Last year's Cruel Beauty was one of my favorite reads of 2014. I had rather high expectations for Crimson Bound as a result, and they were well and truly met.
Rachelle was her aunt's apprentice, learning the trade of a woodwife and how to protect her village from the forestborn. Rachelle is obedient but also restless and annoyed with her aunt's lack of determination to fight the Devourer she knows is rising again. Overconfident and thinking she can control the situation, Rachelle strays from the past and begins conversing with a forestborn. This leads to her downfall and her becoming a bloodbound-a murderer with blood on her hands bound to become a forestborn herself. Before that fate can befall her, Rachelle is determined to take as many forestborn down as she can and joins the King's elite guard of bloodbound soldiers. She immerses herself in fighting as many forces of the forest as she can, but she knows time is running out. The world is growing dark. The Devourer is returning. When she is put in charge of one of the king's illegitimate sons and discovers there is a chance to recover a fabled sword that can defeat the Devourer forever, she knows this is the final chance there is to free the world of the Devourer forever and atone as much as she can for the sins of her past.
Rosamund Hodge has a way of just sweeping me into her story and world that is rare. This was definitely a read I experienced every emotion and element of. My children found themselves quite neglected. The world-building here is fantastic. It's not quite as complicated as the world of Cruel Beauty, but it's no less intricate. There's a magical forest overlapping the known world made of myth and shadows and ruled by cruel, heartless beings who hunt humans for sport and delight in tricking and coercing them into their dark world. It brings to mind the best and darkest stories of the Fae. The world of the humans is very like that of France in its royal heyday with vain, selfish royalty hidden away from the harsh realities of the world, bastards fighting for the throne, a bishop warning against coming judgement, and revolt on the horizon. There is intrigue, treason, betrayal, and horror waiting around every twisted corridor of the palace and gardens.
Rachelle is a focused and determined heroine. She is overcome by guilt for the sins of her past, but determined to help as many people as she can before she is forever damned. She desperately wants to be removed from everyone and everything, but she just doesn't have it in her. As much as she wants to be cynical and heartless, she desperately clings to what human companionship she has and any sense of belonging and love she can find. And this is completely her story. It's the story of a girl desperate for redemption even though she believes herself to be far beyond its reach. The far reaching consequences of the deeds she has committed separate her from everything she ever knew and loved, but she is resourceful, clever, and strong-willed. All these traits serve her well as she goes on her quest to rid the world of evil. She is a well rounded heroine as well, making plenty of mistakes from trusting the wrong people to not fully trying to understand the workings of the court around her and how important it is.
Despite being a bloodbound with an unhealthy dose of self-hate, Rachelle is not without people she feels close to. Amelie is a girl whose life Rachelle once saved. The girl made her a friend and is quite an amazing one. I really enjoyed this aspect of the story and how their friendship was so solid despite how little they could truly share with each other because of Rachelle's position. Justine is another female friend, a fellow bloodbound, but one who works for the Bishop. Justine is determined to help an save Rachelle because she sees more in her. Both of these friendships reflect different aspects of Rachelle's personality and play important parts in her journey. In addition to these three girls, the books has several other very powerful women who do not shrink from doing what they need to do even when it is incredibly difficult and requires a hardened strength.
Then there are the two main male characters in the story. Erec is the captain of the King's bloodbound, one of his illegitimate sons, and the person who trains Rachelle in fighting and gives her the will to keep living. Armand is another of the King's bastards, sainted for not becoming a bloodbound when marked, and the person Rachelle is assigned to guard. Rachelle and Erec are friends but she doesn't completely trust him. They have fundamental philosophical differences that don't allow for them to be close despite Rachelle's attraction to him. Rachelle doesn't like or trust Armand at first, but gradually learns to appreciate and understand him. I have a feeling some may not want to read this due to fear of the dreaded love triangle. There is nothing to worry about there. Love triangle is not what this is. There's a fair amount of lust, confusion, treachery, and conflict in a tangled web of lies and double-crossings, but little of it has anything to do with love. There is a romantic love element that develops with one, which is my one major quibble with the book. Unfortunately it rather largely impacted my full enjoyment of the story. I didn't complete buy the romantic love aspect of this. There was too little organic development of it for me to completely believe it, which is unfortunate given that it is rather important to how the plot works out. I do like how that wrapped up though and how much confusion surrounded it for both characters.
What I really loved about this book were the themes of redemption, mercy, and justice Hodge worked into the story. Rachelle's story is mostly about that. It's hope overcoming despair, light overcoming darkness, emptiness being filled. It completely captured me.
I read an e-galley provided by the publisher, Balzer & Bray, via Edelweiss. Crimson Bound is on sale May 5th.