Not great, but it's still an improvement over the last few releases...
Which, despite being the lowest bar ever set, still makes this the best thing SJM has released in years. Seriously, the last time I wasn't actively disappointed by an SJM release since 216 with A Court of Wings & Ruin, way back in 2016.... And even then, I wasn't angry at it, but I also wasn't terribly pleased with it.
House of Sky & Breath is very much a relief, because I'm not actively angry, but it's also still kind of disappointing because even though I'm not offended there's not a lot to like.
Now, despite the fact that my over all read is that I didn't like it much at all, there are some good points. The sex wasn't super creepy, for one! (I mean, it was still largely inappropriate and awkwardly squicky, but it wasn't actively glossing over the whole concept of rape... Consent was proactively acquired and reaffirmed throughout). The actual language of the narration was lovely, nothing truly lyrical, but lovely. And the banter was nifty enough to keep the conversations feeling mildly entertaining.
The most glaring issue with it is that it's too fricken long. It does not need to be 800 pages. Is should not bee 800 pages. First off, the only real reason that it's 800 pages is that there's filler sub-stories about side characters that are followed with absurd detail. And even then, most of those sub-stories shouldn't have even been included in this installment, period. Following Tharion and Ithan and Ruhn, as an interwoven trio of stories, should have been it's own novel, one that might interact with the plot of this one, but can be read separately. In fact, that might actually have made both pieces a lot more interesting and intensely mysterious.
Speaking of a lack of variation: there's still ZERO diversity. Like you can call a group of people whatever you want, give them all kinds of different powers and theoretical inter-group rivalries and grudges, but unless you make something about the sects culturally unique, it's not diversity. There's only two body types mentioned for female characters (supermodel / action-hero and pixie-lithe ballerina), and only one for guys (supermodel / action-hero). Nobody's fat. Nobody's short. Nobody's pale enough to have freckles instead of a Cali-perfect suntan, nor dark enough to use any word but 'bronze' to describe their flawless skin tones. Hell, nobody is even the smidge of not utterly pristine biological perfect that is needing glasses with corrective lenses.
There's a mostly-off-camera solitary gay couple, and a surprise-for-the-shock-value lesbian couple that makes like a 30 second appearance, in flagrante, and there's one mention of a vegetarian being slightly uncomfortable with the vague concept of meat.... and that's it... Seriously, there's not a single, genuine ideological difference between any of the factions that are supposedly diametrically opposed and have been hated enemies for centuries.
Still on the lack of diversity factor: EVERYBODY'S ROYAL. When ALL your characters are politically significant of more or less equals in technical political standing, basically it means that none of them are facing power-imbalance dynamics that could make being Royal or whatnot interesting. It's special snowflake syndrome, but with political titles.
Also, none of the characters change they take a few, teeny tiny baby steps towards dealing with specific traumas and such, but no one actually changes through the narrative, they reveal that they'd been changed by the magic of insta-love, but none of them actually, visible evolve in any notable manner. And Bryce is an idiot about throwing her royal title around like it's Harley Quinn's hammer and is appalled when no one else is surprised that her continuous stupid choices led to horrible consequences.
It's just boring.
And beyond that, the bore-factor is ramped up by the utter lack of stakes.
There's a period of interest, when we're caught up in looking for a lost, potentially super-powerful kid. But that plot-line gets buried under the layers of other-people-with-awkward-engagements sandwich and it resolves pretty quickly (all told, that plotline probably takes like 300 pages, max, to run from start to finish). The rest of it is a search for a vague secret, a secret that no one involved even manages to care about without outside agents acting full-on deus ex machina to prompt investigation. There's even a moment with Bryce addresses the lack of Endgame, but it settles with a deeply unsatisfying conclusion of 'search for truth, for sake of truth'.
And the secrets that get 'revealed' are painfully dull. I seriously didn't realize that the 'secrets' had been revealed when I read them. I honestly thought it was a bit of framing as a reminder for the current status quo that could he altered in a paradigm shift of wow, that's unexpected and dramatic... and instead we just got, yeah, that's the status quo as it currently exists... No life-altering hidden truth. Just the curtain coming back on the obvious machinations of the current world, most of which could be guessed at by even a half-savvy reader with a few poli-sci or electrical engineering podcasts under their belt. I did like the lure bit of the secret reveal, but it's like showing up to a birthday party for the cake and just being given a particularly neatly shaped bit of a flower made of icing.
Beyond all that? The whole army from hell thing? And the super-badass female who doesn't want the responsibility of rule but somehow earns the devotions of an abused super-powerful, military famous and respected male? With a cabal of super gorgeous, super powerful, politically significant friends? With a random bad-ass maybe-dragon?
WE HAVE SEEN THIS STORY BEFORE.... AND I'M GETTING BORED WITH IT.
Fortunately, there's nothing in this that I'm actively angry about (though, I'll admit, my threshold for what counts as angry is way higher for this author's work than for that of any other, so I probably should be angry about some things, but I'm sticking to my guns and letting it go unless it's actively harmful to real people (like the vile nonsense of A Court of Silver Flames).
(Okay, that's a lie. I AM actively angry about the way Male and Female are the exclusive references to both gender presentation and biological sex. Like my Trans and Fluid friends are still people, yo.... And no one should simply BE their gender or their biology, personhood is significant without a shred of reproductive potential... But I've decided to pick battles I feel actively endanger safety and while casual erasure is damaging on some level, the mishandling of PTSD in Silver Flames WILL cause some dumbass reader to trigger some unfortunate soul into self-harm, possibly suicide).
I do NOT recommend it.
I WILL actively warn my clients against it.
And I CANNOT whip up any BS about it as a decent showing that I can ignore while reserving judgement on the whole series.
This series is crap. End of story.
It's sloppy and insulting and pathetic; and it treats the reader like a pitiable, ignorant, idiotic little child.
I will probably read the 3rd one, when it eventually comes out, simply because I can't reasonably hate on a book I haven't read and still look like a genuine authority, but I likely won't make it a priority read.