Posted on November 11, 2010 by alanajoli
Available at Amazon.com
Jim Hines has a way of twisting fairy tales to let him get at bigger issues that lurk behind those stories. One of the biggest ideas he decided to take on is the traditional tale of Sleeping Beauty. One of the early versions of the tale says the the princess was not woken with a kiss, but either with intercourse or the pain of childbirth. If you follow Jim’s online writing at all, you know he’s worked very closely with rape survivors, and that talking about rape is important to him. It’s no surprise that he handles the issue with sophistication and a delicacy, which becomes even more relevant in Red Hood’s Revenge, a story that takes Talia back to her homeland to face her demons. The Lady of the Red Hood, also known as Roudette, is the most deadly assassin in the world, and she’s come after Talia. Her motives are unclear, especially when circumstances lead her to team up with the princess trio, but her hatred for fairies is obvious. When Talia wants to take out Zestan, a fairy the heroes suspect of being a deev — a very powerful evil fairy — Roudette gives every appearance of going along willingly, and only a shift in narrative technique allows readers to see that she’s up to something. (In the previous books, Jim stuck to a more limited third-person narrator; in Red Hood’s Revenge, the narration is broader, allowing peeks into several of the character’s perspectives.)
Roudette is an excellent foil for Talia; though she’s a character in her own right, she embodies many aspects of what Talia could have become. Because this is a Jim Hines book, you know Roudette’s story isn’t the happily ever after of the well known tale. Rather than the hunter rescuing Roudette from a wolf, Roudette’s grandmother actually was a wolf — or, rather, wore a magic cloak that gave her the powers of a wolf, and thus allowed her to fight back against the very dangerous Wild Hunt. The hunter of the tale is a member of the Wild Hunt, humans who have become fairies and have been cursed to roam the world, hunting forever. They are ruthless, and they destroy everything that Roudette loves. Like Talia, she must face a world where a fairy curse destroys everything she’s ever known. But where Talia found acceptance — and her first love — at the Temple of the Hedge, a healing order that grew up around the very hedge that entrapped her, Roudette grew up alone, with no one to temper her anger. Talia gained further purpose under Queen Beatrice, and earned the friendships of both Snow (White) and Danielle (Cinderella) — and again, Roudette lived only for her mission. That Roudette is a heartless killer serves to show just how damaged Talia could have become by her own hatred and anger. It also shows how much healing Talia has actually accomplished, and going home to face those who want her dead opens more doors for Talia to come to terms with her own past.
Talia’s home is a brilliant blend of cultures. Jim uses an Arabian Nights flavor, borrowing from Middle Eastern traditions while acknowledging the western stories that shaped the rest of his world. Arathea is highly religious, and much of the law obeyed by the citizens is religious, but the religion is one based on an old story or a war between the peri — good fairies — and the deev. The way the fairy religion permeates the culture adds to the flavor, while working to make Arathea feel less like it’s borrowed wholesale from the Arabian Nights stories (which are seeped in Muslim folk tradition and often mention Christian and Jewish characters). It’s easy for a Middle Eastern flavor fantasy setting to feel generic, because part of what shapes the stories most of the audience knows about those settings is a real-world religion; Jim allows that sense of religious devotion to continue to infuse his setting, but adapts it to not only fit his world, but to draw the story forward and become a driving factor in the plot.
Literary style issues aside, the tale has the same kind of action, magic, and engaging banter that we’ve come to expect from the earlier books in the series. The issues in Talia’s friendship with Snow are touched on, though I’m not entirely sure they’re resolved. Danielle is coming into her own as a character — she’s a far cry from the rookie princess on the team she was in the beginning, and she’s mastering the arts of diplomacy while still often using her negotiation skills with the animals she can speak to. Snow, who suffered an injury at the end of the previous book, is still dealing with the effects of that injury on her magic. While Red Hood’s Revenge wraps up a lot of Talia’s subplot, it also leads toward the final book in the series, and it’s easy to see there’s a lot of good yet to come.
Reviewed by Alana Abbott