Heyo, readers! For the second edition of Sunday Book Review I’ll be giving my thoughts on a book I just finished yesterday: The Redwood Rebel, by Lorna George.
The Redwood Rebel (Lorna George)
Genre according to Amazon: fantasy, romance.
Length (print): 362 pages.
How I found it: ads and mentions on Twitter and Facebook.
In the aftermath of civil war, the people of Ffion starve. The trade has dwindled, the harvest has failed, and all power belongs to the cruel and corrupt. Those few who could have fled the forest continent for other lands, but most are trapped by their poverty and love of their homeland, with little hope for change. Far beneath Chloris Castle, the rebel Naomi has been incarcerated since the tyrannical Princess Adrienne stole the Redwood Throne. Starved of light and warmth for the past four years, she has had only her rage and determination to keep her going as she both fears and yearns for death to claim her at last. In a violent sweep of fate, she is dragged back into the light once more, the Princess and her Councillor hoping to use her as a pawn against the powerful Dragon King of Koren. Faced with an almost impossible choice, Naomi strikes a deal with her captors that will set her free at last. Unfortunately, she soon finds she has taken on much more than she bargained for.
Amazon Rating: 4.9 stars (10 customer reviews) at the time of article publication.
Caution: potential minor spoilers ahead, though I’ll do my best to not reveal the ending.
First impression: I read the free sample on Amazon after seeing the book mentioned both on Twitter and Facebook. I liked the tone it set right off the bat, but it was another week or so before I came back and bought the full book. Once I got into the second or third chapter, I was grabbing my Kindle for more every chance I got.
Buckle up, boys and girls.
- Solid style: let me start out by saying that Lorna George’s writing is impeccable. Not just because it’s 99.9% typo-free, but because there’s evident thought and purpose behind each sentence. It’s the kind of writing that feels good to read. Personally, I found myself becoming a better writer by osmosis.
- Brilliant characters: the complexity, depth, and development of the main characters is superb, simply put. More on this later on.
- Story-world come alive: Ilios felt like a real world in a way I haven’t encountered in fantasy fiction since Paolini’s Alagaesia. Geography, history, politics, population…it’s there, it’s tangible, and it’s part of the story, not just info-dumps.
- Villains: Adrienne is the villain you want to slap across the face. Cygnus is the villain you want to stay very far away from. Both are ‘classic villain’ material without stepping into ‘cliche villain’ territory.
- Plot progression: the plot built nicely towards the climactic showdown I was waiting for. It wasn’t terribly complex, but it felt right.
- Naomi and Arun: the story revolves primarily around these two characters and their efforts (or lack thereof) to coexist and cooperate in their predicament together. As previously mentioned, both these characters are ridiculously well developed. I found myself understanding, rooting for, and sympathizing with both of them at the same time despite their very different perspectives on the world. Redeemably flawed, admirably noble, and indisputably human, Naomi and Arun are both characters I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
- The fantasy aspect: harpies, dryads, wood sprites, magic, dragons, and more? Heck yeah!
The best: in my opinion, Arun’s character arch is the best part of The Redwood Rebel, because his personal battle with his own flaws is what brings out his greatest strengths, and because I feel he makes the most progress towards completion by the end of the novel.
Though I firmly believe no book is perfect, I had to dig extra deep in The Redwood Rebel to find any potential flaws (and I use that word very loosely here).
- Some slow portions: I felt the characters had a tendency to delve into long paragraphs of retro/introspection when the immediate plot would have benefited from an uninterrupted flow.
- Unlikeable protagonist? Okay, hear me out. After I finished reading the book, I spent the better part of an hour trying to convince myself I liked Naomi as a character. She’s proud, harsh, and brittle, and spends most of the book being angry at people. Don’t get me wrong. I know her background and what she’s been through. I get it. I understand her. I sympathize with her. I’m on her side (most of the time). I want her to succeed. But I just can’t like her.
- Agenda showing through: there were a few moments (almost purely lines delivered by Naomi, and only two or three instances) that felt like they were shoe-horned in to push an agenda. I think the messages/themes of the book were communicated effectively without those moments/lines.
Conclusion: The Redwood Rebel is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time. I can’t emphasize enough just how real these characters are and how much I wanted to see them grow and change from page to page. The weaknesses mentioned above barely make a dent in my enjoyment of the story overall. I’m looking forward to reuniting with Arun and Naomi in the next installment.
My final rating: 4/5 stars
Note: I would give The Redwood Rebel a higher rating (4.5?) if Amazon, Goodreads, etc. allowed for half-star flexibility in their ratings. The book is absolutely worthy of 5 stars, and I’m glad the overall ratings reflect that. If I had been able to fully like Naomi as a protagonist, this would have been a 5 star no-brainer.
I paid for my copy of The Redwood Rebel and wrote this review without involvement in any exchange or deals. Thoughts and opinions are my own. Yours may differ, and that’s fine. Feel free to drop a comment below!