Review: Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
Book Genre: Fairy tale retellings
Romance Heat Level: Bell pepper/YA romance
I’m doing a bit of a different kind of review this month, trying to incorporate two books into one review while focusing on one narrow aspect of the reading experience: prologues. I set out planning to review only Crimson Bound this month, a book marketed as a Little Red Riding Hood retelling (which it really wasn’t). The trouble was, I ended up not enjoying the book, and I was frustrated, because I really didn’t want to write a negative review. I was even more frustrated because the writing wasn’t bad–I even enjoyed the descriptive sentences and language. The trouble for me was the story structure and lack of action.
After reading some reviews I learned that many people liked Ms. Hodge’s first book, Cruel Beauty, her Beauty and the Beast retelling, better. I found that this was the case for me, as well. I’m going to attempt to identify why in my review.
As a writer, you receive lots of advice–advice from friends, beta readers, editors, potential agents, random internet people, books about writing, workshops about writing. In my view, one of my tasks as a writer is to sort through that advice and pluck away what is useful to me and cast aside what is not.
Something you often hear from potential agents is to AVOID PROLOGUES. This used to bother me for a few reasons. First– of course, many, many published books have prologues. Some even have prologues that work! Second, it seemed oddly punitive to reject a book simply because it has a prologue.
However, in a lot of cases, it turns out that prologue is a lazy way to deliver backstory that would be better unpacked into the actual story, and the prologue only delays a reader from getting to what they really want when they open a book: the inciting incident of the real story.
The contrast between Cruel Beauty and Crimson Bound provides a perfect example of why to avoid prologues.
Cruel Beauty did not have a prologue. Crimson Bound did. Cruel Beauty‘s storyline took off right from the first word, setting up the world and the background that was vital to the story, launching me into a narrative with a main character who had clear motivations and goals that I could easily identify (to marry and kill the Demon Prince who has held her world hostage for centuries). Though I actually enjoyed Crimson Bound‘s prologue– it was like reading a fairytale– it was a “telling” rather than a “showing.” (Another bit of writing advice you hear all the time is “show don’t tell”).
The more I read in Crimson Bound, the more I realized that the events covered in the prologue represented what I would call “the meat of the story.” Those events set up everything about the lead’s motivations. There was also a ton of action that was glossed over in the prologue, action that would have made for a very engaging story had it been unpacked into the story present, action that the rest of the book lacked. The main storyline of Crimson Bound was bogged down; it did not have many exciting action scenes where progress was made in the plotline. I honestly feel that this book needed a stronger structural edit and a reworking of the scene structure to focus on satisfying plot action, and that ultimately, it should have been the second book in a series. Everything covered in the prologue needed to be fully unpacked into its own book in order for me to care about the main character and her motivations. As it was, those vital aspects of the story were missing, and so I proceeded into the book but could not engage with it.
Cruel Beauty is the stronger story, structure-wise. It maintains its focus through the entire story-arc. Its backstory is delicately woven into the frontstory. Crimson Bound had a lot of potential, but needed better developmental editing.
Cruel Beauty gets 4 stars.
Crimson Bound gets 2.5 stars.