I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
I was really eager to read “Crimson Bound” after having read Rosamund Hodge’s “Cruel Beauty” and “Guided Ashes.” There were a number of things in those books that made them really stand out: characters you didn’t expect to empathize with but did (and vice versa), challenges brought on by the unanticipated consequences of deals made with an clever spirit, a tightness to the stories that kept the action moving and a certain kind of intimacy afforded by the use of fairly small casts. And while much of that was present in “Crimson Bound,” it didn’t seem to fare as well this time.
One thing I was surprised to find is that this book does not take place in the “Cruel Beauty” universe in spite of the similarity in the titles and the book cover designs. Instead, “Crimson Bound” takes place in an alternate version of middle-ages France. In this world there exists a Great Forest which seems to exist in a slightly different dimension. It was a concept that in someways I found a bit difficult to grasp because the rules by which it worked seemed unclear. Apparently, if you go far enough into the woods, you may find yourself in this magical Forest, and creatures from the Forest can cross into the real world and interact with humans at any time. There are also areas of the Forest that reach into the areas humans inhabit, but only those who have been Bloodbound or Forestborn can actually see it there. The Bloodbound are people who were marked by one of the Forestborn, after which the must kill someone within 3 days or die. If they do kill someone and become Bloodbound, they will have increased strength, speed, stamina and healing, and will find themselves being pulled to give themselves over completely to the Great Forest. One they do that, they become Forestborn themselves, in essence losing their humanity and becoming wild humanesque creatures.
When we meet Rachelle, our heroine, she is training with her aunt to be her village’s next woodwife – a wise-woman who can make medicines and is able to work charms that help protect the people of the village from the dangers of the Great Forest. When we jump ahead a few years, we find Rachelle has become one of the Bloodbound and has entered the King’s service which protects her from being killed by fearful townsfolk. She seems to have an on-again/off-again thing going with Eric, her superior officer, and is assigned to be the bodyguard to the King’s bastard soon, Armand, who was marked by a Forestborn, but neither killed anyone nor died. As a result, he is viewed by many villagers as something of a saint or miracle-worker. Rachelle has also learned that the Devourer – an evil creature most consider to be a myth – will be returning soon to swallow the sun and moon, plunging the world into darkness, unless someone can find one of the only two swords in the world that can kill it. Of coerce, Rachelle is determined to be that someone.
This is a much more complex story than Hodge’s previous books, and sometimes it almost feels like there’s too much going on. The biggest problem I had, though, was with Rachelle. She is deeply burdened by guilt and lets that guilt determine how she thinks others see her, often leading her to see genuine fondness from someone as mockery and dismissing kind words and actions because she feels unworthy. Unfortunately, this causes her to sometimes trust the wrong people – or worse, mistrust those she should rely on. Her tendency to wallow in her self-disgust also keeps her from noticing things about people around her that – once revealed – are things you’d expect her to have at least suspected, if not intuited, much sooner. And even though she’s a strong, determined young woman who can more than hold her own in a fight, she frequently seems unable to make up her mind or stick to a decision once she’s made it. This leads to a number of scenes feeling repetitive. Had Hodge made her less wishy-washy, much of the apparent repetition could have been avoided and the story would have been much tighter.
In spite of the complaints, however, the book’s not all that bad. While reading the book, it was only the repetitive nature of some of the scenes that I found irritating. The rest of the issues really only surfaced when I was reflecting on it after having finished it. And she did add some interesting touches that I really liked – in particular how she wove the Norse legends of Tyr and Zisa and the Fenris wolf with the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tail. The Fenris wolf in Nordic lore is a very big, very bad wolf, indeed, and having him symbolically represented here by the Devourer is a nifty way to tie the two stories together. We learn about Tyr and Zisa as there story is sprinkled between events in Rachelle’s life, and it all dovetails very nicely into a good conclusion.
I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the book. What it does well it does quite well, and I had no trouble finishing it. In many ways, though, it feels a bit like how someone’s first book might – bursting with ideas that might have worked more smoothly with a bit more restraint. Still, it’s worth reading, and I’m looking forward to what Ms Hodge comes up with next.