If you’re not particularly impressed by Hope And Red as a book title, then rest assured that what it lacks in initial impact, it makes up for in content.
Hope is searching for revenge. Orphaned at the hands of the Emperor’s twisted Biomancers, she becomes the secret training project for Grandteacher Hurlo, of the Vinchen Order. As a bit of a ‘men only’ club, it is not surprising that Hope is not made welcome by the brothers in the order.
Across the water, Red is orphaned by his drug-addicted mother and his dear old dad, who has resorted to male prostitution to make ends meet. Red is taken on by Sadie the Goat, a fearsome and ruthless criminal who teaches her young apprentice how to become a skilled con artist.
While you may expect to feel sorry for these two and their desperately sad early years, Skovron does us a favour by not dwelling on sentimentality. When they finally meet, there is little time for chick-lit gush, and too much throat-slitting and pick-pocketing to cram in.
Skovron’s world and character building is vivid and unpredictable, not to mention bleak. The baddies have names that would make Dickens proud, with names that match their traits. The island has its own terminology and slang, which is easy enough to figure out, but the inclusion of a fourth-wall-breaking, character-written glossary at the end is as welcome as the answers in the back of your maths book.
There are several elements that are a bit too convenient towards the end which may irk, but just go with it. After all, you’ve already forgiven him for the title – what is a little contrived narrative among friends?