Fantasy Book Review: The House of Always by Jenn Lyons

Fantasy Book Review

The House of Always
Jenn Lyons
Publication Date: May 11, 2021
Publisher: Orbit
Genres: Epic Fantasy

A Chorus of Dragons is a series that has, for me, been defined by its snarky footnotes. They not only illuminate the main story with facts, observations, and leading questions, but they sort of build a secondary narrative alongside it. It's probably the only series I've ever read where I insist on having the hardcover in my hands so that my eyes (and mind) can immediately leap from text to footnote and back again, rather than waiting for the page or chapter to end.

As such, it's entirely fitting that The House of Always feels like a novel consisting entirely of those footnotes, with footnotes of their own. Jenn Lyons largely pauses the action to place her characters into a locked room mystery where they bond over reliving painful memories of events from the first three books. The result is a sometimes confusing jumble of familiar scenes as experienced from new points-of-view, a beautiful mess that I found myself chafing at for a while, until I began seeing the connections and accepting that all of this really was taking us somewhere important.

While the book does advance the story and explore more of the mythology, and while it is book-ended  by a glorious battle against a giant kraken and a mad dragon, this is more a character study that anything else. Lyons invites us to get to know all the key players, not as protagonists/antagonists or plot devices, but as individuals - and, in doing so, she illuminates just how gloriously diverse this series has been. The bisexual, polyamorous romance between Kihrin, Janel, and Teraeth has always been sort of front-and-center, and that gets realized in some really fun ways, as does the homoerotic tension/flirting between Galen and Qown. The sapphic love between Talea and Xivan gets a story worthy of their history together; Sheloran gets to talk more about her love for other women wherever and whenever the mood takes her, without being slut-shamed for it; Senera and Thurvishar are given space to explore their asexual dynamic as friends and colleagues with feelings; and there are so many other casual references to changing gender, stepping outside gender roles, and loving across gender lines that it's honestly hard to keep track.

Getting back to the story, although there's not a lot of 'new' plot developments here, there are more revelations, expositions, and elaborations than any book has a right to, putting so much of the existing story into new context, with new significance. Once I accepted that Shadrag Gor was the story, and not just a prelude or a stepping stone to a next part of the book, I stopped chafing at what I initially felt was the repetitiveness and instead embraced that deeper understanding. It took some time for me to get there, and I paused around the one-third mark, not sure if/when I'd get back to it, but the last two-thirds absolutely flew by. The climax, where everybody came together in a sort of heroic/heist adventure was the most fun I've had on the page in ages, and I'm so ready for The Discord of Gods to drop next!

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ 

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.