Books

Crimson Bound: A Dark Fantasy Romance for Young Adults

Book Review (with spoilers):

Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Overview

Pros

  • Decent representation of a character with a disability
  • Moderately successful at worldbuilding
  • Dark, complex heroine
  • Lots of twists
  • Pretty good writing

Cons

  • Used fairy tale references that created certain expectations and then failed to deliver
  • Weird love triangle between polar opposites, one of which is completely unsavory

Warning! Minor spoilers ahead!*

*Does not spoil the ending and the major twists.

Review

Let me start out by saying that there is no reason to call this a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It just isn’t. Rachelle, the main character, wears a red hood, but that is where the similarities stop. There is no big bad wolf, no helpless grandmother. It’s just Rachelle and her bad decisions. This is as much a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood as the anime RWBY is.

This is also supposed to be loosely based on The Girl Without Hands, a lesser-known tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. I do see the connection here, because there is a man/love interest whose hands were chopped off and who wears silver hands.

Rachelle is in training to become a woodwife. The woodwife’s purpose is “to weave the charms that protect the village” and “remember the ancient lore.”

Only she’s still young and is prone to bad decision-making. A forestborn, which worships the evil Devourer (a dangerous god) coaxes her from the path and marks her with a curse. She has a short time allotted to kill someone before she will die. She kills her beloved aunt in her second bad decision of the novel. Or at least a morally bad decision, if not perhaps logically bad, but it is one that haunts her.

She becomes something that is not quite human, a cursed creature, a bloodbound. Wanting to serve her kingdom, she enlists as one of the king’s hunters, saving the people from monsters such as wood spawn.

Her aunt told her once that in life, you could take “the path of needles or the path of pins.” This advice was inspired by the actions one could take if a dress tore. You could either pin it up, a temporary but quick fix, or take the time to sew it together. I love this adage and I believe it becomes Rachelle’s life philosophy. She’s not looking for the easy way out. She wants to prevent the Devourer’s return and kill it if possible, and will go to any means necessary to find the sword capable of doing so.

The adage appears to have been taken from a variation of the Little Red Riding Hood story. In it, the girl is asked by the wolf if she will take the path of needles or the path of pins, and the girl chooses the path of needles, like Rachelle always does.

Rachelle wanted to sew the world back to safety, if she must use her own bones for needles.”

Rachelle is ordered by the king to guard his bastard son, Armand, whom the people of the kingdom believe is a saint. He claims to have been cursed like Rachelle and refused to kill to survive, which led to the loss of his hands. Rachelle frankly hates his guts. If he is lying, than he is creating an unreasonable expectation for bloodbound like Rachelle not to do what they had to survive. If he is telling the truth, than Rachelle did not have to kill her beloved aunt.

The story ends up giving us an odd love triangle between one of the king’s other bloodbound hunters–Erec, Armand, and Rachelle. Armand and Rachelle are great enemies-to-lovers.

It is worth noting that Armand does not fit the stereotypical YA romance dude mold. He has stumps for hands and is rather plain looking. Some diversity for once is nice. It is also worth mentioning that Armand’s lack of hands is not something Rachelle finds unattractive or that she must get used to. I feel like there was so many ways like that, that the story could have been written wrong and cringey, and Hodge didn’t make any of those poor writing decisions. Initial shock at seeing Armand without the silver hands is all that Rachelle ever feels about them, and it moves on. It’s just not an issue, thank god. Some disability rep without making it a sob story, pity party, or ableist crap.

Erec is a piece of work. He’s brash, arrogant, obnoxious. Just ugh! Not a good dude for Rachelle to like, but hey, whatever. I don’t know why there even needed to be a triangle here. I think love triangles can be done well, but this one was not.

To be fair, romance is not my typical genre of choice, so you might enjoy the drama the love triangle offered in this book, but I found that it was more like a third-wheel-kind-of-situation.

My other complaint for this book is that it was confusing at times, especially with the mythology behind Zisa and Tyr. I noticed that several people also complained that Hodge used a lot of names from fairy tales and myths, which created certain reasonable expectations, and then flaunted them. It did not do the source material justice. Plus, as I said before, it cannot really be called a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale.

In conclusion, I would recommend this book mainly to those who appreciate YA romance and either don’t mind or enjoy the enemies-to-lovers and love triangle tropes. If you want a light-hearted fantasy, look elsewhere. This one is pretty dark.

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