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.
FTC Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Rosamund Hodge impressed my with her debut novel “Cruel Beauty.” It was a dark, intriguing take on one of my favorite tales with a complex, “unlikable” protagonist, a mysterious love interest and magnetic attraction.
There are a lot of similarities between “Cruel Beauty” and “Crimson Bound.” (Sidenote: whoa, I just noticed that the first letters in the words of the titles are the same.) Their strengths and weaknesses are different, but they are both, ultimately, great retellings.
Dark, dangerous and absolutely enchanting
The biggest similarity between “Crimson Bound” and “Cruel Beauty” is the sense of eminent danger that lurks in the pages, the constantly-looking-over-your-shoulder feeling that keeps you wide-eyed and quick-pulsed as you race through the pages. “Crimson Bound” is just as dark — if not darker — than “Cruel Beauty.”
Much of it takes place in yet another castle, much different from Ignifex’s but filled with just as many secrets. The story takes place in a kingdom based on France under the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, the salons, parties and use of French words giving the setting a distinctly historical feel. However, unlike the Château de Versailles, lurking around this palace is a forest filled with forestborn, malevolent creatures who lure and trick people to mark them. And once you’ve been marked, you have two choices: die of kill someone and a bloodbound. The people live in fear of the forestborn as the forest comes closer each day and the Devourer waits to come back.
“In the darkest shadows of the wood stands a house. The walls are caulked with blood. The roof is thatched with bones. Within that bloody house lived Old Mother Hunger, the first and eldest of all forestborn.”
I love the way Rosamund Hodge writes. Her words slowly and smoothly unravel, building tension with every sentence. She uses modern English, like any other YA author, but there’s something that feels distinctly ancient, like a dusty, leather-bound book of fairy tales unearthed for the first time in decades.
The epigraph gives me shivers:
“This story begins with endless night and infinite forest; with two orphaned children, and two swords made of broken bone.
It has not ended yet.”
However, despite the captivating writing and plot, I can’t help feeling a but misled by “Crimson Bound.” I started reading fully expecting a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood.” What I got was an almost indiscernible interpretation of elements from the tale. I kept waiting for the wolf and the woodsman, neither of whom ever came.
Rachelle, the repentant sinner
Rachelle, like Nyx, fits under the “unlikable” female protagonist umbrella — in the best way possible. She’s bitter and hateful and self-deprecating. She has blood on her hands and the mark of a forestborn on her throat. She thinks of herself as a selfish monster who deserves the worst because she was so afraid of dying.
“Every day for the last three years, she had thought she deserved to die. She still didn’t want to. She wanted to live with every filthy, desperate scrap of her heart.”
I felt a pang in my chest every time Rachelle said that she was a monster who deserved hell. I knew that Rachelle was worth more than she thought she was, especially when I saw her interact with Amélie, a sweet girl whose life she saved and had befriended. I wanted her to see herself as human.
The romance was the one element of the book that really did not work for me, which is unfortunate because a good romance is one of the most important elements I look for in YA books.
The first love interest we’re introduced to is Erec, Rachelle’s fellow bloodbound and member of the Royal Order of Penitants, the bloodbounds who serve the king. Erec has “bad news” written all over him. I’m talking flashing neon lights that read, “Danger! Do not trust as far as you can throw an elephant.” He’s definitely an intriguing, complex character, but he also gave me the creeps.
The second love interest is Armand Vareilles, one of the king’s many illegitimate children. Like Rachelle and Erec, Armand was marked by a forestborn, losing both of his hands in the process (he wears fake hands made of silver over his stumps). Unlike Rachelle and Erec, however, Armand escapes with his life without killing someone. The people of the kingdom revere him and call him a saint. Rachelle thinks he is nothing but a fraud. Unsurprisingly, she is not happy with being assigned to guard him.
I actually liked Armand, he’s an interesting character, clever and his morals aren’t skewed (unlike Erec’s). I wish that his character had been expanded more, with more focus on his personal growth and complexities — he was a bit flatter than most love interests — but my problem wasn’t with him. It was with this:
“She thought it was just the same curious peace she felt when Amélie did her makeup, because like then, the world had narrowed down to her and Armand and tiny scraps of sensation. Then her hands overshot the pattern, and she nearly jerked the yarn out of alignment.She caught herself, but her wrist brushed against his, and a tiny shiver went up her arm.
Their eyes met. Her face felt hot. Her hands, though gripping the yarn, felt empty.
She thought, This is not the way I feel about Erec.
She thought, I think I love him.
The words slid into her head between one breath and the next, and she couldn’t deny them any more than she could pretend she wasn’t breathing.
She loved Armand. It was a simple, absolute feeling, as if her heart had turned into a compass that pointed toward him. Suddenly it didn’t matter that she was dying, that she didn’t get to keep him, that she didn’t get to have him in the first place because he would never feel about her the same way.”
Just a couple of chapters ago, Rachelle was flirting with Erec and ridiculing Armand. Now, she’s in love. Fabulous. There were a few conversations between them that made her think, “Huh. Maybe he’s not that bad after all.” No deep heart to heart moment. No lead up. No sparks flying and slow-burn romance. It just kinda… happened. I was really annoyed that Rachelle, who’d been introduced as a strong, badass female protagonist with a quest to defeat the Devourer, was turned to mush because of a man *sigh*. And I really didn’t like it when Rachelle jumped back to Erec when she thought Armand had betrayed her love and trust.
“Crimson Bound” has a lot of the elements that made me love “Cruel Beauty” : dark tone, unique and detailed world-building, complex characters and a beautiful writing style that can only be described as magic. The plot strayed much further from the original tale than I had expected, which left a slightly dissatisfied feeling, but made up for it with uniqueness and depth.
The romance — a bit of a dealbreaker for me — just didn’t work. I usually don’t have a problem with love triangles, but I really don’t like Erec and the way Rachelle jumps into his arms even though she stated that she never loved him, especially since she’s so in love with Armand. I also thought that Armand could’ve used more development and that his relationship with Rachelle lacked the chemistry and slow burn that I desired.