House of Flame and Shadow Review… and I’m so mad

I just finished House of Flame and Shadow by Sarah J. Maas in record time to write this review. But I am so, so upset, and I had been for the vast majority of time reading this book.

House of Earth and Blood was, and still is, quite possibly the best book I’ve ever read with a climax that brought all the feels. So much so, that I still get them every time I re-read it.

House of Sky and Breath, while not quite as moving, dropped a bomb on us in the final chapter that set the internet ablaze.

But House of Flame and Shadow failed to meet my expectations at every possible turn and fell flat on its face. I gave it 3-stars out of 5: the lowest I’ve ever rated an SJM book.

I’ll tell you why in a little bit, but before we get to the spoiler section, here are my spoiler-free thoughts.

House of Flame and Shadow Review

House of Flame and Shadow Spoiler-Free Review

Sarah J. Maas has been a favorite author of mine since 2015. I discovered Young Adult fantasy and Throne of Glass shortly after the release of Heir of Fire, and I’ve been reading SJM’s books on release day ever since.

To say I’ve been looking forward to House of Flame and Shadow would be the understatement of the century.

And when it comes to writing and execution, the book delivers what I expect from a writer of Maas’s caliber. It’s well-thought-out, beautifully orchestrated, and provides a satisfactory conclusion to a highly beloved series.

At the end of Book 2, we were left with an unsure sense of Lidia Cervos and where her head was at. I mean, we saw her kill the Harpy for Ruhn, but then she stood by when Pollux came in rather than helping to end his life, too.

From the start of Book 3, though, Maas does right by Lidia in the prologue and then set a solid tone for the whole book. Where Maas shines the brightest is her character development, their battling of inner demons, and their interpersonal relationships, and House of Flame and Shadow is no exception.

We didn’t get jerked around this time. Maas even confirmed that Hunt was Bryce’s mate several months before release, ending any debate that she was going to pull her usual stunt of ending the first love interest.

But I feel almost as if we went the complete opposite direction this time. While Book 2 left us with so many questions as we read, from Cormac and Bryce’s engagement to the mysterious Agent Daybright, there was a lot of mystery with twists along the way that kept us guessing.

House of Flame and Shadow has none of that.

There’s not a single twist in the entire novel. None. Nothing that’s shocking or surprising.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, there’s information reveals. And dang good ones, too. Stuff I just ate right up because I love lore and getting explanations for questions we had.

But nothing was surprising.

There were no shocks.

No real “I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming” moments. And it’s not just because I guessed them ahead of time. It’s just that there was NOTHING TO GUESS.

So while the book was great and beautifully written, and I was happy to see our heroes have their characters arcs resolved, I was just left with a gaping hole in my heart by the end, like something was missing.

The previous two books left me shaken. This one left me empty with a deep sense of disappointment.

So with that, let’s get on to the spoilers, and the true source of my ire.

Turn away if you don’t want to know what happens in House of Flame and Shadow.

This is your last chance.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

House of Flame and Shadow Review with Spoilers

Look, let’s be real. I had one expectation and one expectation alone coming into House of Flame and Shadow. Well, two really, but we’ll get to the second in a minute.

My First Disappointment

I wanted Rhysand, Feyre, and crew to befriend Bryce and kick some Asteri butt together.

And House of Flame and Shadow started off with a bang. It gave us right what we wanted to see. The glee and joy I read across the internet as Sarah J. Maas released the first chapter on her website a few days before publication showed that I wasn’t alone in my excitement.

In fact, all was going well for 19 straight chapters. A little slow? Perhaps.

Bryce is untrusting of Nesta and Azriel, but who can blame her? She doesn’t know the ACOTAR heroes like we do. She doesn’t trust the Fae from her own experiences. So I cut her some slack.

And then Chapter 19 hits and we get the info-dump of the decade, but this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I ate up every word of SJM’s plot hole filling as she explains away crossing over her two totally different and unrelated series.

I was completely onboard with Team Maasverse—Team Crossover—Team whatever you want to call it.

And then Chapter 27 happens. Bryce opens a portal back to Midgard and jumps in… LEAVING NESTA AND AZRIEL BEHIND.

Like WTF!!!

