Initial reaction: Long story short on my reflections: meh. It felt like it could’ve offered so much more to the table, but it ended up being a very banal read overall.
It’s a pretty bad sign for me to put a book down for a while and not even want to come back to it just to finish the story because I quite literally have no sense of investment in it. But alas, such was the case with “Blood Rose Rebellion”. This took me forever to get through. There are times when I’ll slow my pace these days on a book that I enjoyed (I listen to audiobooks frequently when I’m commuting), but this was the case in the opposite direction – I didn’t care for this book, and it was a struggle for me to push through it. If I were a less patient person I probably would’ve put this book down in the first 1/3 of the book because the protagonist and conflict did not compel me to want to continue at all.
To its credit because of the cited comparisons – Victoria Aveyard’s “Red Queen” (even with all the problems I had with that respective series) was much more immersive and vested than this banal, mostly derivative, sometimes cringy tale. The sad part of it is that it could’ve been so much more just based on the premise, research done for the novel, and the potential to expand on it.
I picked this up from my library initially because…well…it’s got bloody roses on the cover: how am I not going to pick it up? 😛 Plus the mention that it’s fantasy and takes place in Hungary with its historical and cultural roots. Also, how would you expect a novel called “Blood Rose Rebellion” to be boring? Again, I say alas. *sighs*
So this novel centers on a spoiled 16-year old named Anna. Anna is something of an outcast in a well to do family, which is something I’d expect from a YA fantasy tale – the telling of an MC being the odd man or woman out. In this case, Anna’s actually really difficult to align with coming from a reader’s perspective because she’s so entitled without a seemingly strong conflict to start. The main thing you get is that she has the ability to break magic and that she ruins her sister’s coming of age ceremony. She also supposedly ruins herself with a forbidden romance with a boy (Freddy, who is “not the marrying type”) who also kissed Anna’s sister (Catherine, whom I direct quote: “Why should Anna have Freddy, then? By your logic, I should marry him.” Her chin lowered, her teeth flashed white in a smile. “You see, Freddy kissed me first.” *side-eyes the book for petty romantic drama. This is not the only such instance of aforementioned petty romantic drama*).
As a result, Anna’s shipped off to Hungary. (According to Anna, she would rather be shipped off to Paris or somewhere “on the fringes of civilized Europe”. Yeah, you read that right.) There was potential for the book to expand and develop once Anna went overseas with her grandmother, but there’s a startling lack of immersion in the cultural climate and a very specific brand of elitism Anna adopts, taking potshots at every culture beneath her that she can possibly muster. This made me further think “Ye Gods, I don’t like Anna at all.” And while Anna does eventually correct herself with referring to a Romani character that she meets, her superfluous use of the word “gypsy/Gypsy” and a measure to denounce the culture had me feeling like I was reading the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. (Seriously? STOP with this trend.)
Some cases in point: A spark of indignation lit me, warming me in the evening air. How dare this Gypsy accuse me of being unclean! (Chapter 8) or “And you think we can sell you magic?” he taunted. “Is magic a game? A bauble for rich girls to wear as they hunt an even richer groom? You ask for it so easily, as if you were asking about the fashions this season.” His words were educated—eloquent, even—not something I’d expected from a Gypsy. (Chapter 10)
Despite my patience being tested, I read on – cultural and sexual stereotypes abound (Anna does eventually use the name Romani, but it’s hard to really recognize her respect for the culture other than association with her quest for magic or potential romance). No sign for a while that any blood would be shed, despite moments of eerie imagery and magic training. (I’m thinking the narrative would be more interesting if it stopped TALKING about non-magic vs. magic elite users and the vague antagonism of The Circle and its control, but rather more overtly SHOWED this unrest/conflict from the beginning. Oy vey.)
The narrative struggled (overall) to worldbuild – it was difficult to follow and very sparse/lacking in investment. I had a hard time feeling convinced that I knew this alternate history of our world, let alone feeling like I wanted to be in it or could feel for the struggles of the characters within. Close to 40% of the novel in, it started kicking up the conflict. Still, the lack of dimension in the characters and conflict showed, and while cultural clashes were a part of the point of the conflict in this narrative, it felt lacking for stakes and dimension, it didn’t feel fleshed out. I know that this story was based on actual historical events and characters in a fictional setting, but it felt so sparse that I neither felt like I learned from the experience or really came to know the characters or their ordeals at all.
In the end, my journey with the series ends here. There were few moments in the narrative that I could say had my attention, and those moments make me barely give this above 1 star. I honestly thought it was – on the whole – forgettable. That makes me sad because I usually love historical fiction fantasy stories.
Overall score: 1.5/5 stars.