Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
The deliriously gorgeous cover of Sisters Red shows two sisters, one dark, one redheaded. I should know better than to trust covers, but apparently, that’s a lesson that won’t stick. For whatever reason, I love the character design of a one-eyed redhead, so I was disappointed to learn that both March sisters are dark-haired–not just because the cover lied to me, but because I had thought it quite clever for Pearce to reference Snow White and Rose Red in a book inspired by Little Red Riding Hood. Alas, this sort of missed opportunity was only a portent of what was to come.
Sisters Red focuses on the titular sisters, Scarlett and Rosie March. At a young age, the two were attacked by a werewolf, known as a Fenris, which Scarlett, the elder sister, fought off and lost an eye to. Now eighteen, Scarlett’s sole motivation in life is hunting down Fenris and keeping them from hurting other young women. Rosie, now sixteen, is also a able hunter, but can’t seem to shake off her desire for a normal life and for Silas, another Fenris hunter and the two sisters’ only friend. When Fenris activity significantly increases, Scarlett concludes the packs are looking for the next Potential–a candidate for lycanthropy. Determined to keep the packs from adding to their already substantial numbers, the hunters head to Atlanta to search for him.
I had to have two notecards for Sisters Red, as the first one was drenched with questions. I think this note sums both cards up: “my disbelief is unsuspended”. Sisters Red has some odd worldbuilding and continuity issues that kept me from sinking into the story. This might stem from the fact that I live in Atlanta (as does Pearce) and could pick out what was true and not true about the parts set in Atlanta; for instance, we don’t have enough yellow taxis to make an impression. But it’s more than just the setting; the hunters use axes and knives to hunt the Fenris, but I just kept wondering why they weren’t just using guns–it’s hand-waved away later in the book as not being able to cause enough damage, but that doesn’t make sense and just brings up more questions. This sort of thing happens throughout the book; Scarlett is established as an insomniac but later falls asleep in the car so that Silas and Rosie can have a moment, Silas occasionally calls his own father “Pa Reynolds” (why?), and the sisters ponder over their mother’s green eyes–in a black and white photograph. It’s hard to settle into the world of a book if you can see the cracks.
Sisters Red is firmly a young adult novel, complete with workmanlike prose, teenage attempts at wit, and downright bizarre nicknames (Scarlett goes by “Lett” for no discernible reason). Rosie and Silas’ relationship is telegraphed almost as soon as the characters encounter each other, and it’s frustrating to watch her be utterly obtuse about her attraction to him for the first half.. There’s also the matter of the twist, for which I won’t spoil any prospective readers for, but you’re able to see it from about a thousand paces off, and it’s hard to watch Rosie and Scarlett struggle to discover it when it’s so blindingly obvious. This isn’t to say that Sisters Red doesn’t have redeeming qualities; it has wonderful, if nonsensical (get a gun!), action sequences, and it explores the codependency between the two sisters quite well.
The best way I can describe Scarlett is by comparing her to Batman; she’s just as single-minded as he is, and concerns herself with the safety of Atlanta (from just the Fenris, one hopes, otherwise she’s got quite a task on her hands). She feels it’s her duty, knowing about the Fenris, to hunt them, which she tries (and fails) to impress upon Rosie and Silas, and she’s got a whole subscription of issues about sexuality, which makes sense for a girl living in a world where male predators are literally male predators, whom Scarlett is completely fine with killing because becoming a Fenris strips a man of his soul. (There are no female Fenris and the Fenris only hunt young girls; it’s an enjoyable analogy, but I wish there was more done with it.) These issues extend to how she reacts to Rosie, who is growing away from her, and Silas, who is growing towards Rosie; she feels jealousy towards Silas for stealing her sister away and often bats away thoughts of Silas dying in combat so that she and Rosie can continue to hunt forever. Rosie is as grateful to Scarlett as Scarlett is overprotective of her, hunting because she owes her sister her life, not because she wants to. Ttheir codependency even gets its own metaphor; as little girls, the two believed they possessed one heart between the two of them. (The metaphor dies a clunky death when Rosie verbalizes it to Silas in a serious moment.) Silas is, well, just a guy; he’s attractive and nice, but the age gap between him and Rosie (he’s twenty-one, she’s sixteen) makes their relationship iffy to me. However, I was warned about the love story–I wasn’t warned about the continuity.
Bottom line: A clever premise falls flat in Sisters Red, where the botched continuity keeps your sense of disbelief unsuspended and the supposed twist can be seen from a thousand paces. Still, the action is wonderful, if nonsensical (why aren’t they using guns?), and Pearce explores the codependency between the sisters well–now, if only the age gap in the romance (he’s twenty-one, she’s sixteen) wasn’t so large…
I rented this book from the public library.