The “fairy tales re-told” sub-genre has exploded in the last several years. On television, in the movie theater, and most of all on the bookshelf, characters once relegated to Disney animated movies and classic fairy tale compendiums are suddenly pop culture’s favorite offering. I am a huge and mostly unapologetic fan of the genre. I just like my escapism frothy and fantastical sometimes, OK?! Stop judging me!
Anyhoo, when Red, an urban fantasy/romance and fairy tale re-telling by Kate Serine showed up in the Amazon Top 100 Free Book list and showed mostly 4- and 5-star ratings, I was curious to see if the book lived up to the high ratings.
Red is the story of Tess Little, AKA Little Red Riding Hood, who has left the cape behind and is now an “Enforcer” (read: bounty hunter/investigator) for the Fairy Tale Management Authority in Chicago. In many ways, Tess is a boilerplate badass: she breaks the rules, pisses off her boss, wears black leather and her milkshake brings ALL the fairytale boys to her yard. When she’s called to help solve a series of gruesome murders, the suspect list pretty much consists of Little’s ex-boyfriends. Tess is teamed with a reaper, Nick Grimm (not the lead character from the TV show Grimm, despite the same name) who is a Reaper… pretty much the personification of Death. Nick and Tess work together to solve the mystery and take down the bad guy while trying to handle the prospect of becoming much more than work partners.
Overall, Red was enjoyable enough. Tess, the narrator, had an engaging voice that hooked my attention from the start. SeRine also does a great job at characterizing the primary characters. Tess’s love for her grandmother, loyalty to her few friends, and wariness stemming from her first broken heart all made the character feel more real and relatable. For her hero, SeRine skillfully drops hints that Nick has cared for Tess for a very long time—longer than she even knew he existed. I also liked the fact that SeRine expanded her character pool beyond the fairy tale world and brought in characters from classic literature as well. She introduces the idea of a Tales class system that amused me—all the “Willies” (Shakespearean characters) prefer to only socialize with each other, for example. One spot where SeRine does uncharacteristically falter is in her reveal of Nick’s Big Secret. Supposedly, his confession is a huge stumbling block for Tess, but SeRine never establishes why this would be a problem… so the big shock fell very flat.
The plot itself is a fairly standard mystery and while it lacks any true surprises, it’s certainly journeyman work. My biggest quibble with Red was the feeling that it suffers from too-much-of-a-good-thing syndrome: Too many side characters with a “clever” fairy-tale twist. Too many incredibly rich, famous, and powerful ex-boyfriends for Tess. And too many men (and a few women) panting after the apparently irresistible Tess. If SeRine had scaled it all back just a bit, she would have done her book a great service.