Tuesday 20 September 2016

#CBR8 Book 104: "Crimson Bound" by Rosamund Hodge - double Cannonball!

Page count: 448 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

From Goodreads, because I'm lazy and it's mostly a pretty good summary (I will point out the ways in which is it not afterwards):

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.

Rachelle lives in a world where there are evil things lurking in the Forest and they believe that three thousand years ago, an evil entity known as the Devourer, god of the forestborn, swallowed the sun and the moon. A brave pair of siblings, known as Zisa and Tyr managed to recover the sun and the moon, and bind the Devourer in sleep for millennia. But soon, Rachelle's aunt, the village wood-wife (wise women trained to protect people against the evil of the forestborn) announces, the Devourer will awaken, to swallow the sun and moon once more.

With the foolish impulsiveness of youth, Rachelle decides to try to figure out a way to subdue the Devourer once more, should he really return. She starts walking in the woods, attracting one of the dangerous servants of the dark forces. She keeps courting danger, until one day, he persuades her to remove her protective charms, and (naturally) attacks her. Once marked by a forestborn, an individual has only two choices. Kill someone before three days are up, or die. Rachelle fights the compulsion, but ends up killing her aunt. She does discover, from the sinister and seductive forestborn who marked her, that the only way to defeat the Devourer, is with Zisa's legendary bone swords, believed lost forever.

Three years later, Rachelle is living in the capital, and is one of the king's order of penitent bloodbound. She was marked by the Forest and killed to stay alive, but has not fully submitted to the call of the Forest and become fully forestborn yet. Instead, she spends every waking hour hunting down the wicked creatures that threaten innocent civilians. She has a semi-flirtatious relationship with Eric D'Anjou, the Captain of the King's bloodbound, but refuses to give into his attempts at seduction, refusing to become another notch on his belt.

After foiling an assassination attempt at the King's bastard son, Armand, she is ordered to be his bodyguard. As Rachelle has only just gotten word from the shadowy forestborn who changed her that the Devourer will be rising as soon as the next Solstice, she has only a few weeks to try to locate Joyeuse, one of the bone-swords the legendary Zisa used to free the sun and the moon. Stories say it is hidden "below the moon, above the sun". She certainly does not have time to baby-sit one of the King's many illegitimate sons, especially one who has been proclaimed a saint by the populace after he was allegedly marked by a forestborn, refused to kill, but still survived after three days. He did lose both his hands, and now has silver ones he wears instead. The blurb claims he is the man she hates the most, this is wildly exaggerated. She despises him, believes he is a liar and a fraud - as there is just no proven instance of anyone surviving three days after encountering a forestborn, unless they kill someone, like she did.

As the assassination attempt on Armand that Rachelle foiled is not the first, she is told to accompany him to one of the King's sumptuous country estates. Rachelle is persuaded to bring her fully human friend Amelie, who wants to basically be Rachelle's stylist, now that she has to appear at court functions. Armand tells Rachelle a legend from his region of the country, that makes her believe that the sword she is looking for, may in fact be hidden somewhere in the palace they will be staying. As it is impossible for her to be on guard duty and keep on searching, she reluctantly enlists Armand's help. She is still convinced he is lying about how he lost his hands, but the more she observes him, the more unlikely it seems that he wants any kind of glory or fame, and he is clearly deeply uncomfortable being venerated by the general populace.

The return of the Devourer draws ever closer. Rachelle and Armand are running out of time and the closer to the solstice they get, the more the sinister Forest seems to be encroaching on the royal residence, even though protective spells are supposed to be all over the grounds. Will Rachelle find the legendary sword and stop the Devourer, before it's too late?

What I liked:
- I absolutely adored the dark fairy tale told at the beginning of many of the chapters, relating the story of Zisa and Tyr. There were clearly elements of Hansel and Gretel, but with much darker undertones throughout, and there are clearly other folkloric tales mixed in there too. The horror that the siblings go through and what Zisa is willing to sacrifice to rescue her brother is lovely. Creepy and fantastic as all the best fairy tales are.
- The various folklore elements woven throughout the story. 
- The sinister creeping dread of the Forest, and the almost vampire-like forestborn. The bargain the marked have to make to continue living and the ever-present threat that they submit fully to the call of the Forest, and become fully inhumane.
- I liked Rachelle's complexity, even though I didn't always like her. She made an incredibly stupid mistake in her youth (some TSTL behaviour right there), but strove so hard to atone for it. Working to fight the threats from the Forest and saving innocents, even as she believed herself wholly damned.
- The sweet and genuine friendship between Rachelle and Amelie.
- I liked Armand as a character. His cut-off hands and his silver replacements (that burn him when the metal gets too hot) was suitably gruesome. I was also impressed when it was finally revealed what actually happened to him - the full extent was both cool and horrible.
- The concept of the wood-wives, local wise-women who could weave various charms to protect the populace against the creeping evil of the Forest. Zisa was apparently the first of the wood-wives and they pass down the knowledge through the generations.
- I mostly liked the decadent Renaissance French court setting.
- I liked the monsters Rachelle had to defeat, both in her everyday fight against the encroaching Forest and when looking for Joyeuse. 
- The plot wasn't entirely predictable (for all that some things were pretty obvious to me from early on). There were a lot of cool reveals along the way.

Did not like:
- Erec D'Anjou. He gave me the creeps from the moment he showed up. He was an arrogant creep and the way he treated Rachelle was condescending and appalling. The fact that he was presented as charming, handsome and a supposed third in the love triangle of the story was baffling to me. He was pond scum.
- Rachelle's initial aversion to Armand really did seem very extreme and was really never well explained.
- Nor was her sudden change of heart, where she pretty much out of the blue loves him. Not at all sure at what point her feelings changed from distrust, disdain and slight loathing to true love.
- Absolutely and utterly hated the whole love triangle.
- The structure of the story was a bit messy and the book could have been tighter plotted. The ending seemed a bit confused and rushed.
- The Little Red Riding Hood inspiration was tenuous, at best. 

This is Rosamund Hodge's second book, and from what I can see from various reviews, a lot of people don't think it's as good as her first book, Cruel Beauty. As there was a lot that I really liked about this book, I'm now even more excited that I have the supposedly better book still to read. As some reviews also say that the plots are a bit reminiscent of each other, I think I'm going to wait a bit, so the books don't suffer too much in comparison.

Judging a book by its cover: I've seen some people complaining that the cover of this book is too close to Rosamund Hodge's debut novel, Cruel Beauty, but I honestly don't see why this is problematic. The books are published by the same company, they probably wanted to make it more obvious the books were by the same author. The spiralling stair motif is a cool one (even though it has very little to do with anything in the actual book), whilst the black and white, with the bright green of the trees and the splash of red of Rachelle's cloak are lovely contrasts. The way the trees seem to be moving ever closer to the stairs is a nice call-back to the encroaching Forest in the book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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