Blood Red: Cool premise, but disappointingly simple

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsBlood Red by Mercedes Lackey fantasy audiobook reviewsBlood Red by Mercedes Lackey

Each book in Mercedes Lackey’s ELEMENTAL MASTERS series is a stand-alone re-told fairy tale set in a world where some humans are elemental masters — magicians who have control over an elemental power. Some of the stories are more closely tied to the original fairy tale than others. For some, the source material is almost unrecognizable.

Blood Red, the tenth ELEMENTAL MASTERS novel, starts out sounding exactly like Red Riding Hood — there’s an Austrian girl (Rosamund) wearing a red cape who’s bringing a basket of food to an old lady that she thinks of as her grandmother. When she arrives, a werewolf, who has already ingested Granny, is waiting for her. This tragic event is foundational for Rosamund’s development. Next time we see her, she’s an accomplished vampire hunter who belongs to a secret society that tracks and kills monsters in Central/Eastern Europe. Rosamund is one of the best hunters, but as a woman, she doesn’t get the credit or respect she deserves.

We follow Rosamund as she slays various evil European legendary creatures, wears pants (!), kills rogue magicians, meets other elemental masters, wears pants (!), drinks beer, eats bratwurst and sauerkraut, wears pants (!), dances the polka, meets gypsies, and shockingly wears pants as she travels through Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Romania, with, of course, a special emphasis on Transylvania and the Carpathians.

I liked the setting of Blood Red, and I love the premise that Red Riding Hood became a vampire slayer, but the story is simple, lacks tension, and tries so hard to be “authentic” that it comes off as clichéd and cheesy. People in Central/Eastern Europe are portrayed as wearing lederhosen, eating paprikash, holding beer steins, and clicking their heels. It’s like a trip to the German pavilion at Epcot (which I love, ‘cause the food is awesome, but which I recognize is really a caricature of what Germany is really like).

As with the previous ELEMENTAL MASTERS books, there is a definite feministic slant, a message that by this time is expected and a little tired, just because it’s always there, always the same, and never nuanced (sort of like Lackey’s presentation of Central Europe). There are also a few sloppy spots where Lackey completely contradicts herself. Editors should catch those things. The romance is, thankfully, downplayed in Blood Red. Mostly I have not been convinced by the quick romances that we’ve seen in the previous ELEMENTAL MASTERS books.

Readers who’ve loved the previous books in this series will probably enjoy Blood Red. With such a cool premise, though, I was disappointed in the over-simplification of its plot, message, and representation of Central Europe. Also, the story could have used a lot less talk about what everyone was wearing and eating, and a lot more action.

The audio version of Blood Red is narrated by Tamara Marston who does a really nice job. It’s 12.25 hours long and produced by Audible Studios.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. Less talk about what people were eating and wearing … my complaint with SO MUCH FANTASY.

    • Right! I’m glad they eat and are wearing clothing, but I want to see them do Cool Awesome Stuff more than I want to know about their world’s alternate version of lettuce, you know?

  2. April /

    Interestingly, I seem to disagree with both of you on this one. Yes, it is a simple tale with certain issues but I felt that the narrative was showing that all of Eastern Europe isn’t the same – different places have different likes, dislikes, superstitions, etc. so that I felt she was doing just the opposite of what you are saying. To me she’s opposing that caricature view of the area and saying look, while there are kernels of truth there, all of these countries and peoples are very much different and less homogeneous than the popular caricature will lead people to believe.

    And, I love hearing about the characters eating and drinking and what they are wearing because it is not only part of a person’s makeup (what they like and don’t like to eat and what they wear or are forced to wear) but adds to the development of the character within the story. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many authors that tend to go overboard (Mr. Jordan and his descriptions of ladies’ dresses is a perfect example) but too much is usually better than not enough for me in these cases. I can skim over an enthusiastic description of dresses and meals should they get to be too much but if they aren’t there at all, the characters tend to feel unrealistic.

    • Hi April! I think we usually tend to agree, but here’s a place where we don’t (which is cool). I felt like I was at Disney’s Germany pavilion much of the time. It just seemed like every Central European cliche to me. But I’m glad you liked it. I did love what she did with Red Riding Hood, though.

      I need to see characters eating (I have actually mentioned the lack of this in a review of one of Catherine Asaro’s books which we’ll post soon) and I like to know what they’re wearing, but these days I usually would prefer for this to be mentioned quickly or in just a few thorough scenes. It was too much for me in this book and I felt like Lackey was using those scenes to, again, give us those cliches (wearing lederhosen and eating sauerkraut).

      But I can see why you enjoyed this book. I did like the setting and premise a lot.

      • April /

        I think we agree more often than not. But disagreeing is fun too!

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