That’s as close to an expletive as I’ll get. Acronym expletive. But it feels warranted. Like doubly and triply so.

Okay, whatever. Right? Bryce still doesn’t trust them. It’s okay. She’ll come back for them.

I convince myself of this.

But 20 chapters go by and around Chapter 45 Bryce finally mentions Nesta by name, yet only in recounting the tale of what happened to her in the Fae homeland. And it dawned on me that we were no closer to seeing them again.

So I did a keyword search for Azriel’s name in my kindle ebook, and discovered…

AND DISCOVERED THAT HE DIDN’T APPEAR AGAIN AT ALL IN THE REST OF THE BOOK.

WHAT THE ACTUAL HECK

So I searched for Nesta.

And at least she popped up again somewhere around Chapter 76.

So I said to myself. Cool it. It’s not over. Let’s withhold judgment until we get there.

And I did.

Until I discovered that Nesta’s “reappearance” was Bryce talking to her through a portal FOR 3 PAGES AND THAT’S IT.

I AM SO MAD!!!

For TWO YEARS I have been theorizing and waiting and anticipating the CC and ACOTAR team-up to beat the Asteri.

And it turns out Bryce’s whole visit to Prythian was nothing more than FAN SERVICE, likely to cause a media stir when it first appeared in House of Sky and Breath, and then to generate sales for House of Flame and Shadow, all the while ensuring Crescent City-only readers went back and read the ACOTAR books.

Absolutely everything that occurred in Prythian could have easily been written to occur in Midgard. There is no excuse for this level of hoodwink by my favorite author.

I feel betrayed.

I feel deceived.

I feel tricked and bamboozled.

I AM NOT OKAY.

And let’s not even start in on the repeat of ACOWAR’s ending. The complete inability of Sarah J. Maas to kill her characters.

Sure, Cormac died in Book 2, and Lehabah died in Book 1.

But not a SINGLE hero died in the fight against the Asteri.

NOT ONE.

And what’s with the repeated use of “leveled up” to describe characters with more power. It irked me. This is not a LitRPG.

Bryce dies and of course SJM writes in a deus ex machina to save her, just like Rhys. Okay, so Jesiba Roga dies, but she willingly gave up her 15,000-year-old life for Bryce. She was not killed fighting.

My Second Disappointment

And what’s more, I expected a BIGGER crossover. I expected THRONE OF GLASS.

I didn’t have a lot of high hopes here. I mean, House of Flame and Shadow is a big book. It’s 800+ pages. But it’s not enough to properly treat the worlds of ACOTAR and TOG.

Heck, SJM didn’t even properly treat ACOTAR, let alone adding another series.

But I know I’m not alone in this. Just before the book came out, my friends and I were flinging theories left and right and all of us had some kernel of expectation for Aelin and crew.

We’d seen the hints. We knew it was possible.

And House of Flame and Shadow isn’t without its Throne of Glass references. The greatest of these probably being the reveal of the Under-King’s origins and the original name of the goddess Urd being adapted from Wyrd.

But I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t think we’d see Erilea.

This is how I sort of saw it all playing out from the top:

Bryce befriends the ACOTAR crew, convinces them to come back to Midgard and help put a stop to the mutual threat to their worlds. They succeed in killing 5 of the 6 Asteri, but Rigelus escapes and as he does, we get a glimpse of where he escaped to, and it’s Erilea.

End Book.

Then we could reasonably know that while Midgard is safe and we get an acceptable ending to this series, there is still more out there for us to enjoy in the Maasverse.

Look, it didn’t even need to go down like that.

The trouble is not how little time Bryce spent in Prythian, but how unimportant the visit there was.

The starlight could have easily been located on Midgard. Or even Hel. Bryce could have found some other world shaking power that’s unique to her own world.

As it is, I feel cheated. I feel like I was led on. That Maas promised one thing and failed to deliver.

Like she only did it to sell more books. Because people were scrambling to read all 5 ACOTARs because they thought it would be important.

Come to find out it was wholly unnecessary.

I felt that if SJM was going to bother with a crossover that it needed to be done well. If Nesta herself had come to Midgard with Bryce, that would have been better.

