‘A beast unto itself’
Despite homages and borrowed traits, this book is ‘easily the most enjoyable read’ our reviewer has had so far this year.
DO you remember your first real kiss? That furtive, awkward, passionate melding of lips that transported your soul upwards as you grasped toward ecstasy? American author Rosalyn Eves certainly does, and she describes the act in intimate, aching detail in her debut novel, Blood Rose Rebellion.
The kiss happens at the start of the book, and of course as can happen with a first kiss, our heroine Anna Arden believes she’s found true love.
Though the book is aimed at teens and young adults, the writing is so divine that it’s also a great choice for fans of fantasy and historical fiction from all ages. Eves, a mother of three, writes teenagers with spot on detail; the way each new experience is approached and felt, then communicates those feelings to the page.
The story starts in London, April 1847, with all the manners and corsets that the Victorian period implies. Built upon this world of class, lady’s maids, and calling cards is the addition of magic – though it’s magic that’s tightly controlled by a group called the Luminate.
After the first chapter, you’d be forgiven for thinking this book is going to be a kind of Downton Abbey “the early years”, just with magic. But the novel has more in common with 1900s E.M. Forster (A Room With A View, Maurice, etc) than 2000s Julian Fellowes.
Four orders of the Luminate exist: Animanti, manipulators of living bodies; Coremancer, controllers of minds and hearts; Elementalist, manipulators of nonliving substances; and Lucifera; controllers of the forces of gravity, magnetism, and space and time. All this magic in the world is preserved behind a great spell called The Binding.
Meanwhile, it’s the eve of eldest sister Catherine’s entry into the Luminate. She’s an Elementalist, like her father, and she’s been preparing for this moment since she was a child. She’ll secure her future after demonstrating her craft to the lords and ladies in attendance, and be granted access to The Binding.
But this is Catherine’s younger sister Anna Arden’s story, and Anna confesses from the get-go that she did not set out to ruin her sister’s big day.
Anna’s capacity for causing all spells to backfire means she has to keep a low profile and stay away from the festivities. However, handsome scoundrel Lord Frederick Markson Worthing convinces Anna (with the help of a first kiss) that having a little peek at Catherine’s debut shouldn’t be a problem at all. And being a Lucifera, he’s able to create a portal that allows Anna to sneak into the back of the event unseen.
Worthing is the sort of man with no qualms about stealing first kisses from unchaperoned young women, so we know he’s a heel and that his dastardly plan will lead Anna to ruin. And like Forster’s heroine Lucy Honeychurch from A Room With A View, Anna proceeds to lie to everyone, including herself.
Catherine’s catastrophic debut forces Anna to travel with her grandmother to the continent, ultimately staying with relations in Hungary for her own safety. But Anna’s power to break spells also means the Luminate leaders are keen to study her in greater detail.
Not put off by mere distance, the Luminate send agents after Anna so they can get to the bottom of her strange condition.
Anna is intelligent, curious, flawed, imperfect, and hopeful, and all these traits only make us root for, cry with, and ultimately love her. She wears her heart on her sleeve so we can certainly feel for her as she gushes about the young men in her life. Over the course of Blood Rose Rebellion, Anna’s sheltered view of the world (growing up as a lady of means in Victorian London) is stripped away – in some cases quite painfully. The change in character as she grows is delightful to behold.
Blood Rose Rebellion Author: Publisher:
If we break the sum of this book down to its parts, there does seem to be borrowed traits from or homages paid to various authors and series. In particular Robert Jordan’s Wheel Of Time series; in that epic tale, a magic system envelopes the world and only gifted folk can draw upon its power. There’s also the upper-class family stuck in a structured class system – for the record, seeking refuge with poor cousins on the continent is very E.M. Forster.
Blood Rose Rebellion is painted across the history of time and dotted with real people and events the likes of Queen Victoria, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the Hungarian revolution. Eves also delves into the myths and legends of Hungary, and gives a 21st century burnish to ideas that have survived generations.
Ultimately, the book is a beast unto itself and is easily the most enjoyable read I’ve had so far in 2017.
Rosalyn Eves Alfred A. Knopf, young adult historical fantasy