going to spew it anyway.

The book is 800 pages with over 200,000 words which obviously means Bloomsbury loves Maas. Printing books takes up a lot of money and this book must’ve stretched out some serious funds because I didn’t know pages could be so thin. Anyway, clearly this surpasses most average books which is fun if you’ve finished it and you feel like an expert bookworm.

But it comes with issues:

  • I’ve already addressed that the pages were extremely thin. This is an issue that I’ve seen a few Instagram book reviewers bring up and it’s only because the book is so long and the company was probably trying to preserve as much funds as possible. So it’s not the most pleasant, smooth reading experience.
  • Another problem is that sometimes it soured the mystery aspect of the book. Mystery novels are comfortably suggested in the 60,000 – 90,000 word range because it preserves suspense. You can only stretch suspense for so long before it starts getting long-winded or just plain boring. This book wasn’t that predictable or even boring but at some points, you could feel the sheer stretch of the suspense.

As hilariously majestic this book length is, it really doesn’t seem to add anything meaningful to the story since the structure functions nearly the exact same way as a regular murder mystery.

Characterization:

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In the simplest of terms, all of these characters are blatant walking tropes.

Important Note: This is not to say that tropes are bad things. Many if not all storytellers use them because they’re fun and people love reading them (including myself). While heavily trope-like characters are fun to read, they can end up lacking flair. Once again this could be enjoyable to a lot of readers but I found myself not able to take them all too seriously at times.

Bryce Quinlan

Bryce is the party girl with a dark secret and everyone either hates or sexualizes her according to the book. This is essentially the crude opposite of the prudent female lead. She is exactly how you think she is. Someone who has a sad past, sleeps around, drinks fantasy laced booze and snorts all kinds of sparkly powder. Usually has a ride or die friend of some sort. And the story uses every opportunity to sexualize or victimize her in some way. However to make sure it’s “for women everywhere”, the story will show occasional scenes of her ‘shocking’ smart deeds and shooting a gun because it’s feminism.

All exaggerations aside.

Bryce is a pretty well-written character with some satisfying quips and an interesting energy for a female lead in a fantasy novel. She’s the representation of how being absolutely and unabashedly feminine can also equate to being strong and resilient in even epic fantasy level circumstances. But she was not without problems (not character flaws which is needed but problems in the character design itself).

Criticism

The ‘woe is me’ display she was represented in was uncomfortable to read sometimes. I don’t know how often adults bully each other like school children but the croissant scene (just every interaction with the other wolf shifters) was immensely difficult to take seriously. Yes, it made me just as angry as Hunt when I read it. However, those scenes honestly felt like the story was really laying it on too thick when it came to feeling sorry for Bryce. Especially when the story already made it very clear that she had gone through hell already.

Other Characters

The story also crudely attempts to show that Hunt isn’t like the other guys but majority of his whole character arc is just like any other tough male lead with “attractive trauma”. His story is also a sad one. He’s a fallen angel who fought for a good cause and ended up enslaved by the victors as an assassin and soldier. Due to his character design so dedicated to a common trope, it loses the flair.

Then we have Danika who is the even bigger party girl but no one hates her because she has potential and Bryce has a brother named Ruhn who happens to do stuff occasionally and falls in love with a queen witch doctor.

Conclusion

If you like heavily trope-like characters, this is the story for you. Personally I prefer a little bit of layering on the basic tropes but that’s just my own preference.

Connection Building:

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The main, active connection building is between Bryce and Hunt. Which is subpar to say the least.

We end up having one big problem when it comes to pairings that begin with sexual tension from the beginning (depending on your endgame goal). You have brewing heat and passion sort of frolicking on the surface of these characters which is fine. It’s extremely fun to watch this pairing. Except the author has to ensure that it develops naturally from there. If you start making them confess their unrelenting love for each other, the reader is able to tell that the couple is being forced into depths.

Bryce and Hunt from the beginning were giving off an enemies to friends with benefits vibe. So it’s really difficult to think that they would suddenly start sacrificing their lives for each other.

This connection is very much more sex appeal than actual depth. They have this ‘Hunt and Bryce are together against the world’ connection and they end up driving off a cliff together if it were another story. This would have been a good concept if they didn’t only think about screwing each other’s brains out in the first half of the book and then began to declare their undying love for each other because they were a “shared trauma” gang.

I would’ve much preferred if they naturally developed the sexual attractions to a mutual understanding as friends (with benefits possibly) when they learned more about each other. But I suppose that’s no fun for some people.

That’s all I’m going to say about it because honestly there was nothing much to this pair that I’d remember for the ages.

Other Connections

Onto her other connections, Bryce has two loving parental figures and a pretentious birth father. Bryce used to be close to her half-brother Ruhn but a small familial struggle caused them to drift apart. She has other friends who she mingles with in clubs and a strange excuse for a love interest in a wolf shifter named Connor; another victim of this mysterious demon that killed Danika.

Then we have the other main connection which is between Bryce and Danika. My favourite connection in the whole story and obviously the most important.

Death is sudden and can happen in ways you don’t expect. I think Maas does a great job at tackling the issues with grief and the scars that get left behind especially since Bryce had to see her friends’ remains and then deal with a bloodthirsty demon right afterwards. That’s not something anyone would ever be able to see and then come out the same person.

Bryces’ whole world changed drastically and not in the good way. She became distant and even resorted into a dark place in her mind that had me take a small break from reading. It’s gut-wrenching how we see Bryce dealing with losing the most important person in her life and the strength she has to gain to find Danika’s killer while in the process of it.

