Book Review: Rosalyn Eves’s Blood Rose Rebellion

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[Please note: I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange only for an honest and thorough review. This is (to the best of my ability) a spoiler-free review.]

In an alternate world in which magic, blood, money, and propriety rule, young English girl Anna Arden is the weakest link: What many have called a blood defect has left her without magic, respect, or love and a desperate grab for love has much of London and her whole family scandalized. Anna is whisked away to her grandmother’s ancestral  Hungarian home, where new acquaintances, experiences, and opportunities open the world — and, maybe, magic — to her day by day. What everyone but Anna seems to realize is that, to create the world of limitless magic and love she desires, she need only say the word and she can break everything the world thought it knew.

Rosalyn Eves’s Blood Rose Rebellion — the debut installment in a young adult fantasy trilogy that recalls Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy and Gail Carriger’s Curtsies & Conspiracies — is a roaring, nonstop ride of magic, romance, and discovery. Set in 19th-century England and Hungary, Anna’s adventures focus not only her own struggles and desires, but also those more revolutionary tendencies of the era following the American Revolution. In her new setting, Anna discovers that nothing is as it seems: enemies are allies and allies could be enemies; magic is destructive but also creative; loyalty is for family, is for friends, is for country. When both her own hopes and dreams battle with the affluence of her family, Anna must create new loyalties, discover new loves, and decide whether to create a world all new and all her own.

At the start of Eves’s debut, we discover the world is ruled over by the Luminate, the preeminent upper-class class who holds all access to magic power. Legend and social practice hold that only the wealthiest families have ever held control over the world’s magic — but fear that the magic is becoming more limited lays bare the truth. In her travels, Anna discovers that discontent and resistance to the Luminate hold is brewing among those considered “lower class” for their inability to access magic. Many reviews I read on Goodreads criticized Blood Rose Rebellion for excess detail and overwhelming description; I experienced the exact opposite. Instead, I was amazed by the detailed world-building Eves undertook in placing her alternate history at a time we associate with revolutionary upheaval and how history, magic, revolution, and society intertwined throughout the book. Yes, the descriptions tend to be lavish, but so do many of the settings to which Anna is whisked away.

What definitely keeps you reading Blood Rose Rebellion is its wide-ranging cast of characters: From Anna’s Hungarian-huffing grandmother to her happy-go-lucky cousin to flawed but headstrong little Anna herself, there is a character for everyone to latch on to in this book. I will grant that there is a large cast, many of whom appear only a few inconsequential times without always seeming to add to the story, but many of the main characters are fascinating. Anna, despite what has been termed her lack of magic, never backs down and barrels into decisions, quarrels, and awkward interactions headfirst. She is proud and unflinching but flawed and not overconfident. The narrative is told entirely from Anna’s first-person point of view, and, while there are times she recapitulates an inner debate or question several times, being in her head works well for the story. She hems and haws for much of the book, questioning Luminate supremacy and abuse, family loyalty and betrayal, in an indecisive debate that would give Shakespeare’s Hamlet a run for his money. And to match her hotheaded, subtly rebellious nature, in steps Gábor, a handsome Romani boy with a protective and an academic streak who challenges what she thought she knew and felt. They irk each other, a pair of magnets constantly magnetizing and repelling and revolving around each other, a constant cycle, to no end.

My only concern when reading this book was that a lot — a lot — of the action seems to occur in the final chapters. (Also, I wasn’t expecting fae to be involved and am still holding out judgement — and the rest of the series — to see how I feel about it.) While there is conflict throughout the book, especially revolving around Anna’s decision to accept her Luminate lot or to reject others’ rejection of her, much it seems to build to breaking point until the final chapters of the book were almost overwhelming to read. This isn’t something only Eves’s book does: I’ve noticed it in a lot of recent YA fantasy releases, including Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series, Marissa Meyer’s Heartless, Rhoda Belleza’s Empress of a Thousand Skies, and more. This merely belies a tendency to backload action and rising conflict. On the other hand, many of the books I’ve preferred in the past — Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Stephanie Garber’s Caraval, Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch, and Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows — raise miscellaneous obstacles in their characters’ paths throughout the texts that require constant and significant interaction, participation, and conflict resolution on the parts of the characters and the readers alike. This is only to say that the ending of Blood Rose Rebellion packs a wholly unexpected punch: While the opening majority of the book leave us expecting understated conflict, perhaps over tea or while riding horses, the ultimate battle is anything but understated.

Teeming with magic, secrets, romance, and hidden legends, Blood Rose Rebellion promises something for every reader. In a race against social repression and time, Anna must uncover loyalties and power and decide what the right thing to do is: Should she destroy the world as she knows it and create a new one, or leave it the way it is? With new experiences and new relationships, Anna must choose — and still without all the information. A story with an impressive cast of characters, fascinatingly detailed world-building, and powerful magic, Eves’s debut, Blood Rose Rebellion, whisks us away to another time and another world where the preeminence of power and magic hangs in the balance of one particular girl’s choices.

Rosalyn Eves’s Blood Rose Rebellion was released 28 March, 2017, with Random House’s Knopf Books.

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