Monday, March 16, 2015

Book Review: Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

"Do you think that doing the right thing will always be pretty?"

I really loved Rosamund Hodge's first book Cruel Beauty (my review here). I was not sure how she could possibly match it, especially with a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood which is a fairy tale I've never cared for much.

I am happy to say that Crimson Bound is a compelling story just as fresh, just as exhilarating, just as complex, just as stay-up-til-midnight-reading-as-fast-as-possible engrossing. While being completely original and different.

Here's the official description:
An exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, from the author of Cruel Beauty.

When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless—straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in a vain effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Together, they navigate the opulent world of the courtly elite, where beauty and power reign and no one can be trusted. And as the two become unexpected allies, they discover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic . . . and a love that may be their undoing. Within a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?
I saw a reviewer wondering where Little Red Riding Hood was in all this. I really had to stop and think about it. There is an innocent, naive girl. There is a big, bad wolf. There is a cottage in the woods with a beloved, elderly relative. The fact that I had to stop and think about it to locate these elements tells you that the original fairy tale is merely a springboard for Hodge's creativity.

Crimson Bound also echoes of sparkling courts in medieval France and of darker places where an unseen Devourer and its living, breathing Forest are barely held at bay from transmuting and destroying all normal life. It is a delightfully formed world which felt very natural and real.

This is the background against which Hodge weaves an absorbing tale featuring wonderfully complex heroes and villains, none of whom are ever allowed to be entirely evil or entirely pure. Their actions are driven by reasons rooted in their lives, their histories. This allows the story to raise questions which may haunt the reader afterward about loyalty, choices, friendship, love, guilt, and sacrifice. Interestingly, this world has a religion which has very strong echoes of Catholicism. The perceptions and reality of religion in such a setting become a story element that again add depth.

There is, of course, romance and since this is a YA book it is kept fairly pure though I can think of a few things that would make me give this to older teens rather than younger. Those "iffy" elements are conveyed largely through inference and distanced language. That also applied to the violence, of which there is a fair amount because there is a lot of swordplay in this book which tends to be described more thoroughly although not with unnecessary emphasis on gore.

I'm not sure how Rosamund Hodges writes books that are so layered, yet also so enchanting they swirl around in my head for days afterward, making me collar other book readers so I can tell them to read it. All I can think is how lucky I am to be around while these books are coming out and all I can say is, "More please!"

This book comes out on May 15. As soon as I finished reading the uncorrected galley proof, I went to Amazon and pre-ordered the final version. I highly recommend you pre-order one too. You need to start reading this as soon as possible!

(I read a review book. I also gave my own opinion and no one else's.)

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