Hope And Red by Jon Skovron
|Book Name:||Hope & Red|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Ebook|
|Release Date:||July 2016|
The short version: Hope And Red is the most fun book I’ve read in 2016 and one of the first I will recommend to people, from now on, who ask for a book similar to that of Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series or Brent Weeks’s Night Angel trilogy.
Are you missing the world of Brent Weeks’s Night Angel Trilogy? Were you distraught upon hearing that Scott Lynch wouldn’t be releasing his forth Gentleman Bastards novel this year? Well, worry not because I have just the book for you, my friends!
An 8 year old girl has no choice but to watch her entire village get massacred by biomancers – dark, mysterious mages who can alter the biology of a living being. Peeping from the shadows, the girl sees the only people she has ever known forced to endure a fate worse that death. We can only guess whether this experience birthed something into the girl or whether it was already there, but when a ship comes across her alone on the island a few weeks later, the captain can’t help but notice an eery darkness to her. Because a ship is no place for a young girl, the captain drops her at a monastery. That monastery turns out to belong to the Vinchen warriors, an order of elite male fighters whose skills are worth at least 10 of any other soldier. The problem is, they’ve grown up valuing only strength and masculinity and the girl ends up treated as a servant and someone to bully. Taking pity on her or perhaps sensing what lies beneath the surface, a renowned Master takes it upon himself to train the girl, now named Bleak Hope (or Hope, for short), in secret. Hope quickly takes to everything that is taught to her, spurred on by the desire to enact revenge on the mystical biomancers who killed everyone she ever loved…
In a different corner of the world, Red – a nickname given to him due to his Red Eyes, the result of his mother’s drug addiction during pregnancy – is enjoying life as one of the middle-ranking men in the criminal underworld: Paradise Circle. Very much like Locke Lamora, Red has made himself relatively wealthy by his natural ability to charm, con or thieve whatever it is he needs from someone. The problem Red has is that he is incredibly ambitious and has promised himself that one day he will become the Circle’s finest thief. To do that, however, he needs to steal from those who have the most money and, therefore, the highest status and security in the area; something that’s very difficult to do without attracting attention. Things get easier, but more complicated, for Red when a beautiful, incredibly combat-abled woman named Nettles arrives (yep: another one!). With her chained weapon, she is able to protect Red and help him force his way past any kind of guard. The complicated bit? Well, naturally, Red quickly falls for her and she’s not the kind of girl who wants anything more than a ‘toss’ from time to time.
The worldbuilding really is brilliant throughout. Although we don’t spend a great deal of time at the Vinchen monastery, the time we do spend there feels very claustrophobic and dangerous. We worry for Hope and what could happen to her, but enjoy every moment of her strengthening. What Skovron really needs to be applauded for though is the creation of Paradise Circle, where we spend most of our time. Whether we’re visiting a rundown bar with a terrifying bouncer who takes the ears of any who misbehave, trekking through secret tunnels to escape a gang, or experiencing the amusing (often vulgar) language, this really does that Oliver Twist kind of setting that is just fun to hang around in. Something else I found very interesting about Paradise Circle was the contrast between its treatment of women compared to that of the outside world. Women enjoy equal or even elevated status in Paradise Circle, whether pirate captains, mystics, warriors, bouncers, etc – you’d not mess with them. Outside of the Circle, women are suppressed and kept from wielding any kind of power.
Although the blurb does it, I don’t want to go too deep into how Red and Hope’s paths collide. It doesn’t happen until a significant way through the book and I’m somewhat surprised that the Goodreads / Amazon descriptions tell you what it is that brings them together and how – I thought the build up and eventual reveal was very well executed by the author and it seems a shame to give away such a huge part of the story. Certainly, I’d advise you to just pick up the book and start reading (after finishing this review, of course!).
Where I’d say this book stands out above The Lies of Locke Lamora is with its supporting cast. Whereas TLoLL was very much about Locke and Jean, especially from book 2 onwards, Hope And Red has an array of characters you will enjoy getting to know. Perhaps my favourite is Sadie The Goat (who is not a goat, btw). She is probably the most foul mouthed character I have ever met in a Fantasy novel (and I’ve met some vile characters!), but despite her liberal use of the C word (yes – that one!) and willingness to go through anyone who gets in her way, she has a real love for Red and a sense of honour for anyone who stands by her. This code of ‘honour’ is a really strong theme within the book and brings me nicely onto my next point….
Whilst Hope And Red is not a Young Adult novel, the fact that Jon Skovron has written in this genre adds a number of important strengths to the book. Sadly, a lot of people see Young Adult as a lesser genre, but as Sebastien De Castell recently said on a Nine Worlds panel, Young Adult novels contain some of our genre’s very best works. What tends to be very strong in Young Adult novels are the relationships between friends. They are pure, strong and typically the most important things in our characters’ worlds. Yes, the characters of Abercrombie’s First Law world have a relationship, yes Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle characters fall in and out of love with each other, but it doesn’t match-up to the almost magical bond between children and young adults. The love, care, respect and awe that all of Jon Skovron’s characters have for one another is truly beautiful and it is what takes this novel from being flat out fun to something deeper and more meaningful. As much as I will remember the characters: Red, Hope, Nettles, Filler, Alash, Missing Finn and Sadie, it is the interaction and growth of their relationships that will stick in my mind.
I’m going on a bit of a tangent here, so feel free to skip this paragraph, but what I feel makes this novel ‘not a YA’ is that the characters don’t experience much ‘for the first time’. The majority of YA novels tend to deal with emotions and experiences that are occurring within the individual for the first time and they are having to come up with ways to deal with them. The first time a character gets into a big fight, a character going from being a student to a special agent who investigates the supernatural, falling in love or being besotted for the very first time. Although Hope And Red does deal with love and sex in that kind of manner, the book’s focus is on the characters using their already perfected skills of thievery (Red) and violence (Hope and Nettles) to accomplish their individual goals. Oh… and whereas I don’t feel YA has to limit sex, swearing or violence necessarily, even I have to admit there’s probably too much of it for Hope And Red to find its way onto a YA shelf.
Finally, I’d like to comment on the action. I’m often asked to recommend a book full of fight scenes and it’s hard to name many that feature the kind of comic book / computer game action scenes that I think some people are looking for. Sure, I can point to realistic battles and good depictions of medieval style duels, but if you’re looking for KickAss style violence with people really going at each other with throwing knifes, chain blades and Samurai swords then it’s difficult to find in modern novels, where realism is generally praised and seen as the way to go. Hope And Red is full of the aforementioned though. Hope is a master with a Samurai Blade – literally the most deadly person you could ever meet; Red is handy with a throwing blade; and Nettles is happy to go hand to hand or sling a chain blade into your gut.
Hope And Red is the most fun I’ve had with a novel this year and it could very well end up being the best book I read in 2016 – period. So few books are able to balance the gritty and the deep, and even those that do don’t do it in the same way that Skovron does. Action, Violence, Vulgar Language and yet moving relationships and a captivating world that you won’t want to leave. If book 2 was out, I’d read it right now (heck, if book 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 were out I’d read them now too!).