No need to bring the whole ACOTAR hero cast. One is fine. But let Bryce and Nesta become friends, so that Bryce is sad to see her return home. And the cherry on top would be the promise of seeing each other again someday…and the kernel of hope for future crossover books.

Will there be a Crescent City 4?

We then might be able to theorize more about this additional four-book deal that Maas has signed. That’s, of course, in addition to House of Flame and Shadow and two more ACOTAR books which SJM had already been under contract for.

These four new books could have been a crossover series. Or at least three of them.

But, no, instead, Maas decides to make no mention of Erilea whatsoever, gives fans the finger when it comes to utilizing ACOTAR, and instead neatly ties up the whole story for Crescent City.

However, Maas did confirm that there will be a fourth Crescent City, despite the definitive conclusion. What it’s going to be about though is anyone’s guess.

What, are we going to find the Viper Queen and Ocean Queen going after Tharion? Because their ire is the only thing that’s left unchecked.

Okay, so the Archangels might be a bit pissed, too, but Bryce took out the Asteri. Some Archangels aren’t going to give her any trouble.

Because that’s the problem with all-powerful villains and equally overpowered heroes. In order to make a future story more exciting, you have to come up with an even bigger and badder threat. Which is the same problem that Avengers keeps running into and every story just feels more outlandish than the last.

It loses its charm. It’s like deus ex machina in reverse. Instead of heroes miraculously getting out of trouble, it’s like the author word vomits them into trouble with more unbelievable ideas just to make the story interesting.

Speaking of the big baddies. The Asteri. Where were they in House of Flame and Shadow? They bombed the human settlement — big whoop. For terrible overlords whose very mention made Rhysand’s face go pale, they sure were easy to dispatch and did absolutely nothing menacing the whole book.

At least Rigelus had evil machinations in House of Sky and Breath that saw our heroes fall right into his hands. Where did that evil genius go?

So am I excited about a fourth Crescent City book? I just don’t know. We likely already know the title will be House of Many Waters following Maas’s naming conventions.

Sounds like the perfect title for a Tharion book.

Plus, we know Maas likes to explore individual character arcs in unnecessary books just to keep milking the cash cow (Tower of Dawn, A Court of Silver Flames).

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed those cash cow books. And, despite my moaning, I will probably read House of Many Waters.

But it would have been better with crossover potential.

What’s up with Ithan?

But I’m not JUST upset about the ACOTAR thing.

Ithan Holstrom ditches his friends in House of Sky and Breath to save a rando wolf from a tub, Minority Report style.

So what she’s a Fendyr heir? She’s naïve and has been cut off from the world. She also likely harbors PTSD from her time as a captive and has no combat training.

But he dedicates his life to protecting her…

And then kills her at the beginning of House of Flame and Shadow…

Umm… hello?

THEN, if that wasn’t good enough, he spends the whole book trying to revive her, only for her to give him the finger at the last moment and choose to become a Reaper AND side with Sabine.

Ithan becomes Prime. ITHAN.

WHY?!?

Because he’s a POV character?

Because he took Hypaxia’s antidote and is suddenly souped up on power?

What about when everyone else gets the antidote and everyone becomes stronger than him? He doesn’t have the leadership skills to maintain any sort of control over the shifters.

To top it all off, he DOESN’T DO ANYTHING of significance the whole book.

The only thing I can point to that he did to even push the plot forward was give Bryce the Godslayer rifle with the sentimental bullet. The bullet wasn’t even special aside from the sentimental value.

And that plot point could have been accomplished a dozen different ways. Jesiba could have delivered the rifle. Tharion could have delivered the rifle. Literally anyone else could have delivered the rifle. No sentimental bullet required.

Bryce could have even just starfire-laser-beamed the Firstlight core.

But SJM dedicated at least 150 pages to Ithan’s POV for absolutely zero purpose. I think she felt obligated to use him because she wrote him into House of Sky and Breath and then didn’t know what to do with him after that.

I don’t know.

That’s it.

That’s all I got.

I’m still mad. And I probably will be every time I think about it from here on out.

Maybe time will make me less bitter about the ACOTAR thing and some day I can reread House of Flame and Shadow from a lens of acceptance and enjoy the book more.

What did you think about House of Flame and Shadow?

