Strange, but lovely. Confusing, but endearing. I really liked this story, though I felt so lost throughout. It’s hard to explain how reading this book makes you feel…but I can say that’s it’s impossible to put down. Just ask my mom, as she pulls her hair out waiting for me to put the book down.
The story is supposed to be a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood mixed with a story I’ve never read called The Girl with no Hands. This is according to the author, straight from her endnotes. I am unfamiliar with the latter, but when it comes to the former, I would emphasize that it’s loosely based on it. There are forest allusions and a mention of a red cloak…oh, and a forest-born that tricks her like the Wolf…that’s about it.
In the Prologue, we learn that Rachelle is destined to be a woodwife: a person who makes charms to ward off the Great Forest, just like her Aunt Léonie. The story begins…
“In all your life, your only choice,” Aunt Léonie said to her once, “is the path of needles or the path of pins.”
Rachelle remembered that, the day that she killed her.
Talk about an intro.
Rachelle has been told the story of Tyr and Zisa, two siblings that temporarily defeated the Devourer, an entity that once swallowed the sun and moon. The world was left in Endless Night until they stopped him, and now there is a threat of the Devourer returning to take the light again. In the Great Forest dwells the forestborn, creatures that were once human but have now become servants to the Devourer. One day as Rachelle walks into the forest, a forestborn engages in conversation, slowly gaining her trust. She thinks she will be able to trick the forestborn into telling her how to permanently defeat the Devourer, but she is naive, and when she steps off the path, he marks her as a bloodbound.
A bloodbound must kill in three days or they will die. Despite trying her best, Rachelle takes her Aunt’s life and keeps herself alive in the process. And she never forgets the decision she made. Now she works for the King, protecting the people from deadly forest creatures. As a bloodbound, she will eventually turn into a forestborn, and she will forever be tied to the one that turned her (kinda like a vampire, right?). She does this knowing her soul is damned, but she is always looking for the two swords that Tyr and Zisa used to defeat the Devourer the first time. When she is commissioned to watch the illegitimate son of the King and protect him from assassins, she is understandably frustrated: her forestborn let slip that Endless Night will fall soon, and she must get one of the two swords. So she decides to “watch” him while secretly looking for the swords. However, it sounds like the illegitimate heir knows where it might be…so she will find the sword and defeat the Devourer…or die trying.
Is it Classroom-Appropriate?
Yes and no. It’s gory. That’s the only concern in my view. There are parts that mention disembodied heads and blood-spattered houses made of bones. I would use it in a fairy-tale retelling setting, and it would be a cool anchor text, but I wouldn’t consider it for anything under Sophomore year. The material is dark. The plot, though unbelievably well-conceived and original, might be a little difficult for younger readers to follow. There are so many parts to the plot, but it helps that Hodge uses repetition and flashbacks to emphasize importance. I would say this would be a good read for Narrarives, as the writing style is amazing and descriptive. I could see using it in high school. No swearing, and only implied sex (she is not “innocent” anymore…one of those, “he kissed her, and she gave in…” kind of scenes where it “fades to black”). I think it’s a well-written story and a great piece of literature.
Lexile.com rates it pretty high for a YA book. Most fall in the 500-650 range, but the site rates it at HL740L. The “HL” stands for “high-low,” which typically means that younger people could read it, but shouldn’t because it is meant for an older audience. They suggest an age range of 14-17 (and up, of course!), and I agree with them.
★★★★★. It was a little piece of wonderful, in my opinion. There were twists that were definitely unexpected, and though it may feel confusing because we aren’t given a lot of backstory (we are simply inserted into this new world), you do tend to understand as the story goes on. For example, the “God” in the books is called the Dayspring, but we don’t know the legend that comes with it…we just know that images representing the Dayspring show piles of body parts in lieu of, say, a body on a crucifix (like Christian theology). But it doesn’t matter that the story world is foreign: I like that Hodge doesn’t explain every little thing and trusts that we can follow along or figure it out. She’s my kind of author.
What else can I say? Oh, yeah, the cover is BEAUTIFUL.
Now to read her first book, Cruel Beauty. Review to come on that book. Just waiting for its arrival at my local library.