Review: “Something Red” by Douglas Nicholas

Title: “Something Red”

Author: Douglas Nicholas

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Paranormal

Publication Date: September 18, 2012 (Atria/S&S – North America)

Source: NetGalley Review Copy/Publisher-provided finished copy

Summary: From debut author Douglas Nicholas comes a haunting story of love, murder, and sorcery. During the thirteenth century in northwest England, in one of the coldest winters in living memory, a formidable yet charming Irish healer, Molly, and the troupe she leads are driving their three wagons, hoping to cross the Pennine Mountains before the heavy snows set in. Molly, her lover Jack, granddaughter Nemain, and young apprentice Hob become aware that they are being stalked by something terrible. The refuge they seek in a monastery, then an inn, and finally a Norman castle proves to be an illusion. As danger continues to rise, it becomes clear that the creature must be faced and defeated—or else they will all surely die. It is then that Hob discovers how much more there is to his adopted family than he had realized.

An intoxicating blend of fantasy and mythology, Something Red presents an enchanting world full of mysterious and fascinating characters— shapeshifters, sorceresses, warrior monks, and knights—where no one is safe from the terrible being that lurks in the darkness. In this extraordinary, fantastical world, nothing is as it seems, and the journey for survival is as magical as it is perilous.

☆: 1.5/5 stars – great concept, poor execution.

Review: Oh boy. Again, another book I had high hopes for – I must be in a reading slump. “Something Red” sounded really awesome – gruesome, possibly paranormal-related murders in medieval England complete with warrior-priests, sorcerers, and witches – but in the end, all I got was an endless journey. I gave it half the book, and it still felt like we weren’t going anywhere. If you’re really into historical fiction (very much like Tolkien, especially in the “journey” aspect of things), you might want to give “Something Red” a try. I guess it just wasn’t for me.

What worked the most for me was the worldbuilding. Wow. Nicholas can really build a world – and along with that, he’s really good with sensory and imagery. I could practically smell the characters – and when I can do that, I know the author has really done their job. The world was built with monasteries and absolutely beautiful, lush wildlife with breathtaking views of 13th century England, along with an almost ridiculous amount of details when it came to just about everything. I love stuff like that, and I’m glad it was in there, because it was the only thing that really kept my interest for the duration of the book.

And I should just say really quickly – I love Tolkien. I love his stories. But even his long, long journeys have an end destination and a sense of urgency to them, even during the most leisurely of Hobbit strolls. And this book just didn’t – it had the long trek, and that was about it.

What didn’t work was the lack of depth in everything else. Concerning the plot – it felt like one big neverending trek, occasionally stopping for stuff. The characters didn’t feel very developed, and even though apparently something terrible is on their tail – well, I didn’t feel any sense of tension nor urgency at ALL. Seriously. None. Zip. I could feel how exhausted everyone was – and I’ll give props to Nicholas for being able to install that sense of exhaustion while being able to practically smell everyone and see the world all at the same time. But all of the awesome warrior-monks and sorcerers with their sorcery? I couldn’t find them in the midst of this journey, and while there was the occasional horrific murder, the lack of reaction on the part of the characters really started to bother me. It was like they shrugged, and just kept moving.

And then I just couldn’t keep reading. I thought I was going to go mad at the lack of progress. The characters weren’t reacting, felt kind-of real, didn’t really have their own progressive character arcs, and so forth. Aside from the world and the sensory imagery, it was a disturbingly flat book. It needed a few more passes at least for it to get up to scratch, or at least pop somewhat off the page.

Final verdict? Tolkien fans may enjoy this one, but if you’re looking for good historical fiction, you may want to search elsewhere. But don’t take my word for it. “Something Red” is out now from Atria Books in North America, so be sure to check it out!

3 thoughts on “Review: “Something Red” by Douglas Nicholas

  1. Pingback: usagi’s challenges for 2012! | birth of a new witch.

  2. Pingback: Stacking the Shelves – Week 22 | birth of a new witch.

  3. I thought I commented on this one!

    Ugh, this book. I got a copy from netgalley a few months ago and nearly wept I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to read it. I put it on my nook, get through all the title pages, copyrights, etc and…nothing.

    I’m a HUGE fan of decorative text – even more so when it’s the entire page. Sadly, it was an issue for my nook and judging from other reviewers I wasn’t the only one who had this problem. I was tempted to ignore the pages that wouldn’t load and try to plow through it anyway (& hopefully not get too lost), but then reviews started coming out and I have yet to read a positive one. After that I decided it wasn’t forth the frustration and gave up.

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