Book Review | Scarlet (ARC)

Generic title, yes. Generic story, I guess not.

I received a digital advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Scarlet by Genevieve Cogman. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.

In Scarlet, Eleanor is a maid in a British noble’s house, except that Lady Sophia isn’t a typical noble. She’s a vampire, and Eleanor is growing weary of having to give up her task of having to provide blood for her employer. So when a strange, rather foppish gentleman and his demure wife asks her to work for them temporarily, Eleanor agrees. It is at their home that she learns the reason she has been hired—she bears a distinct resemblance with an important aristo in France, and her new employer Sir Percy needs Eleanor’s help to rescue her. But Eleanor isn’t sure how she will survive in Paris, with the revolutionaries imprisoning aristos and vampires alike, even with Sir Percy’s league helping her.

Yes, this is The Scarlet Pimpernel meets vampires. No, it’s not as interesting as that sounds.

First of all, though the premise is fantastic (again, The Scarlet Pimpernel and VAMPIRES!), it really isn’t executed (pun intended) very well. The two elements, historical and supernatural, feel incredibly disparate. I have no idea why they were combined, because the book does not at all end up being greater than the sum of its parts. The scenes with vampires don’t really add anything at all to this setting, even when Eleanor has to face a dangerous one and encounters some strange magic. It mostly seems like the plot of the story would be able to play out without the supernatural stuff, which is such a shame. I was kind of expecting something more like either Sir Percy or Chauvelin being a vampire slayer and the other being a vampire, so this was quite a let down.

Speaking of those two, while I liked Sir Percy’s characterization, I didn’t like Chauvelin’s. Well, that’s not quite true—that would imply he was featured enough that I was able to form an opinion of him. In reality, he was only in a few scenes, remaining a vague background threat the rest of the time, which really diminished any impact he might have had on the plot. And while Sir Percy was in it more, and pretty in character from what I recall of the original book, I wanted more of him. I mean, he’s the best; we all know it.

Also, Marguerite was barely in this, which was incredibly disappointing. This story seems to take place after the events of the first novel in the original series, so I had kind of expected her to be more involved, but sadly no. I did like seeing the other members of the League like Andrew and Tony, but Charles wasn’t really that interesting to me. He was by turns annoying and kind, but really didn’t leave much of an impression on me.

And as for the heist involving Eleanor’s resemblance to a powerful French aristocrat, that was a cool part of the novel. I just wish there had been more of it! When they got to the escape/rescue attempt, it felt kind of rushed and not detailed enough. Since rescuing aristos is the main thing the Pimpernel is supposed to do, it felt strange to have so little focus on it here.

In the end, Scarlet was a very disappointing read for me. I don’t know what I was expecting—because how does one have any idea what a vampiric Pimpernel retelling would involve anyway—but I did not really enjoy my read of this. The historical elements have almost nothing to do with the vampire elements, and honestly, they should have been made into two entirely separate books. There wasn’t enough of the main antagonist, and even Eleanor was only a mildly intriguing character. It was a solid idea, but I wish it had been approached in a different way. Oh, well. I did get to envision what it could have been like to have a young Ian McKellen wielding wooden stakes, which is delightful… if only that is what happened in this.

(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, he played Chauvelin in the 1982 film adaptation, which is a delight. I might go watch that again and move on from this book.)

Scarlet will be published on May 9th, 2023!

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