13 thoughts on “House of Flame and Shadow Review… and I’m so mad

  1. Deep breaths. It sounds to me like you built a version of this book in your mind and are disappointed it didn’t go according to your plan, instead of reading and enjoying it for what it was. Maybe give it some space and come back again later. I think you two need a break.

    1. I didn’t have a plan per se. The scenarios I mentioned in the article are “after the fact” or “what could have been scenarios” that I came up with while writing this review as opposed to a “this is what needs to happen or I’ll be completely unsatisfied” thought that I had before starting the book.

      I would have been content with Crescent City having no crossover. Had SJM never sent Bryce to Prythian, I would never have known it was possible. She opened Pandora’s box there. And I just feel like she handled it so poorly. Bryce’s time in Prythian was of absolutely no consequence. And it also made no sense. She went there looking for the answer to defeating the Asteri. She watches Nesta kill one in front of her, and then leaves the answer to her problem behind.

      Of course, she grabbed the starlight and the dagger there as well. But she didn’t know that was the solution at the time.

      As I mentioned in the article, everything Bryce “accomplished” in Prythian could have easily occurred on Midgard or Hel. There is no reason to connect the two series if you aren’t going to create personal relationships between the characters. The characters are what we care about. Not the dagger or the starlight.

      I just feel that a crossover should have been handled better. If you’re going to open that door, be prepared to execute it properly, rather than giving us a half-baked attempt.

    2. I am a disappointed reader too. Well, I think that this plot needed something epic big. It wasn’t the crossover, it was not the fight with the Asteri but it could have been Danika return. This dead character carried three books in her back. She started everything.
      Even her love story was far more interesting than Bryce and Hunts. She deserved to be a prime not Ethan.

  2. I absolutely agree. The ACOTAR crossover was so anti climactic. All the build up and poof…there’s a portal and it’s all done. Plus all the Ruhn & Rhys looking alike and no explanation.

    One interesting TOG was Lidia being Brannon’s descendant. So then also Aelin’s???

    1. I did see that as well, just forgot to mention it. I don’t think she’s Aelin’s descendant, I think she’s a very distant cousin. So we know that Feyre and Aelin are contemporaries because Aelin saw Rhys and Feyre in the final TOG book, if memory serves, that was 6 years ago. So we know all three series run concurrently.

      The confusion then comes from the time gap. It’s been 15,000 years since the various peoples of Midgard left their original home worlds. Does that mean that Brannon is 15,000 years old? It seems a stretch considering some quick research makes it seem like Aelin is only 4 generations removed from Brannon.

      Even if each generation was 2,000 years old, that’s still only 8,000 years. Where’s the other 7,000?

      So either more time has passed than is let on in Throne of Glass, or SJM made a small timeline gaffe in saying that Lidia’s son is named after Brannon, because there is no where she should know who that is.

    2. So I read a few theories online and here are two possibilities. First, some are suggesting that the gates are portals through both space AND time. Now clearly the portal to Prythian was only space because the histories matched up 15,000 years on both sides. And fans are saying the portal to Erilea could be back in time. But other say no because why focus on Brannon when Aelin saved the world? You’d think it would be her legend that’s revered, not Brannon’s. Which would imply that Lidia has no idea of Aelin.

      The other possibility someone brought up was that Wyrd gates were opening and closing all the time in Erilea, and it’s possible that Lidia’s descendant came to Midgard many thousands of years after the first shifters came 15,000 years prior.

      Meaning that Lidia’s line may only have been on Midgard for 1,000 years or so. And this is the more acceptable theory to me.

      SJM has said she’s REALLY excited about one of her upcoming projects, so I assume that will be TOG related and we will find out more then.

  3. I 100% agree with you. This book felt very sloppy, full of unnecessary or repeat story lines, and was a big disappointment. I wish she’d take a breather and go back to her ACOTAR style, pace and characters.

  4. I would love to hear more on all the different Throne of Glass references – there was Lidia’s son being named Brannon, the Under-King’s came from Erilea and so did the animal shifters, and the original name of the goddess Urd being adapted from Wyrd…did I miss anything? Absolutely love this review and I agree with literally every point!

