August 05, 2010

Lord Help The Mister... (Review: Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce)

Sisters Red
Jackson Pearce
Hodder 2010

Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris-
the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She's determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.  Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts fiercely alongside her. Now Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves and finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax-- but loving him means betraying her sister and has the potential to destroy all they've worked for.  (Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)

Forget big innocent eyes and “what big teeth you've got...” and think more along the lines of Roald Dahl's Red and her “lovely, wolfskin coat...”, Sisters Red takes the story of Little Red Riding hood and turns it on its head, while still managing to stay true to its roots. Readers are plunged straight into the action, finding two little girls at the centre of an attack by a vicious Fenris – Scarlett and Rosie March are the sisters, and their lives are never the same.

The characterisation and character development in Sisters Red are impressive, with Scarlett quickly becoming one of the most challenging characters I've come across in ages. Indelibly marked both inside and out by her initial encounter with the Fenris, she is driven in her fight to save other women from a similar fate. So driven, in fact, that she doesn't realise that her little sister, Rosie, and caring partner-in-arms, Silas, may want for a life out with the chase and blood-letting that she surrounds them with. She is pretty embittered and not always easy to like – which makes her all the more real. While she often angered me, I never found her passages of the book anything less than riveting. Rosie is delightful as the younger sister coming of age. There is definitely more of the archetypal fairytale character in her glowing looks, happy demeanor and growing love for Silas – yet she is also tough, having trained from a young age with her domineering older sibling. It is impossible not to like Rosie and her joie de vive. She is that rare character who is determined to make the best of whatever situation she finds herself in and her care, compassion and love for a sister who is often hard to love is moving. Silas is also extremely well written – rather than a generic Hot Love Interest, he is just as interesting as either sister. Confusingly, the jacket blurb describes him as “mysterious and brooding” which could not be further from the case. He is, if anything, sunny natured – always trying to brighten the March sisters lives and also kind, calling the elder sister 'Lett, as if by removing the scar from her name might help remove the same from her body. His growing relationship with Rosie is absolutely believable – there is no rushed romance here, but a tentative beginning much as you might see in real life (if you take away the wolves, blood and hunting).

The story that these characters find themselves in is hugely thrilling. The author has taken the metaphors seen in the original fairytale and run with them – particularly that of the wolf as a sexual predator and Red Riding Hood as a naive innocent. Both Rosie and Scarlett wear red capes while hunting as red is the colour of lust and passion and cannot be ignored by the Fenris - all of whom look like handsome, approachable men before their sudden transformation into wolfish beings. They also wear plenty of make-up, revealing tops and generally flirt and giggle their way into battle. In less accomplished hands this could have turned into a lecture on teenage sex or seemed distasteful, but Jackson Pearce cleverly weaves a world where Scarlett longingly watches girls in their pretty clothes, and shiny makeup, recognising their innocence and wishing it were hers. It is incredibly well done. The climax of the novel moves at breakneck speed, both edge-of-your-seat exciting and very moving. The final few pages are beautifully written, setting both the sisters and Silas up for their future, yet the novel ends with as many questions left open as answered. I can't find mention of a sequel anywhere, which is sad as I am far from done with the March sisters and their woodsman...

As a re-imaging, I have seen few better and as a tale of sisterhood, shared history and identity there are not many to beat Sisters Red. Real characters, chilling monsters and city streets replacing dark forests – this is a true homage to fairytales and, like all the original stories, says much about real life. Buy a copy – at the very least you will have a book that looks super pretty on your shelf, at the most you will have a multi-faceted story that you will want to read again as soon as you reach the last page.


Lynsey Newton said...

What a well written review! Glad you liked the book as much as I did :)

Lauren said...

First up, I have to confess that when I spotted you'd reviewed this I skipped right to the end to check you liked it. Phew.

Second, this is such a beautifully written review! And I agree with your observations - I love how Scarlett is challenging and yet fascinating at the same time, and how there are some elements in the story that are so completely real.

Finally, I heard the companion novel is called Sweetly, and it's set in the same world but isn't a direct sequel. And that it has Hansel-and-Gretel-ness. Cooh, huh?

asamum said...

Terrific review - I didnt pick up on the removal of the Scar from her name just genious. Brilliant, I cant wait for the next one :D

Clover said...

Yay. I have this one waiting for me in my TBR pile!