Publication Date: June 30, 2016
Edition: ebook, 416 pages
A story of vengeance and love.
In a fracturing empire spread across savage seas, two young people from different cultures find common purpose.
A nameless girl is the lone survivor when her village is massacred by biomancers, mystical servants of the emperor. Named after her lost village, Bleak Hope is secretly trained by a master Vinchen warrior as an instrument of vengeance.
A boy becomes an orphan on the squalid streets of New Laven and is adopted by one of the most notorious women of the criminal underworld, given the name Red, and trained as a thief and con artist.
When a ganglord named Deadface Drem strikes a bargain with the biomancers to consolidate and rule all the slums of New Laven, the worlds of Hope and Red come crashing together, and their unlikely alliance takes them further than either could have dreamed possible.
*Discalimer: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion and review.
Hope and Red was a book that caught my eye a while back with its synopsis – a female warrior out for vengeance; “women of the criminal underworld”; and a boy thief and con artist. It sounded like it had all the making for a great story – and that proved to be true! An incredibly entertaining story with unique and hilarious characters and dialog, but it did have a “YA” feel to at times, which heavily contrasted with the actions and events of the story. I like to think of Hope and Red as “A YA with mature language.”
Captain Sin Tao’s ship was approaching an island when they noticed the mark of the biomancers and decided to set anchor and turn back the next morning. While anchored, a young girl – the last remaining soul alive of that island – sneaks aboard and is found by Tao and crew. Tao decides to take her Hurlo, the head monk of the Vinchen order, who decides to keep her on until she is old enough to leave, and gives her name Bleak Hope – named after the island where her family and everyone she knew was murdered by biomancers.
Sadie wakes up to find herself southended and captive aboard a ship. Along with her is a young orphan boy, who appears to from a wealthy upperclass. This boy agrees to help Saide escape, and after she murders a crewmen and sees the boy staring at the blood of the knife, she names him “Red.” Sadie then takes Red under wings and teaches him all he needs to know to be a thief and con-man, and how to survive New Laven.
The common thread between Hope and Red is the biomancers. Biomacners murder Hope’s family and for that, she seeks vengeance; Biomancers have made a deal with those running New Laven and neighboring cities to take citizens occasionally to perform experiments. The murder and experimentation of innocents is to help protect the emperor and the empire, the biomancers say.
Hope is raised by Hurlo, and after witnessing her cruel treatment from every other monk in the order, besides himself, and knowing that this girl saw her whole family and everyone she knew murdered right before her eyes, Hurlo decides he will break the code of the Vinchen warrior, and train a girl in Vinchen way. We are told that the Vinchen are the greatest warriors to even walk this planet. As matter a fact, everything about the Vichen and Hurlo we know is told to us. We never see any of the details of Hurlo’s past fights, nor do we see any of Hope’s training. So when we suddenly see Hope in combat and she is leaping with ease, from ship to ship, literally knocking a bullet out of the air with her sword (I shit you not!), and killing enemies all the time like she is on God-mode… I had to call bull-shit. Maybe all Vinchen can do this, but not seeing any other Vinchen fight or even hearing any particular feats of Hurlo, and having only heard that they were great, it was a hard pill to swallow that she was that good.
From the training, and seriousness and focus she puts into it, Hope becomes someone whose loyalty and sense of duty is one that is on the same level as Brienne of Tarth – except Hope is smoken-hott! And someone who noticed that right away was Red.
Red was easily my favorite character. Witty, clever, snarky; Red is someone who would fit in perfectly as a member of the Gentlemen Bastards! While Hope’s weapon is the sword, Red, being a thief, his weapon is the throwing knife – and this guys never misses. Both Hope’s and Red’s skills put them at the top 1% of the 1% – like it was incredibly unreal to me how good and accurate at they were at this. While it still bothered me that the source of Hope’s skill was never really revealed (apparently all Vinchen can hit bullets out of the air on first try?), Red’s source is explained at the end as a part of twist that I did not see coming.The only issue I had with Red, and this may not bother other readers, was this was where the plot felt like it took a turn for the YA.
When we first meet the teenaged Red, like may gentlemen his age, he is searching for girls, and the girl that meet his eye is Nettles. And like many gentleman his age, he is looking to impress to her, and many of his actions from then on are, are motived by his interest in this girl. And this is no exception for Hope. If it wasn’t him wanting meet and impress Hope, this story never would have happened. I do not have an issue with a love-story here, but Red’s searching for a female companion was the his plot’s main focus that everything else circled around (it wasn’t a side plot), and I was very very confident that I was walking into a YA-romance story.
((After I completed this book, I found out Jon Skovron is mainly a YA writer, that Hope and Red was his first adult book…certain things from the story made a lot more sense after I read that.))
What keeps me from saying this is a YA story is the language and dialog. The language can be raunchy and crude at times, and the idioms and slangs of the cultures of this world are always present in the dialog. Both of these, like the YA-romance things for me, will vary from reader to reader. When it came to the language and dialog, I loved it. I thought it helped to further developed both the characters and give us a better sense of this world. The slang is used a lot, but these are mainly teenagers we are around, and how many teenagers don’t say “dude” or “like” often we speaking? I didn’t see it as any different than that.
The strongest aspect of Jon’s writing of this story was the characters. While I do feel Hope could have benefited from a little more background development (I will not stop saying that), Jon does an incredible job at developing a unique, entertaining, and highly diverse cast. We have Sadie, Red’s mentor, who is a female pirate captain and one of the most known thieves in all of New Laven; Nettles is a bouncer at a brothel because she is so skilled and deadly; And Filler, Red’s best friends, is gay. The best thing about all this is, in New Laven, no body so much as bats an eyelash that any of these things are true and are happening.
Jon does a great a job at highlight this diversity because of how male-driven and ruled Hope’s story ine is. She can’t be trained as a Vinchen, because she is women; can’t be on the ship because woman are bad luck; can be taken seriously because she is a women. Yet, when she gets to New Laven, everyone there could careless if she male or female. Red tells her in New Laven, it doesn’t matter what sex you are, if you can steal or fight with the best, that what matters most. And Nettles corrects her that it is not only a “man” of the Vinchen order that must do such and such with their oaths. While the monks, warriors, upperclass, and biomancers, all want the world to know and have told Hope that her place is here because she is a women, when she goes to New Laven, she finally realized that is doesn’t matter, and what she has been told before was wrong.
And finally the biomancers. These are men (because men are the only ones allowed to learn biomancy) who alter any living thing by touching – and than can do some pretty horrific and gruesome things. We don’t learn in the first book anything about how this magic-system works, but I have feeling we will in the second book 😉
I feel I should say that I flew through this book reading it. I have pointed out a couple aspects and themes of the story that bothered me (and there were of couple of events in the plot that had me saying: how “convenient”), but there was only a couple. Engaging plot (which get’s better as it goes along), high action, ridiculous fight scenes, amazing characters, serious themes and message – I had fun reading this story.
This was a book where everything improved as the story went on, and I fully expect my self to rating future installment of this series all as a 4 star or higher.
Date Read: 05/31/2016 - 06/08/2016 Review Written: 06/20/2016