To put it bluntly, no one does doorstopper female-focused fantasy like Sarah J. Maas. Full of complex worldbuilding, smoldering romances, and propulsive, often shocking plot twists, her books are exhilarating, emotional, and can often feel impossible to put down—even when they clock in at over 800 pages.
From her epic, adventure-filled Throne of Glass series to her slightly more magical and romantic A Court of Thorns and Roses books, Maas excels at crafting rich, thoroughly lived-in fantasy worlds, with the sort of scope, heft, and internal mythology that tends to define the genre’s most successful doorstoppers. But what really makes her stories sing are her heroines: multifaceted female characters full of heart and grit, these are women that are easy to root for, despite their often obvious flaws. (And who are precisely the sort of characters who don’t often have multi-book series built around them.)
Her Crescent City series is Maas’ first adult contemporary fantasy offering, and its first installment, House of Earth and Blood, was everything fans loved about her young adult novels, simply turned up to eleven. A darker, grittier tale with a lot more profanity and a bevy of morally gray characters at its center, the first novel in the series followed the story of a young half-human, half-Fae woman named Bryce Quinlan whose investigation of the devastating murder of her best friend draws her into a complex, shadowy world of politics, betrayal, and crime. (And introduces her to a hot Fallen angel named Hunt Athalar, who has a messy past and plenty of secrets of his own.)
The second novel in the Crescent City series, subtitled House of Sky and Breath, arrives on February 15 and promises to take the story to the next level, as Bryce and Hunt attempt to navigate what’s next for their relationship even as the political situation in Lunathion-and across Midgard itself— rapidly begins to deteriorate around them. And as rebels begin to chip away at the power of the rulers known as the Asteri, Bryce and Hunt will find themselves with a choice to make: Stay silent while others are oppressed and harmed, or fight for what’s right. And since this is a Maas novel, you should be able to guess right now which path they’ll choose.
We got the chance to chat briefly with Maas herself about what to expect from her upcoming sequel, and how she puts the complex worlds of her story together.
Paste: How do you see Bryce’s journey continuing in House of Sky and Breath now that she’s sort of…done everything she’s set out to do in House of Earth and Blood? What’s next for her?
Maas: Oh, there’s LOTS more to come for Bryce! Without spoiling too much about the plot, one thing that’s actually next for her is processing everything she did in Book 1. When you save the lives of literally everyone you know and nearly die in the process, it’s hard to get up the next day and go to work, you know?
Plus, she and Hunt really did NOT have a normal getting-to-know-each-other experience. Their relationship got really intense really fast. So how do you take that intensity and that danger and turn it into a fulfilling, healthy relationship that can last?
How would you describe Bryce’s relationship with Hunt now that we’re in Book 2?
Tell me a little about your process of worldbuilding in Crescent City. How much time have you spent plotting out the details of the various Houses, political hierarchies, families, etc?
I definitely sit down to write with a lot of ideas about those things already but writing a book like this always has an element of Pandora’s Box.
I’ll write something, and then realize that it needs all sorts of supporting details that I haven’t fleshed out yet. And sometimes, when I flesh them out, I see where they connect to other things in the story, and I can deepen the worldbuilding there. Things always feel more real if they don’t come up just once, or too conveniently. It’s important to me that the details of this world feel both real and natural…even though we’re talking about magic and angels and immortals!
Some people call your books romances in addition to fantasy—would you? Do you think those sorts of labels are helpful in terms of defining your story or readership? Contemporary urban high fantasy paranormal romance is a mouthful, but…also not entirely wrong?
Absolutely! I love reading AND writing romance. I think labels can be really helpful to give people a sense of what they’re getting, especially since for so many people—me included—reading is a refuge and sometimes you just know you need a certain type of book to get you through a rough time.
But it’s important to realize that labels don’t always tell you everything, and sometimes they say a lot about the person doing the labeling! It’s always a good idea to take a step outside your comfort zone sometimes and read something different.
One of my favorite things about your books is how wonderfully you write female friendship, especially between women who, on paper, don’t seem as though they’d get along very well. Talk to me a little bit about the way these dynamics differ from the romances in your books.
I’ve always felt that the heart of my books is really in the friendships. Friendship can be a part of romance, of course, but platonic friendships are just as important.
I love writing characters who’ve found love and support in unexpected places, and who’ve been able to create a chosen family in lieu of or in addition to the families they were born into or raised in. I think it’s important for people to see that as normal, and to know it’s possible.
Who’s your favorite secondary character in this franchise? (And why is it Jesiba Roga? Just kidding, but she’s my fave.)
The otters! Kidding but also not kidding—it’s hard to pick a fave! But I do love writing those mysterious characters like Jesiba.
Crescent City: House of Sky and Breath will hit shelves on Tuesday, February 15 and you can preorder it at Bookshop.org right now.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.