Blood Red by Mercedes Lackey
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Rosamund is an Earth Master in the Schwarzwald, the ancient Black Forest of Germany. Since the age of ten, she has lived with her teacher, the Hunt Master and Earth Magician of the Schwarzwald Foresters, a man she calls “Papa.” Her adoptive Papa rescued her after her original Earth Master teacher, an old woman who lived alone in a small cottage in the forest, was brutally murdered by werewolves. Rosa herself barely escaped, and this terrifying incident molded the course of her future.
For like her fellow Earth Masters of the Schwarzwald Lodge, Rosa is not a healer. Instead, her talents lead her on the more violent path of protection and defense— “cleansing” the Earth and protecting its gentle fae creatures from those evil beings who seek to do them harm.
And so Rosa becomes the first woman Hunt Master and the scourge of evil creatures, with a deadly specialty in werewolves and all shapeshifters.
While visiting with a Fire Master—a friend of her mentor from the Schwarzwald Lodge— Rosa meets a pair of Elemental Magicians from Hungary who have come looking for help. They suspect that there is a dark power responsible for a string of murders happening in the remote countryside of Transylvania, but they have no proof. Rosa agrees to help them, but there is a catch: one of the two men asking for aid is a hereditary werewolf.”
Well, I’m happy to see that the Elemental Masters series has bounced back after a couple of sub-par books. It’s not that the writing has been bad, it’s just that the plots have been a bit, shall we say, meandering. With Blood Red, Lackey has done something a bit different: the original fairy tale, “Little Red Riding Hood”, is merely the jumping-off point to the novel. It’s an origin story for the main character, if you will. By establishing Rosa’s genesis in the prologue, the author is then free to spin her tale from there, far beyond the restrictions of the classic story.
Another welcome change is the setting. Most novels in this series take place in cities, or at least in more populated areas. The only real exception was Home From the Sea, which was one of those entries in which nothing really happened. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Lackey certainly changed things up by putting her characters in theaters and London backalleys. This time, our main character does spend some time traveling through cities, but ultimately ends up in the forests of Eastern Europe.
And that’s another change that I approve of: this story has moved beyond the bounds of Western Europe for what I think is the first time. It puts the story squarely into the lands that spawned vampire mythology and the places where werewolves were said to roam. It gives the characters the opportunity to encounter foreign cultures and unfamiliar customs and superstitions. I have no clue about the accuracy of anything written about in the book, but it was nice to see something different.
Rosa herself is one of the stronger female heroines in this series. She defiantly refuses to conform to gender norms and is eventually appointed a Hunt Master, and this is a time where a woman wielding a weapon would send most people into apoplectic shock. She habitually wears breeches and boots, has no trouble in the wilderness, and has earned the respect of men for whom a competent female hunter is something like a unicorn—heard of but never seen. Refreshingly, there’s really no romance at hand either. Oh, Rosa occasionally has thoughts like “Wow, that guy is cute!” or “Dresses aren’t my thing, but this is actually kind of nice”, but they’re less rather than more prevalent. I like Rosa just as she is—no nonsense and tough.
With its strong female main character and some welcome deviations from other books in the series, Blood Red is a fairy tale adaptation that I can heartily recommend. Lackey seems to have gotten her spark back with regards to this series, and I find myself looking forward to future installments more than I have in a while.