Crimson Bound: Fairy-tale Retellings, and not becoming a monster

Borrowed from

Genre: YA fairy tale retelling

Synopsis: Rachelle is one of the few who knows and believes that the Devourer, and old evil defeated by the legendary twins Tyr and Zisa, is soon returning. Believing that it’s her responsibility to do something, to find out how to defeat this, she makes a mistake.

Because of this mistake, she is slowly turning into something…else. Something she fights with everything she has. In the meantime, she fights to protect people from those like her, in service to the king. And desperately searches for a weapon that can help her fight what’s coming. As the Devourer gets closer to returning, the king saddles Rachelle with his the protection of his son, an acclaimed saint–who might know more than Rachelle imagines.

Series: Standalone

POV: Third person, one POV.

Preview: First six chapters. 

Fairy tale retellings tend to be a different kind of animal than straight fantasy or epic fantasy. For one, they tend to be much more contained, focusing on a limited number of characters in a smaller setting–which can be either an advantage or disadvantage.

Another thing about them is that they tend to rely on a variety of different strengths in their heroines–instead of getting a bevy of kick-ass characters, we often get heroines whose most powerful traits are their intelligence, or their compassion, or their resolve. In fact, the one subtype that’s often noticeably absent is the kick-ass heroine. But on the other hand, there also a greater likelihood of a slew of old-fashioned values worked into the fiber of the story that might today be considered outdated or disturbing. Not always, and I’ve reviewed a bunch of excellent fairy tale retellings that have updated their story for the times, but often enough.

Crimson Bound does an interesting job of blending the better aspects of both fairy tale retellings and fantasy. It does have a fairly small cast, by my standards, and feels very contained, but the scope of the problem bearing down on them is world-changing. It features a heroine who is a physically capable warrior, but she also has compassion and resolve, and those traits end up being much more fundamental to her victory than her ability to throw a punch. Because the main struggle of the story isn’t for her to defeat a stronger foe (though there is that), it’s to not become a monster herself. That’s the real danger.

There’s also representation for disabilities, in the protagonist’s love interest. I can’t be sure of how well done that was, but nothing stood out to me as a problem, and a few things seem to work in the story’s favor:

  • There’s plenty happening in his character arch and in his life that isn’t about his disability, though the accommodations he makes in his life due to it are not ignored either.
  • Though people hail this character as a literal saint for how he lost his hands, he himself is shown to be deeply uncomfortable with this.
  • At one point when a character too-insistently tries to provide help he didn’t ask for and gives him a heartfelt speech as to what his experiences mean to her, he responds with, “Mademoiselle, you are very kind…But I did not lose my hands for the purpose of making you feel special.”
  • He is the love interest. He’s portrayed as desirable in the quintessential romantic HEA sense, and it totally works.

I also really like the backstory about the twins who defeated the Devourer in the past. It was powerfully tragic, and I appreciate that aspect still existing in a story that’s meant to have a happy ending.

So there are several cool elements at work here, and I really enjoyed the way they came together in this story.