Review: CRIMSON BOUND by Rosamund Hodge

Title: Crimson Bound
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Format: eARC, via Edelweiss 
Pages: 448
Publisher: Balzar and Bray
Publication Date: May 5th 2015
Genre: YA, fantasy
Read this if you liked: Cruel Beauty, Graceling, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Throne of Glass, Seraphina
Rating: 4.5/5



Synopsis:


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 an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

Inspired by the classic fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, Crimson Bound is an exhilarating tale of darkness, love, and redemption.


(I received a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review. Thank you B&B!)
Here's the thing. I am an absolute sucker for a retelling, a genre change-up, a genderbend. Anything that does a story as old as the hills differently. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't but I will ALWAYS give them a try. Generally, the retellings I've read (or watched) over the last few years have been very good. I don't know how I never got to reading Cruel Beauty (also by Hodge) - a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but the gorgeous cover and premise of Crimson Bound - a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood - really pulled me in. And I was not disappointed.

Let me first say that if you haven't read Cruel Beauty, don't worry. The events of this book do not take place in the same universe and not even part of a series as I first thought, so it doesn't matter which you get your hands on first. 

Where can I even start with this review? I've had a week to sort out my thoughts and I'm still in I LOVE THIS BOOK stage. It gave me a major book hangover and reminded me why I love fantasy as well. It's been a long time since I read a book that genuinely caught me out with its twists and turns; I lost count of the amount of times that I shrieked in surprise. I love a book that keeps me guessing and Crimson Bound does that.

I think the key is Hodge's characters. None of them are clear cut villains or heroes - they're real people with real fears and real desires. Rachelle is a great leading lady, because she's strong - both in a physical sense and in her sense of purpose and determination. My concern with a character like Rachelle is that they'll have a 'woe is me, I'm a monster' attitude and while her damnation is something Rachelle is acutely aware of, she doesn't waste time on actually feeling sorry about it. She's got more pressing things to worry about it. In truth, her actions to stop Endless Night from taking over are sort of selfish - she's not inherently a hero, just someone looking to absolve herself for the stupid mistakes she's made.

Yes, this novel does have a love triangle, but it's never the main focus. Besides that, both of guys are so complex, that it's never clear cut which guy to root for, which I feel always makes for a good love triangle. There's nothing worse than feeling like an author just tossed a guy in for the sake of conflict. Both Erec and Armand are definitely not there to fill page space and the things Hodge does with them is very, very interesting. It's hard to pick a favourite, but I would probably go with Erec. His development surprised me the most, and I'm a sucker for a really charming, know-it-all in a story. However, I really liked Armand and his silver hands; it was great to see a character with a disability still presented as thoroughly able and clever.

I know some reviewers found issue with pacing and there are some dips in pace, particularly in the beginning half of the book. In the later half, it picks up speed and shows no sign of stop. I read through the second half in a day, whereas the first half took me longer. I will say that Rachelle's feelings for one of the characters did come on rather quickly, especially when, only chapters before she'd declared that she hated him. I didn't buy into the realisation she was 'in love' with him at that point - certainly later but not in that moment. Overall, however, Hodge's writing style won me over; she has a beautiful style and it really gripped me. I found myself highlighting bits as I read and noting them down - not something I do often!

World building wise, this book is damn near perfect. I loved the descriptions of the setting the characters occupied and it was cool to see a fantasy book that tried to place itself in an actual time, if not in our actual world. I particularly liked the parallels between the original story of Red Riding Hood and Crimson Bound - the twist of the 'wolf' being a species of Forestborn serving the Devourer was a really clever touch. It's a much darker tale, in content, tone and theme, but I think Hodge took the familiar essence of the original story - impending danger, of straying from what you know to be right and the consequences of your actions - and brought them to the table in a new and interesting way.

Overall, I can't wait to read what Hodge writes in future, especially if she continues to give a magic touch to the old classics.