    1. So the fan theories about Lidia being a DESCENDANT of Aelin rather than just a distant cousin are because Lidia has a ruby ring that she touches quite frequently and gives to her sons, and they are saying this is the same ring that Aelin gives to Rowan that she finds in a grave.

      But the same theorists can’t remember if the grave was a relative of hers, which would make a sister ring more likely, or if it was a random grave. The latter would mean, if it’s important, that the ring would have to be Rowan’s and it then lends further aid to the crowd that believe the portals also can transcend time (because how else can you explain Aelin seeing Feyre if they are not contemporaries?).

  5. Agree honestly I found Bryce to be insufferable 90% of the book. Let down of the century I was really looking forward to this read and quite disappointed a bit lack luster for sure

  6. HIIIII, I’m sorry to see that you had a less positive experience with this book. I was initially disappointed too about the crossover stuff but eventually, I realized that SJM really intended this to be CC book and the crossover serves the CC plot. I think sometimes expectations can be our enemy in things like this, especially since we’ve had two long years to think about everything we want to happen. But oh well, maybe it’ll get better for you on a re-read? That has certainly been my experience with a lot of Sarah J Maas books.

  7. oh my goodness, your opinions on this whole book are pretty much in line with mine which is funny. we can agree that SJM is an amazing writer and this was still a good book that we enjoyed, but it’s not her best, and that damn crossover! wtf indeed.

    i laughed reading your review bc i was thinking something similar. definitely more of the acotar crew. i reasoned with myself over the fact that feyre and rhys had their whole series together. CC isn’t about them. i get it. but i really envisioned more than what happened in HOFAS. like bryce in their world for at least a couple more chapters, learning more about their world. the cave adventure was fun, but i really thought they’d head back to velaris, have a group pow-wow at the very least. i thought there’d be more of a crew effort to get her back to midgard and it’d be an exciting send off scene where they have to open a portal and it’s super dangerous or whatever. and they’d willingly give her truth teller and the hologram knowledge or whatever she learned in the caves, not her ditching them and stealing from them! haha was i delulu over thinking there’d at least be a cameo with feyre and bb nyx? guess so.

    i love your idea of nesta coming to midgard and them becoming friends and the whole, “i’ll miss you but i know you’re existing out there,” sentiment. i definitely thought there would be more of that kind of feel.

    again, i know this book is CC, not acotar, but being a crossover, i could easily gone with pulling some of the random supporting character shit out and put a few chapters of the crossover!

    i also searched for the acotar’s names once bryce dipped out of their world. like wtf. surely they’re coming back right?? barely. haha i never look ahead in books, but i was so shook by this i had to.

    at least we’ll get more of them in the next acotar book! thanks for sharing your thoughts. glad i’m not alone in feeling this way! 🙂

  8. I want to respond to some of the questions here about Throne of Glass since I basically just finished reading every book SJM has published in a month and a half, so everything is fresh.

    The ruby ring is Aelins “wedding ring”. She found it in a dead king’s underground grave. It was just a random persons grave, she doesn’t even know who it was. She just felt like who she was had been taken from her, so when she realized she was going by some graves she decided to look for wedding rings for her and Rowan so she could feel like she had that piece of herself back.

    Also. Rowan is a bird shifter, Aelin shifts into being a human. So I’m not sure where the stag shifting comes from – I don’t think a stag shifter is even mentioned in ToG.

    Also. Fae have a max lifespan of 1,000 ish years. Spoiler: there’s someone who is Fae that lives for longer, but it turns out that person isn’t Fae.

    Also, there have been 1,000 years between Aelin and when Brannon is starting to die. He may even be dead by that point that we see in the book (we see some of the events that happened 1,000 years ago). So, yeah the timelines are off, unless time does act differently between acotar/cc and ToG (just because two worlds have coordinated times doesn’t mean all of them do, maybe).

    Idk the tie in to ToG just seemed too all over the place for me to draw conclusions. I think it only makes sense if ToG is on a different time line.

    Would also like to note that when we see ACOTAR in this series, it is 7 months after the Court of Silver Flames. That book ends with Feyre giving birth, but she is pregnant when Aelin sees her. Also, in Feyres world I believe Fae pregnancies last 10 months.

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