‘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.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Reads - Re­view by D.L. PHILIPS star2@thes­tar.com.my

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

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