Author: Jackson Pearce
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Book/ Little, Brown
Publication Date: June 2010
Hardcover: 352 pages
The story of Scarlett and Rosie March, two highly-skilled sisters who have been hunting Fenris (werewolves) – who prey on teen girls – since Scarlett lost her eye years ago while defending Rosie in an attack. Scarlett lives to destroy the Fenris, and she and Rosie lure them in with red cloaks (a colour the wolves can’t resist), though Rosie hunts more out of debt to her sister than drive.
But things seem to be changing. The wolves are getting stronger and harder to fight, and there has been a rash of news reports about countless teenage girls being brutally murdered in the city. Scarlett and Rosie soon discover the truth: wolves are banding together in search of a Potential Fenris – a man tainted by the pack but not yet fully changed. Desperate to find the Potential to use him as bait for a massive werewolf extermination, the sisters move to the city with Silas, a young woodsman and long time family friend who is deadly with an axe. Meanwhile, Rosie finds herself drawn to Silas and the bond they share not only drives the sisters apart, but could destroy all they’ve worked for.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Sisters Red series.
How did we get this book: We got ARCs from Little, Brown.
Why did we read this book: We have been waiting to read this book for ages – the cover is striking and the we are always up for a fairytale retelling.
I could tell you that for the first pages of this book I was completely engrossed in the story. How could I not? I mean, a dark, violent even, retelling of Red Riding Hood in which two sisters are the hunters who kill the wolves? I am in. It helps that the first pages were very gripping: back in the past when the kids lived with their grandmother and were attacked by a passing werewolf and Scarlett, the oldest sister, protects the younger Rosie almost to her own death losing an eye in the fight and becoming scarred for life. Then, as teenagers they fall in the roles that they have taken for themselves that day: Scarlett, the protector, Rosie the protégée – both equally fierce Hunters but with a striking difference. Scarlett sees nothing but the hunt, Rosie wants something else for her life.
I could tell you that I like the prose. But also that the tale and the alternating chapters between the two sisters get repetitive very soon. I could tell you that when the next door neighbour, a woodsman-hunter named Silas comes back to town that I knew Rosie would fall for him and that their story was actually quite sweet.
I could definitely tell you that part of what makes me like the book to begin with is the fact that making the two girls the ones who go after the werewolves to kill them is rather an empowering take on the original tale.
I could tell you all that.
But what I really want to tell you is: when I hit page 108 (of the ARC) I went nuts. You see, it is part of this retelling that the werewolves are predators who are after young, pretty girls. As part of their hunting routine, Rosie will dress up, put on make-up and perfume (because she usually doesn’t do that as she is a “natural beauty”). Obviously, Scarlett, being the ugly, scarred sister, just sits back to attack when Rosie has played the role of prey. So, page 108. Scarlett is outside a nightclub observing the girls in the queue to get in:
They’re adorned in glittery green rhinestones, shimmery turquoise and aquamarine powders streaked across their eyelids. Dragonfly girls. Their hair is all the same, long and streaked, spiralling down their backs to where the tiny strings holding their tops on are knotted tightly. Their skin glows under the neon lights – amber, ebony, cream – like shined metal, flawless and smooth. I press harder against the crumbly brick wall behind me, tugging my crimson cloak closer to my body. The scars on my shoulders show through fabric when I pull the cloak tight. Bumpy red hills in perfectly spaced lines.
The Dragonflies laugh, sweet, and bubbly, and I groan in exasperation. They toss their hair, stretch their legs, sway their hips, bat their eyes at the club’s bouncer, everything about them luring the Fenris. Inviting danger like some baby animal bleating its fool head off. Look at me, see how I dance, did you notice my hair, look again, desire me, I am perfect. Stupid, stupid Dragonflies. Here I am, saving your lives, bitten and scarred and wounded for you, and you don’t even know it. I should let the Fenris have one of you.
No, I didn’t mean that. I sigh and walk to the other side of the brick wall, letting my fingers tangle in the thick ivy. It’s dark on this side, shadowed from the neon lights of the street. I breathe slowly, watching the tree limbs sway, backlit by the lights of skyscrapers. Of course I didn’t mean it. Ignorance is no reason to die. They can’t help what they are, still happily unaware inside a cave of fake shadows. They exist in a world that’s beautiful normal, where people have jobs and dreams that don’t involve a hatcher. My world is parallel universe to their – the same sights, same people, same city, yet the Fenris lurk, the evil creeps, the knowledge undeniably exists. If I hadn’t been thrown into this world, I could just as easily have been a Dragonfly.
I felt extremely uncomfortable with this passage, but as much as this is some serious twisted thinking, I can understand Scarlett feeling this way. She is an angry character, full of regret, jealousy – and being scarred and ugly does get to her (seeing as how she keeps going on and on about it). So, the text above is in keeping with this character.
Two lines down and Silas joins her as she observes him:
His eyes narrow in something between disgust and intrigue, as though he’s not certain if he likes looking at them or not. I want to comment, but I stay quiet. Somehow it feels important to wait for his reaction. Silas finally turns to look at me in the shadows.
“It’s like they’re trying to be eaten, isn’t it? he asks pointedly.
“Can I tell you how glad I am that and Rosie aren’t like them?”
“No kidding.” I grin, relieved. “Rosie could be if she wanted, though. She’s beautiful like they are.”
“Beauty has nothing to do with it. Rosie could never be one of them. Do you really think they’d dress and act like that if they knew it was drawing wolves toward them?”
No. NO. NO. NO. NO. JUST NO.
By then, I was beyond uncomfortable, I was downright angry. The meta is thus: the girls should know better. If they knew better, they would change their behaviour and would not be attacked. This is what I read. But this is not what I should be reading.
