This book was sent to me by Titan Books in exchange for an honest review.
18.06.19 / Titan Books / Fantasy / Paperback / 368pp / 978-1785659775
Target Audience: Readers who enjoy re-imaginations of classic literature and stories that refresh the story for a more modern audience. Gore, action, risk and intelligence all rolled into one exceptional re-telling of the tale of Red-Riding Hood.
About The Girl In Red
It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that was perfectly sane and normal until three months ago.
There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined.
Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods…
My Review of The Girl In Red
If you know of Christina Henry then you will already aware that her novels are inspired by classic stories but elevated to completely new levels and adding new depth to the essence of the narrative. If you are new to CH’s work then you are in for a treat and now have a lot to catch up on.
The Girl in Red takes the spirit of a classic tale (Red Riding Hood), spins it on its head and injects it into a post-apocalyptic world where one wrong move could get someone infected by a deadly virus or worse, captured by the government for quarantine or the new militias that roam to lands seeking people to impart their nefarious urges upon. Red only has her sharpened instincts and calculated approach to traversing the terrains to rely on for survival. If anyone gets too close then Red does have her trusty axe to protect herself.
Red saw the Crisis and its resulting decimation from the virus a mile off and has prepared for everything. Having a prosthetic leg complicates matters but Red has accounted for the extra difficulty that it will add to an already overwhelming trek to her Grandmother’s house. Red is alone but she is smart, swift and critical to a fault. There is no time for second guesses in this new world but Red is damn sure not going to fall into the post-apocalyptic traps, tropes and cliches she knows well from the many movies she has consumed over the years. The Girl In Red follows Red’s journey across this new world that has shed its order and civility. A world that has been contaminated by an unknown virus that begins with a cough and ends with unimaginable suffering. A world held hostage by men and their messed up sense of dominance and power. A world where is not safe to be a woman alone, but Red is not ready to give up and she will take on anyone who wants to take what’s hers.
The novel also follows the lead up to the end times. In alternate chapters we see what happens to Red’s family and how she became the Red we meet at the beginning. All the while developing the mystery of the virus and constantly challenging Red’s extensively cultivated understanding of how the world, and the underlying science, works and what it is that truly lurks out there amongst the wolves and coyotes. Red holds on tight to her rational mind but some things you have to see to truly believe.
What a novel! The Girl In Red is as sharp as Christina Henry’s mind and as bloody as the axe that hangs off of Red’s belt. I am beyond impressed with what CH did with this novel. You may be thinking two things. Have you read a novel like this before? And going to her Grandmother’s house, that’s a bit on the nose isn’t it? The first answer is yes, this is similar to many other post-apocalyptic novels that deal with viruses and plagues etc. What you haven’t experienced is a lead character like Red. I will get back to that point in a moment. Secondly, yes this story follows suit with the classic tale but it is so cleverly done and precisely delivered with many cool twists, that any semblance of ‘corniness’ dissipates entirely leaving a wholly badass novel that goes right for the jugular.
The similarities to other end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it and deadly virus novels are there but it is easily Red (Cordelia) that steals this show. Red is the ultimate protagonist for me. Strong, smart, capable, vunerable, protective, sceptical, childish yet ultimately rational. Constantly battling an internal monologue which tends to fill her head with frustrating and unhelpful notions or jumps in at inopportune moments. CH’s portrayal of Red couldn’t be more perfect and every moment with her is one of tense contemplation and endering determination. Red is going against the grain of society’s ‘hope for the best’ and ‘follow the herd’ mentalities. Spending every waking moment readying herself for what lies ahead and marking out anything that can go wrong. Red wants to avoid quarantine and uses obsessive need for knowledge and control to avoid getting sick and to dodge being caught by anyone out there in the wild. Red is pragmatic and resourceful which, like CH points out many times in the novel, is not something that our technology addicted and complacent society encourages any more. This dynamic is well fleshed out and consistent right until the end which added a methodical edge to proceedings that you don’t ever really see in a tense thriller style novel.
The Girl In Red is more than a story, it is a kick up the backside for those who don’t have even a minute understanding of how to survive if everything went off the rails tomorrow. Red is a finely tuned central character who was easy to invest in from the get go. She has everyone’s best interests at heart (unless you are a wolf) and goes above and beyond to survive. There are other cast members and moments that are absolutely worth mentioning but that would be telling too much about Red’s development over the course of events and I am trying not spoil too much here.
Christina Henry has done a superb job bringing this tale to a bigger, more vivid (and gory) and more modern setting. I wasn’t sure if it would translate well but the narrative is self aware of cliches and parodies and instead, CH has taken the important concepts from that story and mixed it up a lot. And the result was awesome. Especially when Red comes full circle and realises what she has become. Such a great moment. The only part that beats that was CH’s twist on the whole ‘what big teeth you have’ moment. So good. I also appreciated the science/medical touches as well that add another angle to how Red perceives this dangerous new world.
Christina Henry’s writing is, as usual, expertly divided between urgent and meaningful prose, and inspired transformations of classic literature into more bold and modern narratives that evolve the message behind the story for todays audience. CH’s writing is direct, matter of fact and unflichingly honest which really upped the tension and the interactions between the characters. There is also quite a lot of gore and horror elements to the novel that might not sit well with those who are squeamish. I applauded this approach to the story as it didn’t dance around the detail, instead leaving us more time to walk at Red’s side knowing what she knows.
I wouldn’t say that The Girl In Red is a directly feminist novel. There are elements of ‘men are selfish, men are stupid, men are awful’, but the type she is referring too (and inevitably would appear in such a scenario) definitely are those things. The Girl In Red levels the playing field and points out that it is not gender that makes you strong but your understanding of the world, your willingness to survive and how you face up to the task at hand whatever the cost. Just because a girl is alone at a campfire doesn’t mean that isn’t exactly where she wants to be and is prepared for anything.
The Girl In Red continues Christina Henry’s seemingly endless hot-streak with her novels and I am already sitting on my hands ready for the next novels coming in 2020. The end of The Girl In Red leaves room for more installments but whether or not that is a possibility, I don’t know just yet. In the mean time, get your hands on copies of The Girl In Red, Lost Boy, The Mermaid and experience Christina Henry’s chilling yet refreshing take on classic literature. You will be hooked… (bad time for a pun).