Took me long enough to get around to this one, but I have to say the size of this book was a bit daunting. I'm a fan of SJM (her ACOTAR series, at least) and really enjoyed her latest book A Court of Silver Flames so after a few somewhat lackluster reads in between, I decided I'd jump back to an author I knew I liked.
After a brutal murder brings half-fae, half-human party girl Bryce Quinlan's life to a crashing halt, she retreats from the world and buries herself in work and social isolation. Two years later, an attack similar to the one that stole her best friend from her piques the interest of the city's most powerful immortals and Bryce is pressed into service to help track down the culprit. Hunt Athalar, the enslaved angel and infamous henchman of the city's governor Micah, is assigned to keep an eye on her while Bryce hunts for her friend's killer and the ancient fae artifact believed to be linked to the gruesome string of deaths.
For the first quarter of this book, I was remarkably unimpressed. Lazy info-dump world building made the start of this one a total slog. I felt like the story could have started much later than it did, and a lot of the details about the various Houses could have been left out. It wasn't important to the book. The one-page reference at the start was enough to get the point across. I think Maas' editor did her a disservice in not pushing her to consolidate and clean up the beginning.
That being said, the slow start gradually picked up steam. By the halfway mark, I was having a great time. Bryce is sassy and clever, unexpectedly deadly, and the party-girl traits I disliked her for in the beginning evolve into far more grown-up dimensions of a delightfully complex main character. Hunt, too, has a well-molded backstory and unexpected depths that are gradually revealed over the course of the book.
As far as steam level goes (SORT OF SPOILER, HERE), I was surprised at how tame this book turned out to be. There are a few 'softcore' moments, but compared to her other works, this was astonishingly PG-13. Maas' unabashed vocabulary makes an appearance or two, but she never actually delivers the goods. Maybe in the next book.
In all, I ended up really enjoying this one, even if it had a bit of a rocky start. Strong themes of friendship, love, loyalty, and redemption are juxtaposed against difficult topics like misogyny, classism, and slavery. I think there's a lot of potential with this new series, and I look forward to seeing where SJM takes it.