Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Bookwyrm's Review of Crimson by Arthur Slade

Author: Arthur Slade

Length: 272 Pages/ 7 Hours, 15 Minutes (Audio)

Publisher: Dava Enterprises

Release Date: September 26, 2019/ November 27, 2019 (Audio)

Narrator: Mare Trevathan

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Buy on Amazon

I don't review a lot of YA fantasy, although that's not from a lack of enjoyment in the genre. On the contrary, I have liked YA even before it was called YA. A lot of the stuff I read as a teen would be classified as YA today, and being a kid at heart, I still have a warm spot for these kinds of books. When I was offered the chance to review Crimson, I jumped, since it had such an interesting premise. Its a good thing, too, since I had such an enjoyable reading experience with it.


In the realm of Queen Servilia, who has ruled for 1000 years of peace since she cast down the evil god Mansren,  peace is maintained by the queen's guards, who ensure the queen's laws are kept at all costs. This is the setting we meet the protagonist, Fen, who lives in Village 21. When she was 12, Fen was convicted of steeling a little butterfly statue, and as a consequence, one of the Queen's Guardsmen cut off her hand. Four years later, Fen wakes up to a horrible surprise: her hair is now crimson, meaning she has wildmagic, which is forbidden on pain of death, since only the queen is allowed to use magic. When her mother sees, this, she tries to cut her hair but it can't be cut. This forces Fen to go on the run, leaving her mother and sister May behind.

Leaving the village, Fen is confronted by one of the village bullies, who looks to turn her in. Her magic manifests as vines shoot out of her stump and stop him from taking her prisoner. Escaping the village area, Fen meets Ithak, another wildmagic that can turn invisible. She discovers from him that her village has been attacked by the queen's forces looking for her. She returns to discover her village burned and her mother has been killed, while her sister May has been captured and taken to the capital. Returning to the village, she is chased by the guards, but manages to escape. She runs across some guards down the road, alone, and manages to subdue one with her magic, taking his sword. That sword draws the guard, Marcus, after her, as his honor is now at stake. 

Fen and Ithak head into the salt mire, a poisonous swamp that has unbreathable gases in it. Ithak is immune, and Fen discovers a way too use her power to breathe. The guard, Marcus, however, follows them in and is overcome by the gas. Fen saves him, and they tie him up and bring him along to their final destination, the Helwood. There, Fen meets the master of the Helwood: Mansren, who's stone body was broken apart by Servilia 1000 years prior. Mansren explains that Servilia is not the kind benevolent ruler she believes. In fact, she was the one responsible for all the other kingdom's destruction, and so much of the evil he is blamed for. He makes a deal with her that if she retrieves the last part of his body, his missing head, he will save her sister May from Servilia.

Seizing the chance, Fen, Ithak and Marcus, who realizes that he's been lied to his whole life, set out to bring Mansren his head. The journey moves along due to using the Queen's road, which creates magic speed for travelers. The Queen throws a wrench into the travel, though, causing them to crash off the road and end up separated. This leads to Fen working to retrieve the the head on her own, leading to a crazy series of events, as Mansren ends up made whole, but it turns out, the stories of what he did in ancient times had some basis, and the cure for Servilia's evil may be even worse. Fen and her allies must decide where they stand, and if they are willing to make the sacrifices necessary to stop the evil that could destroy the Queendom.


YA takes a lot of criticism for simplistic, two dimensional characters who are usually created as Mary/Marty Stu's, quickly mastering their abilities with hardly any trouble, barely an inconvenience. Crimson is not in that club, though. The characters, mainly Fen, Ithak and Marcus, are well rounded characters, with strengths and weaknesses, who act in a believable fashion based on their life experiences. Fen has magic, but she both fears and struggles with it throughout the book, and it just feels so organic to her character. She just feels like a real teenage girl struggling with forces way beyond her control. Marcus and Ithak are a product of their environments, and it really shows in the way their characters develop. Even the villains are much more developed than I expected, with more than the mustache twirling evil baddie motivations. 

The world is definitely an interesting creation, being a fairly dystopian fantasy setting, but not known as such to the residents, who have a thousand years of propaganda to instill in them the idea that their world is supposed to be that way. Its an interesting method of world building, letting the backstory do the heavy lifting of creating the setting. It's definitely a bit heavier than the usual pedestrian YA world building. 


The narration was handled by Mare Trevathan to good effect. She does an excellent job bringing the various characters to life, giving them each a unique personality. Her use of various tones and pitches differentiates the characters, and her pacing on the narration is excellent, never falling into a monotone, and really engaging your interest in the story. Definitely a talent to keep an ear out for.


This is definitely one of those books that will have a broad appeal to a variety of readers/listeners. As far as what you can compare it to, it has a similar feel to Sanderson's Mistborn in world building, but it definitely has its own feel and flair. Fantasy fans can definitely find something to love with this one.

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