I loved that it was a connection between two best friends, I feel like people don’t take friendships all too seriously in stories but they are just as emotionally taxing as any other bond. This was the bond that kept me reading the whole story. It was deep, meaningful and the development was so naturally done.

The first few chapters really had me rooting for the two best friends. I knew that something was going to go wrong but even then, my heart wrenched when Bryce lost Danika. Bryces’ dealings with pain throughout really cut through me in all the best ways possible. If you’re like me and you were indifferent with the other character aspects of the story, you might find that these two will keep you turning those pages. 

Setting:

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Onto my second most favourite part of the book which was the setting. The way Maas built this world is amazingly done. From the cobblestone roads to the gorgeous architecture of Lunas’ temple and even the haunting style of the Bone Quarter, I loved every detail placed into this city. The story uses a bit of Norse Mythology in its lore with the Vanir and Aesir standing as the highest beings and Hel stands as the underworld. Other creatures and lore are your standard fantasy friends with mermaids, vampires, battle angels and all kinds of shifters possible.

I loved the communities, use of politics and historical development as well.  Although, I kind of wished that the information was a little bit more spread out and perhaps more of the fantasy elements of this world could have been brought into the forefront along with the murder mystery. Since the story was trying to focus so much on the developments between Hunt and Bryce, the fantasy elements were either placed to the background or information had to be ‘dumped’ on the reader in some chapters.

It wasn’t the biggest problem that made me bang my head or close the book but when it says epic adult fantasy, I expect a bucket load of foreground fantasy and minimal dystopian angel warrior romance.

Story Arc:

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The story arc is nicely orchestrated. Everything did eventually fall into place and it still had some interesting twists and turns to keep the reader on their toes. Despite my criticisms on the characters, it’s not the end of the world if they are heavily tracing out a common trope. Sometimes I thoroughly enjoy those kinds of stories and they end up becoming one of my favorite stories on my list. Popular tropes are popular because people like them so that’s that.  

I feel like a lot of issues with this story involve these main things:

Genre Clashes + Length

The main difference between murder mystery and fantasy is their means of information. Murder mystery involves withholding a lot of information and slowly revealing them to the reader to preserve suspense. Fantasy, on the other hand, involves providing information consistently to ensure it creates excitement and thrill steadily rather than a big reveal at the end.

Mystery and Fantasy provide different kinds of thrills to the reader which if not done carefully, can either make the mystery too stretched or the fantasy too underdeveloped. In Crescent City’s case, the mystery was a little too slow for it to add suspense and in some cases, the fantasy information fluctuated to a point where I could tell that it was being ‘dumped’ in some places.

Trying not to give any spoilers but there is a twist somewhere past the halfway point that counteracts the suspense dying which was really good. It was almost like a mind espresso to get my excitement back into the book. Although it’s probably best not to need that in a book but leave it to the professionals to know how to capture a reader.

However then you add the ‘spicy angel warrior plus half-breed erotica’ into the mix and things gets a little comedic (for lack of a better word). To put it plainly, mystery and fantasy (yes the same fantasy with the vampires and wolves you can morally sleep with) tend to work on a lot of depth in terms of philosophy and psychology. Especially in Crescent City where we deal with discrimination, slavery and grief.

Romantic erotica has a different goal in mind depending on the author. When you try to squeeze this genre into mystery and fantasy (that you are supposed to take seriously), it kind of sours the whole reason you were here in the first place.

Writing Style:

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I liked the writing style. There really wasn’t much to say about this part other than it was easy to read and definitely helped flipping through the vast amount of pages. I will say that Maas was definitely sticking to a more young adult fiction style with this book because it kind of gave me that feeling in a lot of scenes with the language use and general structure.

Social Readings

  • Feminism:

This is a big one. I’ve already addressed that Bryce is a highly sexualized character not because of her own lifestyle but when she’s literally doing anything else in her life. I know it’s easy to just leave this be because a woman is writing her and she probably knows what she’s doing. It’s most likely I’m just being nitpicky but someone else might have this concern and I think it’s good lay down all the aspects of a creative work.

Through the feminist reading, Crescent City isn’t really the most sexist place in the world depending on which side you look toward. However there is a level of conquest within male characters who have an extremely alpha complex to their personality. Hunt being one of them. Particularly towards Bryce. She is an attractive, curvy woman with a sharp tongue.

I know that we can just chalk it off as the daily life of a beautiful woman being constantly teased and harassed by men. But it gets extremely reminiscent of every female counterpart in most fantasy dystopian fictions. Where the beautiful female is constantly in the middle of a tug of war between all alpha males. Once again, this is actually my favourite tropes and I love reading or writing them. However, I really need a balance between that and a reminder that Bryce is not a sex object.

Bryce is very intelligent, unabashedly elegant and strong. However, these traits end up making brief cameo bursts compared to that tug of war (excluding the ending).

All in all, it’s not the worst embarrassment to feminism in creative works. She’s still a well-written character and I liked reading her through the story.

Concluding Thoughts:

Crescent City is a wild ride of a story. Some parts might be a little dragged on and characters may be heavy tropes but it’s a definite worthy read. Especially if you don’t mind the tropes and the length.

It’s a beautiful story about tragic friendships, dealing with grief and political struggles in a fantasy world. Be sure to give it a read when you have the chance!

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