NEVER, EVER blame the victims. The blame always, always lies with the criminal (or predator).
And just like that I am done with the book. Because I can’t respect the characters who think like this, because I lost respect for their motivation for being hunters (it’s not about REALLY about protecting the girls is it? It is almost about proving a point) and if I can’t relate with their plight then the book is nothing to me. Because the bottom line is this: the book empowers women yes, but ONLY certain types of girls, not all of them. And I am sick and tired of books that associate girls that are self-confident and beautiful with being shallow and superficial and deserving of bad things happening to them. SICK AND TIRED.
That is not ok. And I suggest you read the article in this link to see why exactly I think it is not ok.
I did read till the bitter end in the hopes that another character would come in and say: “yo, stewpid, GET A GRIP” but alas, no such thing has happened. I can’t even be bothered to rate this book. I will only say:
Clearly, Ana feels VERY strongly about this book, especially about the excerpt above. Now, I’ll admit that when I first read this passage, I didn’t immediately see what Ana picked up on. I tend to get annoyed with flitty girls in general, and Scarlett’s anger at the “dragonflies” seems well-founded and in line with her character, regardless of whether I liked her character or not. As a scarred, bitter young woman dedicated to destroying all Fenris at any cost, this sort of thought process makes perfect sense for someone like Scarlett.
But then, after Ana pointed out the next section, it made me think about the overall message…and I stand firmly with Ana. Enraged.
Just because a girl is pretty, and likes to look pretty; just because a girl goes out to the club in revealing clothes; just because a girl likes the attention that comes with being young and attractive, this DOES NOT MEAN she is stupid, or a whore, or fucking “asking for it” (pardon my French, but this is a disgusting mindset and pisses me off to no end). It is frustrating – no, infuriating – beyond belief that the women in Sisters Red are so stereotyped and marginalized. Don’t get me wrong – I love warrior women/strong women/badass fighter women, as much as the next person. But this gross generalization that girls that go out to have fun and be noticed are somehow billions of times inferior to their too-tough-to-look-pretty (but OF COURSE are effortlessly gorgeous *eyes rolling*) counterparts?
Nu-uh. Not cool.
Now, you might be telling yourself, ‘well, these two seem to be taking a single passage a bit far’ or something to that end. Well, folks, unfortunately Sisters Red has a whole lot of other problems too.
1: The characters are mind-numbingly repetitive and boring.
Initially, I found a lot to like with Sisters Red. The opening scene with Grandma valiantly holding off the big bad wolf to save the children, and then Scarlett’s desperate last stand to save Rosie, is EPIC. I loved that Scarlett is abrasive and tough, that she’s missing an eye and is both terrified of the wolves, yet completely in love with the hunt. I love that Rosie is a different person – that she cannot remember the past too clearly, and that she clearly loves Lett, but needs to grow to be her own person.
BUT. All of this? All this promising characterization is exhausted in the first thirty or so pages of the book. From then on it is more of. the. same. Scarlett gets mad at Rosie for being careless. Scarlett goes hunting for Fenris. Scarlett gets mad again and wallows in her pit of eternal self-suffering. Meanwhile, Rosie wants to be taken seriously (and thinks Silas is freaking HAWT). But she wants to be taken seriously. She tries to make peace with Scarlett (and Silas is HAWT). And so on and so forth.
Things get pretty dull, pretty quickly. These characters never felt real to me – more like your standard cardboard stand-ins. (Just because characters are “troubled” doesn’t immediately mean they are well-developed. SHOW me. Don’t keep TELLING me.)
2: The “Romance” is the same predictable uninspired tripe.
From the second Rosie sees Silas, and vice versa, it’s all “he looks different, his jaw is so angular and manly!” and “she looks different, all ‘grown up’ and beautiful!” (I’m paraphrasing of course). To be honest, I’m sick of it. Could this book just have been about the sisters without one of them needing the catalyst of falling in love with the studly boy next door? ARGH.
Of course, this could just be me and how burned out I am with YA paranormal romance. Lots of people love this stuff. I, unfortunately, am at the end of my rope.
3: The hunting element of the story is STUPID.
*Caps lock engaged* WHY THE HELL WOULD THESE SISTERS BE HUNTING WITH HATCHETS AS OPPOSED TO…I don’t know…GUNS?!??? If Scarlett’s true ambition is to take out every single “Fenris” on the planet, wouldn’t it make sense to take out a bunch of them with a semi-automatic weapon, as opposed to the good ol’ woodsman hatchet technique? And while scampering around in a blood red cloak is awesome and all, this book doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The story takes place in MODERN DAY. The red riding hood cloaks, while they go great with the idea of the story, aren’t exactly…congruous with the time period. (Not to mention, you’d think the stupid wolves would remember two chicks – one with an eyepatch – hunting around not-so-incognito in bright red cloaks)
Also, in my opinion the term “Fenris” is stupid. Is it plural? Singular? Yeah, yeah, I get that it derives from Fenrir – but “Fenris” just looks stupid and forced to me. If you’re going with Norse mythology, stick with the root name. (That is, if you’re not going with the more familiar “werewolf” terminology, which doesn’t make sense in the first place given how much more prevalent “werewolf” is in modern vernacular!)
These were my issues with Sisters Red – which arose long before the club scene – and they were enough to make me put down the book.
Verdict: DNF – Life is too short to force myself to finish books that don’t work for me.
You want a good Red Riding Hood retelling? Stick with Bill Willingham’s Fables series. Now THAT has solid characterizations, a plot that won’t quit, and empowered characters – both male and female.
Reading next: A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliott