Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say “wolf,” but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all. —Charles Perrault
There’s always been a parallel between Red Riding Hood’s wolf and sexual predators. Sometimes it’s overtly stated; sometimes it’s more veiled. In Sisters Red, it’s pretty clear. While the Fenris (werewolves) of Jackson Pearce‘s novel are out to devour rather than rape, they reel in their prey of choice — pretty young girls — with wholesome good looks and charm before transforming into ravening beasts. And when reading about the March sisters, who use their wiles to lure the Fenris into hacking-and-slashing range, I couldn’t help but think of Ellen Page’s character in the movie Hard Candy. (Who, by the way, wears a red hoodie…)
Sometimes I read a novel and feel like it was written specifically for me, so perfectly does it hit all my favorite notes. Sisters Red is one of those. Imagine the dark fairy tale world of Angela Carter, with a forbidden yet gentle romance reminiscent of Maggie Stiefvater‘s novels, plus some Buffy-style ass-kicking. (And it is Buffy-style, featuring hatchets and throwing knives rather than the guns more prevalent in adult urban fantasy.) Then put all of this into a tight plot: tiny little details are seeded into the story in the beginning, and by the end, they all matter. Tremendously.
Sisters Red features two heroines who are both strong but in different ways. When Scarlett March was a child, she successfully defended her little sister Rosie from the Fenris who murdered their grandmother. The event changed Scarlett’s life forever, leaving her with devastating scars and a grim determination to eradicate all Fenris from the earth. Scarlett and Rosie are now in their late teens and have been hunting together for years. Scarlett’s devotion to the cause has never wavered, but Rosie is starting to long for a “normal” life, with romance and hobbies. A rash of murders draws the girls and their old friend Silas to Atlanta, where they will uncover some of the Fenris’s secrets and face their personal demons.
Pearce makes both girls sympathetic and “real.” Scarlett, with her fanaticism, is harder to relate to. Yet I couldn’t help but sympathize with this girl who lost almost everything to the wolves, and who feels that her sacrifice has gone unappreciated. The only things she has left are her sister and her hunting, and now she fears she may be losing the former. Rosie is more of an Everygirl, more approachable to the reader. Her conflict is between her desire for a life beyond hunting and her sense of a life-debt to Scarlett.
Another aspect I love is that Scarlett and Rosie have to train and study to become more effective Fenris-slayers. I think a lot of urban fantasy authors could take a page from Pearce’s book. How often do we get to see heroines practice with their weapons, or pull all-nighters reading up on their enemies? This is something I liked in Buffy, and I like it here as well.
I was able to figure out a couple of the twists before they happened. This sounds like it would be a detriment, but instead it helped amp up the tension in some spots. I was on the edge of my seat, frantically rooting for the characters to put the pieces together before it was too late.
Overall, Sisters Red works well as a retold fairy tale, and it also works well as a fusion between the action-oriented type of urban fantasy and the angsty-love-story type. Highly recommended.
A funny aside: This is the second YA novel I’ve read recently that has made great use of Plato’s cave. Is it stalking me? ;)