Red like roses fills my dreams and brings me to the place you rest...
If there's one thing that sums up the tone of this book, it's the original "Red" trailer for Rooster Teeth's webseries RWBY. There is, in fact, very little in common between the plot of RWBY and that of Crimson Bound; the similarities can basically be boiled down to "young woman in red coat kills monsters," though Ruby uses a scythe/shotgun and Rachelle uses a sword. But there's such atmosphere in that trailer, and it is that which is evoked in the pages of Crimson Bound.
I read Rosamund Hodge's other fairy tale book, Cruel Beauty, earlier this year and while it felt magical, I didn't really like the ending, feeling it was messy. Crimson Bound does not have that issue, and was beautiful all throughout. The story is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, a rarely-used retelling unless someone's going with the "Red and the werewolf fall in love" angle, which has its perks, but this didn't go that way and it was refreshing. The main character in this France-inspired fantasy realm is Rachelle, who was supposed to serve as a woodwife following in her aunt's footsteps, guarding her village against misfortune and the evils of the Great Forest, a mystical wood on a separate plane that overlies Rachelle's world and encroaches upon it. However, Rachelle is claimed by a forestborn, marked with a black star that means she must kill within three days or die herself. She kills her aunt and flees her village, ending up as a bloodbound in the service the king, hunting down the creatures that appear from the Great Forest to hunt humans. All the while, she dreads the return of the Devourer, a being that kept the world in darkness until a human woman stole the sun and moon from his belly and bound him with a mysterious sword that has since been lost. Wanting to save the world as a sort of redemption, Rachelle dreams of finding one of the two swords that could defeat the Devourer again.
I think fans of Uprooted or Hunted would really like this; they all have a similar feel to them, especially with the whole "magical and menacing forest" dynamic. The love interest here was unusual, and not who I thought it would end up being; I originally thought Hodge would try to pair Rachelle off with Erec, the captain of the king's bloodbound who Rachelle calls her best friend. Ultimately, this did not happen, and that's a good thing. Rachelle is a fascinating character. She has both an urge to die and a will to live; she plans on going to Hell even as she dreams of saving the world; she wants to be beautiful and in love despite being afraid of what lurks inside her and the monster she might become. There's a definite religious aspect here, but it wasn't preachy; it was more in the search of redemption and balance, though there was definitely an aspect of denial of reality here as well. It played wonderfully with the rest of the book. The supporting characters were wonderful, the playing out of the plot in parallel with the Red Riding Hood story and the myth of the Devourer was spot-on, and the slow building of dark menace overlaying the decadent setting of a Versailles-inspired court was beautiful.
Ultimately, the climax was here was wonderful, with all of the right elements being pulled together and unspooling in just the right way. Rachelle chooses the path of needles, not the path of pins, and it shows--she struggles, and she fails, and she backslides, and she does petty things, but she perseveres and ultimately comes out better for it in the end, as does the world. It's a striking story, in characters, world, and plot, and I am so glad to have read it.
5 stars out of 5.