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There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined.
Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods….Amazon
I loved this book.
Let me count the ways.
It was borderline triggering to read a book about an airborne pandemic that killed a bunch of people and led to the collapse of society. I had to remind myself that just because it became reality, doesn’t make it any less common of a trope for speculative fiction or dystopian fiction. (This book falls squarely in the 2nd category.) Also… and this is personal, it was nice to read something set in a rural setting.
The tone is full of tension because there are a lot of unknowns and a lot of danger. Thankfully there are enough down moments and flashbacks that balance out the terror. This isn’t a horror book but in the hands of a different writer, it could have become one.
Henry’s prose is well crafted. She has broken her narrative into two parts a “before” and an “after” that run along in tandem with one another and give us what we need to know when we need to know it. Now, this is a dystopian novel and you might think that the “before” and “after” timelines reflect on the Crisis or world event… and you would be wrong. The actual delineation is more personal and far more impactful. It is a subtle trope flipper that Henry does with ease.
The book is also totally in first-person narration and even features an inner monologue that is believable and never gets overwrought. This brings us to
Our main character is the sort of protagonist that I love. She is thiiiiiis close to a Mary Sue but thankfully stays just shy of that line. (The line between Hero and Mary Sue is a darn thin and narrow line.) I LOVED Red. She is brassy, smart, determined, logical, brave… I loved her inner monologue and seeing how she figured things out and made her decisions. I loved her interactions with her mother and her brother. I loved her interactions with the other character she meets along the way. She is brainy but not because of a natural gift… but because she is interested in the world so she studies the world, and then her knowledge gives her power. She is also brawny, but not in the magical way or the super-buff sort of way… more in that she realized she needed to be stronger so she tried to train her body and make it stronger sort of way. Her brawn also saves her hide on more than one occasion, but it is believable brawn. She never morphs into a superhero…. She is darn lucky and fueled by fear and adrenaline… and brain power… and that is what ultimately saves her.
It does not hurt in the slightest that she has a prosthetic leg and therefore gets to be a strong (in body and mind) character who is differently-abled. It also doesn’t hurt that she is Black. And queer! (The Black aspect of her character is important to the plot as she is in even more danger than some of her counterparts… the queer thing comes up in passing much later in the book and is not really important to the plot but is oh so important for representation!)
Damn, I loved this character.
Yes, it is a retelling of the Red Riding Hood story. Girl in a red hoodie on her way to grandma’s house… but in a dystopian world full of dangers. It is… great. So great. The tension comes from not only the question of “will she get there?” but also “what the bleep is going on in this world?” and the solutions are satisfying to the extreme. The pace is good (and no, that’s not a walking pun… or is it?). As I said before, there are a few different stories unfolding along the way and they connect and inform upon one another perfectly.
The only tiny quibble would be that due to time/length constraints we skip over almost a month of time towards the end and while that helps us get to the ending and would probably have been a different story or it would have put too much emphasis on the falling action of the actual climax of the main story, I am a bit bummed that we didn’t see more of what was going on during that final month.
Entertaining / Would I recommend it?
Oh my yes. This was one of those books that I had to stop myself from skipping ahead because I was so excited. I had to physically slow myself down because I was enjoying it so much and I wanted to make it last. I am actually looking forward to rereading it at some point down the road and I have already added many other books by this author to my TBR list.
This might just be my favorite book of 2021.
Why THIS Book?
No idea. I can’t tell you where I got it or why or how. It was in one of the stacks and I was packing for vacation… I needed something to read after my month (plus) of LGBT (plus) books and this one got added to the suitcase. When it came time to pick the next book I opted for this one over Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other because this one looked shorter and I still needed to get to The Big Sleep pretty soon in order to be ready for the next episode of my podcast. Sorry, Bernardine… hopefully soon.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?