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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

'Sisters Red' by Jackson PEARCE

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris--the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She's determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.

Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts ferociously alongside her. But even as more girls' bodies pile up in the city and the Fenris seem to be gaining power, Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves. She finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax and Scarlett's only friend--but does loving him mean betraying her sister and all that they've worked for?

At first glance Jackson Pearce’s novel looks like a modern red riding hood.... Well, yes and no. It is a modern retelling of the old tale, but with a few delightful twists. Like the fact that ‘red riding hood’ is two girls, sisters Scarlett and Rosie March. And these little reds are no meek basket-carriers; Scarlett and Rosie kick werewolf ass on a regular basis, they are knife-wielding, cape-wearing vigilantes hell-bent on ridding their little corner of the world of the Fenris plague.

This novel is glorious. There’s no other word for it. Everything from the drool-worthy cover to the last page sucked me in and kept me in a state of happy suspense. Ms. Pearce has taken elements of little red riding hood – red capes, woodsmen, grandma’s cottage and the big bad wolf – and written it with a modern-day spin. This is an original retelling of an old fable, and a wonderful new voice on the YA paranormal scene.

Fenris are werewolves – half man, half wolf. The stuff of myth and legend, come to horrible life and with only the March sister’s to rid Georgia of their plague.

Scarlett is not your ordinary heroine. She has been fighting Fenris since she was a child, and tackled her first slobbering beast after he killed her grandmother. Scarlett is a warrior, with the scars to prove it. Her entire body (save a smooth spot over her heart) is covered in scars and scratches, mutilated wounds and Fenris track-marks, and she is missing her right eye. Where her eye should be is a long jagged scare from hairline to jaw.
“All I’m saying is” – he chokes on the words as the mutation begins to overpower his vocal cords – “people might get the wrong idea, a pretty girl like you out alone on a corner like this.”
My lips curve into a grin as I draw the hatchet from my belt. There’s a swish as his clothes hit the ground, then the clicking sound of claws on pavement. “I’m not worried,” I answer, unable to suppress a sly grin. “I’m not that kind of girl.”
Rosie is the younger sister, 16 to Scarlett’s 18. Rosie lives in her sister’s shadow, always trying to follow in her hunter footsteps and care as much about the fight as Scarlett does. But Rosie dreams of a life beyond the Fenris – a life without hatchets and knives, blood and busted ribs. Tempting Rosie is Silas, the sister’s woodsmen friend who has been Scarlett’s hunting partner since they were children. Silas has returned from a year-long stint in San Francisco, and there’s something different about him. Something handsome and charming and that makes Rosie want to be close to him, even if it means leaving Scarlett behind;
... I see her cast Silas and me suspicious gazes every now and then. I think she knows we’re pulling at the ropes that bind the three of us together; I just don’t think she knows that Silas and I are pulling as one.
The Fenris fairytale is gory and fantastic. Pearce has written some truly heinous slobbering beasts and their presence on the page causes goosebumps. Fenris can look like handsome young men one minute, but turn into snout-faced monsters when they get a whiff of young, beautiful flesh. The fight scenes are fast and furious, with hatchets flying, skin-gouging brilliant action that will leave you panting in vicarious exhilaration.

I loved the fairytale gore of ‘Sisters Red’, and I adored the elder sister protagonist, Scarlett. Scarlett and Rosie are alternating narrators, but it was Scarlett who really clicked for me. She is a very different YA protagonist than I have ever read; unique for her scarring and warrior heart, she was a dark delight to read. That’s why I had a little problem with Jackson Pearce’s character arc for Scarlett and Rosie which somewhat tainted my response to the novel overall....

It did seem like Pearce overestimated Rosie’s appeal, and underestimated Scarlett’s. Rosie was just so generic; pretty and porcelain, innocent and unknowing. Scarlett was the interesting sister, yet Rosie was given a more intense character arc.

From the on-set I was more interested in Scarlett. What can I say? I love an underdog. And Scarlett is most assuredly an underdog; outcast and scarred, living for the hunt because she believes her life is meant for little else. There was something so tragically compelling about Scarlett that I absolutely loved her. But Pearce hasn’t written much of a character journey for the scarred sister, she instead reserves all of the best progressions for Rosie.
Scarlett’s journey started with her knowing she loved the hunt, and ended with her realizing she really loved the hunt. Whereas Rosie discovered that her life couldn’t revolve around hunting, or trying to be her sister, and this revelation came around the same time she developed feelings for her old friend Silas.

Maybe it’s trite and predictable, but I felt that Scarlett was more deserving of a love interest than Rosie – a love interest to really give her a character arc and transformation from tough warrior woman to something softer, more human.
On the one hand I do realize that it’s reality for people not to change – for there to be no groundbreaking light-bulb moment of realization. And that’s Scarlett – she remains the same from beginning to end. But in a YA book I think you need to give your character’s a push... especially because Scarlett was the more interesting character to tug at reader’s heart-strings. For me, ‘Sisters Red’ was all about Scarlett. I would have been quite content for the whole book to be told from her perspective, with nothing of Rosie’s interiority.

I also didn’t connect with Rosie and Silas’s relationship. For starters, there’s a five-year age gap. The age-gap wouldn’t be so bad, except that Rosie is 16 to Silas’s 21 and it did leave me wondering what he saw in someone so young, and why he couldn’t get a girlfriend his own age? Then there’s the fact that Rosie is just plain boring. I probably felt that way only when comparing her to the incomparable Scarlett, but I felt nothing for Rosie as a character beyond her role as Scarlett’s little sister. Silas was a wonderful character, but I did not understand what he saw in Rosie to make him fall in love with her 16-year-old self. As far as I could see Rosie and Silas connected on a purely superficial level - drawn to one another for their physical attractiveness (which just made me feel even sorrier and root harder for Scarlett!).

I did struggle to like Rosie. It wasn’t so much Rosie, per-se; it was more that I was rooting for Scarlett, the underdog scarred sister. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why Jackson Pearce didn’t give Scarlett more of a character journey. She was, by leaps and bounds, the most fascinating and unique facet of ‘Sisters Red’... yet she finishes the way she started, having learnt little about herself beyond what she already knew. Where Rosie and Silas have revelations of epic romantic proportions and face hard truths about what they want out of life, Scarlett remains stagnate and same.

I loved 'Sisters Red', regardless of my character-related disgruntlement. I consumed it in one sitting and got completely ensnared by Pearce's modern retelling of an old tale. The writing is lush, the monster's ferocious and the heroine's fearless. I would definitely recommend this novel.

Ms. Pearce does have a companion book to ‘Sisters Red’ coming out in June 2011, called ‘
Sweetly’. I will definitely read this companion, but only in the hopes that Scarlett is written in the limelight and Rosie is relegated to the shadows (where she belongs!)



  1. Freat review Danielle! Sisters Red sounds beautiful. Your reviews are always lovely and detailed!

    BTW, how was meeting Kirsty Eagar??

  2. @ Tina - Thanks hon! Meeting Kirsty was *AMAZING!* She was completely lovely and humble (even after winning the Vic Premier's Literary award last night!!!). Touring Penguin HQ was fantastic (I may have drooled a little) but meeting Kirsty was the highlight - she's so lovely!

  3. Awesome review! I have been on the fence about this one after reading a few bad reviews, but I'll def consider it =P


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