Rose Hodge’s “Crimson Bound” was an absolute must for me after I finished her “Cruel Beauty” novel earlier in the year. I was not disappointed with her second novel, and I was very pleased that the “payoff” of the novel was quite different from “Cruel Beauty”, in which I appreciated the T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis references, and the very satisfying story which I already knew, although I didn’t know *this version*. While “Crimson Bound” purports to be a retelling of the Red Riding Hood tale, it does so in a way that is not obvious, and folds many layers into the tale. (To my mind, this is good, because when I hear “Little Red Riding Hood”, I don’t exactly jump and go “YESSSS!”)
While the elements of the Red Riding Hood story are there, it’s nothing like the tale we know from our childhood. An innocent girl goes into the woods, meets danger, there is devouring, etc. But it also has elements of other fairy tales (the Girl with No Hands), and elements of very effective horror, as well as romance and lots of fighting, with some gore. Frankly, it’s exactly what I wanted when I tried to pick up Gail Carriger’s (utterly atrocious) novels. As other reviewers have discussed the plot, I’d like to mention … everything else.
Everyone mentions the world-building she does in the novel, and indeed it is noteworthy. Too many fantasy novels seem to be either a re-hashing of Tolkein, or full of so many superlatives it’s difficult to keep track of what level of awesome we’re surpassing now. Rose, on the other hand, builds a complex world-within-a-world, as she also weaves a story-within-her-story. There was a bit of a learning curve (as I found with “Cruel Beauty” as well), but once I was able to keep track of forestborn/blood-bound and a few other things, I was able to pick up the pace, to say nothing of when the story itself began to pick up.
I adore the way religion is used in this novel. A few reviewers mentioned being confused by the religion – no doubt it’s because, as a Catholic, I recognize many of the more obscure concepts and references. For example, the Dayspring is clearly a Christ-figure, whose title is drawn from the O antiphons, which one would recognize from the many verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. One of these is “O Come Thou Dayspring from on High”. I was also fascinated how the description of the bloodbound slowly becoming a forestborn by becoming more and more like the Devourer was very much an inversion on Augustine’s description on how consuming the Eucharist makes the believer more like Christ. There were many deeply Catholic elements that I very much appreciated, without the book being too predictable. In fact, I was a little surprised at the skepticism of religion and belief in general that was presented at first. Certainly it never at any point felt like preaching.
The French(ish) setting was also just gorgeous. Lavishness of decoration and description and courts that harkened back to Marie Antoinette (especially the salon) etc I found very pleasing.
I haven’t seen much like the friendship between Rachelle and Amélie, and the importance it held for Rachelle. I understood instinctually and exactly what she was talking about in every facet of that relationship, and how Amélie’s painting of her face was a special kind of intimacy (I use the word in the non-romantic sense), but was so necessary for Rachelle as a *human* and as a person, a part of her that couldn’t have been filled up by either Erec or Armand. It struck me as quite a beautiful little detail.
There were only minor things I didn’t love, some of which I give a pass because it’s YA fiction — the “bad boy” of Erec (who, although he doesn’t fall 100% along the lines of the typical character, was that way most of the time, anyway). Some of the prose was a bit repetitive in places (“but she was a bloodbound, and being a bloodbound meant ________” etc). And while there was a lot that needed to happen at the end, I felt like some bits were a bit too short and others were drawn-out. I was also a little unsure of the urgency of the timeline, as the forest had been manifesting since the beginning of the book, so for a reader it sort of felt … normal, rather than the shocking occurrence it was supposed to be. And one or two times when the forest manifested, it also didn’t feel like as big a deal as it ought to have been.
Notwithstanding these MINOR criticisms, I highly recommend this book for the originality of the world, the pacing of the plot overall, the lyrical quality of the prose, and the complexity of most of the characters.
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