It’s always fun to return to one of my favorite series, and it’s even better when that series manages to consistently surprise you. Though there have been some departures, Lackey’s formula for her Elemental Masters series has been “Traditional fairy tale retold in historical (mostly British) urban fantasy setting and concludes with female elemental master living happily ever with male elemental master of appropriate opposing element.”
Blood Red, though it happily exists in the same world as the rest of the series, takes that formula and happily shakes it around a bit. In this retelling of the “Little Red Riding Hood” story, Rosamund is a badass earth master who hunts monsters for a living and has a particular grudge against werewolves. But the fairy tale allegory ends early on in this novel, and we’re left with the story of the main character growing up and coming into her own.
The formula changes that I appreciated most in this novel were (1) shifting the geographical focus to eastern Europe and away from the familiar settings of England and France and (2) shifting away from the traditional love story.
Lackey has obviously done tremendous research on the cultures and lifestyles of multiple countries and social classes for this novel, but never quite falls into the trap of “All this research I did; let me show you it.” She brings Germany, Romania, and Transylvania to stunning life, subtly contrasting what we have been familiar with in England while also showing how much is still the same (such as a very familiar bias against female Elemental Masters in the upper echelons of the Lodges).
Rosa’s relationship with a certain Hungarian also does not end neatly with certain wedding bells in the future. This frees up the plot to focus very specifically on the (really rather terrifying) Big Bad rather than also having to hit all of the requisite developing romance tropes along the way. But the ending closes on a hopeful note, and I found myself almost wishing that I get to follow along as Rosa and [redacted for spoilers] get the chance to further develop their relationship in a future installment of the series.
Some moments in the book read a bit slow, and there is a certain amount of narrative dedicated to either naval-gazing or immersing the reader a bit too much in day-to-day life in between the moments that actually move the plot along. At this point, this is a style that should be familiar and almost expected for any Lackey fan, so I feel comfortable commenting on it without necessarily making it a negative critique.
As usual, I can’t wait to read the next book in this series. This installment gives me hope that she will continue to branch out into different (non-Western) cultures and fairy tales as influence for her source material.
Currently reading: Star Trek Enterprise: Last Full Measure by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels