Hope and Red (Empire of Storms Trilogy #1) by Jon Skovron
Hope and Red is one of my July reads that I’m catching up with reviews for – and I will say from the outset that it’s a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I have to confess that I’m probably a bit of a pushover for the sort of story that brings you a protagonist thrown into a dire situation and then made to survive, watching their development, maybe they’re nurtured, taken under somebody’s wing, trained or just taught the harsh facts of life from the environment in which they live. With Hope and Red you get double the enjoyment. Two characters orphaned from a tender age and each raised in the most unusual (and absolutely opposite and yet at the same time incredibly similar) set of circumstances. To top it off, and most unusual really, I loved both characters and the way they were written.
The two main protagonists are Hope and Red. To take them in turn. Hope witnessed her entire village murdered at a young age. Fortunately she was taken in by an ancient order, the Vinchen warriors, and eventually taken under the wing of the master teacher who named her Bleak Hope (after the village from which she came) and saw something in her that he deemed worthy of training – even though it went against the code of the order. Hope’s entire purpose becomes one of revenge and with the Vinchen training she has the ability to maybe achieve that goal.
Red also became an orphan at a young age, and whilst his origins might speak of a privileged start in life, once he finds himself alone in the world he quickly sinks much lower and finds himself dwelling in the slums of New Laven. Named for his red eyes (a side effect of the drug his mother took during pregnancy) Red’s survival, similar to Hope’s, lay in the most unusual circumstances. He’s taken under the wing of one of the roughest scallywags walking the streets of New Laven known as Sadie the Goat. Thrown together into a life of piracy the two form a close bond that pretty much keeps Red alive and makes him street savvy – although, being from the more upmarket side of town (where the people are known as Lacy) he’ll never truly be considered part of the Circle.
What did I love about Hope and Red. Well, let me count the ways. This story is a paragon of characterisation! And, I love well formed characters. The story of their formative years is totally fascinating and in fact I could have read more on that score. On top of that the two main characters are like polar opposites. Hope has a firm code of conduct and sense of honour. She’s like a whirlwind with a sword and is so straight forward that she almost suffers from a deplorable lack of fun. For Red, everything is a lark or a jape. He has light fingers and considers himself to be a cheeky chappie and something of a ladies man. Unlike his fellow chums (or wags as they’re called here), Red is intelligent in a different way. His early start in life has given him an appreciation for the beauty which can be found in something as simple but breathtaking as a sunset seen from a rooftop, he talks slightly differently, he can look at the bigger picture, read and write and, well, his background is something that not only lends itself to those differences but also lends itself to further investigation as we will discover as the story progresses. Now, I’m already happy with both characters, not to mention very entertained by some of the surrounding cast when the two of them meet – and that’s when the fun really starts. This is not a love story. There isn’t instantaneous love – although there is probably an initial burst of lust from Red – but the chemistry, the camaraderie and the eventually stronger feelings that develop between the two is wonderfully entertaining. Within a fairly short period of time they form a bond of trust that enables them to survive some tense situations where the odds were stacked against them and that make for great reading.
Underlying all of this we have the big baddy of the piece. The Emperor and his evil biomancers. This provides the underlying thread for the story and the plot that will eventually tie the two main characters together in ways that are totally unsuspected. the biomancers – I can’t profess to have a handle yet on what they are or what they’re capable of but some of their abilities displayed so far are absolutely batshit crazy – and of course jaw droppingly entertaining.
In case I didn’t make it clear I really enjoyed Hope and Red. I loved the characters, the story is gripping, tense and entertaining, I actually cared about the protagonists, and more than that their friends. I really enjoyed the Gangs of New York type feel of New Laven with the accompanying slang and creative cursing and I love the direction that the story has taken at the conclusion.
In terms of criticisms, well, I think in a certain way Hope and Red are maybe a bit too perfect at what they do – but the conundrum of that is that it’s their outstanding ability that makes them so enjoyable to read so, strictly speaking, I can’t really say it bothered me. Yes, underneath it all I could maybe be a bit incredulous about some of the things they achieved but in actual fact it was just such fun to read that I can’t find myself being irritated in that respect. Also, the language, lets just say that it’s a bit colourful – is it more than you’d expect on the streets of a slum? Probably not. But, will that maybe be a bit much or perhaps offensive to some people? Probably so. Just a warning that the creative cursing is definitely creative.
Criticisms notwithstanding I thoroughly enjoyed this and would certainly recommend it. Fast paced and incredibly entertaining.
I received a copy through Netgalley courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.