My first impressions was that I was reading about a rogue and a monk/paladin. Just your typical D&D obsessed brain taking over you. I failed that wisdom save.
Let’s move onto talking about something you guys will actually understand.
Hope’s village was slain by biomancers, turned to killer wasps. She found refuge in a monastery and was trained in secret to become a Vinchen warrior. Red was orphaned at age 8, seeking a mother figure in a criminal matriarch and becoming a skilled thief of New Laven. When these two meet their fates intertwine as the rough and poor of New Laven are set to be new fodder for the cruel experiments of the biomancers.
The world was built and described really well. There was much attention put to the details of these places and each location had new life within them. What really made them feel real was the grittiness of the urban lifestyle in New Laven, reminiscent of the central city I visit on a regular basis in my own home. Just a few centuries older is all. And still it was beautiful and endearing. Anything filled with so much character always is. I live of refreshing fantasy settings, and though Hope and Red is based in a similar time period to most other fantasy stories it was still a beauty to read.
The same couldn’t be said about the actions scenes. With a rogue and a monk, you expect some great fight scenes. But these were short and barely described, to the point where they seemed unbalanced. The moments I read that there was a struggle of them mention of blood or exhaustion, I wondered where they came from. There were never hints of any details in previous paragraphs. The moves were very generalised. Having two characters whom have skills pivotal to fighting and not describing the fights themselves? Sounds like Skovron should’ve written different characters or researched a bit more into fighting.
Another thing that wasn’t quite as enjoyable was how rooted the patriarchy was in nearly every aspect of society. Female empowerment was a bit too much of an underlying thing for a lot of conflicts. “It’s bad luck to sail with a woman on board.” “A Vinchen warrior can’t be a female.” “Female Biomancers are too strong to be considered alive anymore.” The fact that nearly every organization or circle in the book had some form of resentment towards females made for a very tiring trope. I’m not saying I’m against feminism, but without unique origins that don’t mirror our own world tropes like such become tiring.
But what I enjoyed was the magic system being used, conveyed through the Biomancers. Skovron wasn’t afraid to make this magic gruesome. I also enjoyed seeing magic from a villainous perspective with the two main heroes being out of touch with magic themselves. If it weren’t for the poorly described fights, it made for the Biomancers being quite the threat.
The dynamic between Hope and Red was very enjoyable too, with the morals and the streetsmarts teaming up with their fighting prowess. Both characters shone up against each other, but not out of the whole story. The world shone a great deal more than the characters.
Hope and Red gets a score of 3.5/5. Please note that rogues and monks are combat heavy, but the world overshadows that fact.
Yours in writing