Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Retellings, YA
Publication date: May 5, 2015
by Balzer & Bray
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?
-A copy was provided by Balzer + Bray for review-
Now I see why people love this author.
Truth be told, when I read Cruel Beauty not too long ago, I remember being very frustrated with it. Yes, the prose flowed exceptionally well; yes, the characters were complex; yes, the world-building was fascinating and all that, but I just couldn’t find myself liking it completely. It was a fantasy that read too much like a romance (although it can be debated that it’s romance first in a fantasy setting…), and I remember being overwhelmed with the talks of love and kisses. I don’t like it when a love between two people is shoved in my face; rather, I want it to be subtle and in the background and happening naturally.
Because of that experience, I was wary of starting Crimson Bound, as I feared being overwhelmed once more. Obviously, as you can see, I gave in and tried it last night, and just finished it 5 minutes ago.
And all I can say is: this book is way better than Cruel Beauty.
I mean, if you value her Fussiness’ opinion, of course (I am too nitpicky for my own good).
First of all, the setting. As you all know, Hodge’s writing is really good – she has a way of weaving words that really immerses you. Yeah, you’re reading it, but for some reason, the way it’s written makes it easier to visualize the place in your mind. She made the place so surreal, so realistic, and so fantastic at the same time, if that makes any sense. I really felt like I was in a medieval time in a distant region in France à la Beauty and the Beast, just with a living, breathing forest breathing down the people’s necks. The cities, the towns, the peasants and the noblitity, to the castles and their descriptions… they were amazing. It also helped a lot (and made the Francophile in me terribly overjoyed) that the book had a lot of French names: Palais du Soleil, Château de la lune, Lévée, among other things.
Bottomline: her writing is fucking good. I mean, yes, it still read like a romance sometimes, because the narration and everything felt dreamy and delicate, as if I was walking on a cloud of soft cotton candy…
…But what made it even better was the heroine. The overall writing gave the book a really divine and heavenly flavor, but Rachelle Brinon, our young heroine who serves as the King’s Bloodbound (akin to his personal Champion in Throne of Glass terms), gave it a gritty edge that would pull you back to reality: if she doesn’t find the mythical weapons that can defeat the Devourer, the world will end in absolute darkness. Heavenly and brutal at the same time, the Hodge way.
So let’s talk about Rachelle. She was raised to be a woodwife in a remote village, sewing charms that would keep the Devourer and the nightmares of the forest at bay, until she dared to face a Forestborn to prove that she can, only to eventually pay the ultimate price. Usually, I am able to classify heroines into these categories: the reckless, the average, the practical, and the self-loathing kind.
The last one is what I hate the most with a blinding passion, because the self-pity bullshit rarely works with me, and Rachelle was that, but interestingly, it didn’t annoy me as much. You want to know why? Because Rachelle was a complex character. She hated what she had become, and she thought she didn’t deserve to live, and that it had been better if she had died, but despite thinking those, she accepted who she was with a grim defeat and wanted to live anyway, and so she tried using her newfound nature to solve a problem everyone else was too afraid to admit was actually happening. She had her dark moments, which she acknowledged, but despite being filled with this, she recognized she had other things to live for, and gave her best for that. She didn’t lie about who she was and what she was fighting for and shrugged off sideway glances even if they did bother her. And for me, that just made her such a relatable and real character.
And you know what’s even better? The fact that other characters are just as important and just as complex. They are not black-and-white caricatures of people we often see rehashed in many other YA novels. They have a reason why they do what they do, and have a reason why they say what they say however twisted they may be.
That’s why the “love triangle” here didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. When we see a love triangle, usually the first thing that comes to our mind is that there were no other ways to create a relationship conflict so a useless second dude was thrown in, but it wasn’t the case here. Since all the characters were complex and had deep background stories that are deeply rooted in the plot, the “LT” – if you can even call it that because it was anything but a traditional love triangle – just seemed a part of the story in a whole and not an individual drama on its own.
I hope I make sense.
Plus, Love Interest #1 was like a Eugene Flynnrider double the mischievousness, and Love Interest #2 was like another Eugene Flynnrider but more quiet, reserved, and thoughtful. DOESN’T THAT SOUND INTERESTING TO YOU?!?!?!
Bottomline: characters are awesome, the plot is awesome, the MC is awesome, so no worries there.
If there’s something that I didn’t like, however, it’s the fact that whenever romance was put in, especially in the early parts, it felt kinda forced. I was 23% into it when a lot of “kissing” talks happened, and I may have raged with my friends for a while, because they seemed so out of place and too early for that. But otherwise, everything else was really good.
This book may even be considered philosophical, in many ways. This is what happens when characters are explored to their fullest potentials and have their histories interweaved with the plot: they end up asking deep questions that prompt us readers to ask ourselves as well. Not only did this book keep me on my toes, it also made me stop for a while and ponder about life in general.
When a book pushes you to do that, you know it has done its job successfully.
All in all: WHAT A GREAT BOOK THIS BOOK.