Book Review: Hope and Red by Jon Skovron
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Empire of Storms
Publisher: Orbit (June 28, 2016)
Length: 544 pages
Meet Hope. At the tender age of eight, she became the lone survivor of a massacre on her small southern fishing village after watching everyone she has ever known and loved die horribly in an experiment by the emperor’s biomancers. Rescued by a merchant ship, she was then taken in by the ancient order of Vinchen warriors and taught their ways by Hurlo, their grand master who went against his order’s rules and trained the girl in secret.
Meet Red. Not long after being orphaned and left alone in the slums of New Laven, he woke up one fateful day to find himself held captive aboard a ship alongside the infamous Sadie the Goat. Together, the two of them made their daring escape, and Sadie was so impressed by the boy’s talents that afterwards she named him her sidekick and protégé and the spot.
Under the tutelage of the female pirate/con-woman, Red grows up to become one of the greatest, most quick-fingered thieves in the criminal underworld. Hope, on the other hand, has dedicated her life to becoming an honorable and disciplined Vinchen warrior, dreaming of one day avenging her murdered village. Aside from losing their families at a young age, the two of them have very little in common. However, it appears that their separate paths have ultimately led them to a shared purpose and enemy, and it’s not long before we see Hope and Red joining forces for the biggest fight of their lives.
From the very start, I was completely taken by both Hope and Red. While the two of them don’t even meet until nearly halfway through the novel (and that’s when the fun really takes off) I nonetheless had a great time getting to know each of them on their own. The beginning of the book is mainly focused on their early lives, detailing the children’s experiences growing up with the respective mentors. To me, this section almost reads like an in-depth character study for both Hope and Red, delineating their qualities and showing how their personalities were shaped by the different ways they were raised. Characters are one the most important aspects of a story for me, so I was beyond pleased at such an intimate portrayal of our two protagonists.
Jon Skovron has also created a massive, fully-realized world filled with countless nations and cultures. We get to set sail with Hope to visit a great number of these locales after she departs from the Vinchen order and takes a bodyguard position on a ship’s crew. In the north is a different dynamic, where society may be more built up and urbanized, but it is not without its problems like abject poverty and the disparity in living conditions between the rich and the poor. Red has always found himself caught between two worlds, disowned by the upper class but also not fully accepted by his fellow street gangsters and wags. Despite introducing his readers to a large number of sights and sounds, people and places, maritime slangs and street lingo, I thought the author did a marvelous job uniting Hope and Red’s individual storylines into a tightly woven plot.
Speaking of which, there was never a dull moment. Mixing grit with light humor, the writing style was incredibly easy to get into, helped by the story’s smooth flow and quick pacing. As well, Skovron’s experience with writing in the Young Adult genre can be seen in some of the character actions and plot elements, giving Hope and Red some crossover appeal (albeit reader discretion is advised given the strong language and graphic violence).
Truly, the only criticism I have is the pacing in the last one hundred pages or so, where I felt the solution to Hope and Red’s dilemma was presented too neatly, and the book was also wrapped up too quickly. Compared to the intro, where our protagonists’ lives were so lovingly and painstakingly described in all their particulars, the ending felt somewhat scant and haphazard, almost like Skovron was in a rush to finish. Beyond this one gripe though, I can really find no other major faults.
If you prefer character-driven tales and world-building that gives you the full picture, then you should definitely check this out. Hope and Red is the perfect escape for fantasy fans looking for a fun, entertaining and action-packed adventure. I can’t wait to read the next book in the trilogy.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Guest Post: “What Lies Beyond Grimdark” by Jon Skovron