4 out of 5 awesome stars
I was provided with an ARC of this book.
One of the best things about this author (who is one of the most talented of the new YA crop) is how she is able to take extremely different threads and weave them together so well. This book is a mix of Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Marie Antoinette style french history, and ancient herb lore and witchcraft. These seem like incredibly disparate elements, but somehow Ms. Hodge makes them work, and work well. The premise for the main character is that there is a specific type of curse that can be laid upon people by the forest-born of the world (think evil elves that inhabit a dark and encroaching sometimes-real forest that creeps closer and closer to civilization and occasionally spits up demon creatures) that will either kill you in 3 days or give you powers if you kill someone within that time span, but accepting the curse by murdering will eventually cost you your soul. This premise is overlaid by political and religious machinations in a land that looks suspiciously like Louis XVI’s and a quest to recover some bone swords that will allow our protagonists to kill the approaching Devourer who threatens to eat the sun and bring darkness. Our cursed heroine is joined by the bastard sun of the King who has had both of his hands chopped off and wears sterling silver replacements. It sounds strange when I try to describe it, but it ends up being really good!
The writing is sophisticated for a teen novel and the action and personal growth of the characters are well balanced. The fantasy elements play into the historical fiction elements nicely to make a unique landscape. I would recommend this to all readers who like fairy tale rewrites, but want something more than a simple retelling of a single tale.