Book review: Sarah Blakley-Cartwright’s “Red Riding Hood”

To be honest, the only reason I even thought of picking up this book was because of the trailer. I’m the easiest person to market stuff to: just mention that there’s going to be some shirtless boys with accents in your product and I will be good to go.

However, making life decisions based on the availability of attractive guys hasn’t always worked out very well for me in the past. It was precisely because of “Hot-Guys-On-Book-Covers” that I ended up reading such delightful reading material like Becca Fitzpatrick’s “Hush, Hush” and Holly Black’s “White Cat“.

Would “Red Riding Hood” be a similar disappointment?

Fairy tales, with their dark undertones and gothic underpinnings, are always ripe for a more adult retelling – and authors have always risen at the opportunity to do so.

Neil Gaiman did it in 1994 with “Snow, Glass, Apples”, a re-imagining of Snow White’s tale through the eyes of her stepmother. Four years ago saw the publication of “Beastly”, Alex Finn’s retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Even more “adult” re-imaginings of fairy tales include Anne Rice’s “Sleeping Beauty” trilogy and Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s “Lost Girls”.

The latest author to try their hand at rewriting a classic tale is Sarah Blakley-Cartwright with “Red Riding Hood”. Working from a script written by David Leslie Johnson for a film set to be released here in the country on sometime this year, “Red Riding Hood” promises to tell a gothic tale full of secrets, lies, and love.

“Red Riding Hood” tells the tale of Valerie and her village of Daggorhorn, who for as long as she can remember, has always lived in fear of the Wolf. The best of the village’s livestock is offered to the Wolf every night of the full moon, as the villagers fear that not doing so will have the Wolf turning on the villagers themselves.

Valerie herself has seen how savage the wolf can be. As a young child, she had come face-to-face with the Wolf while vainly trying to save their family goat, and was inexplicably spared from certain death. Why she was given a chance to live is something that she still questions years later.

Another thing that has been troubling her mind for years is the disappearance of her childhood friend, Peter. The long years have not dampened her feelings for Peter; if anything, it had only intensified her nascent attraction. Peter’s return ten years later – and his admission of his own attraction for Valerie – has such an effect on Valerie that she even spurns the affections of Henry Lazar, son of the richest man in the village.

But the reunion is also fraught with terror, as Peter return coincides with the Wolf’s vicious killing of Valerie’s beloved sister, Lucie. When a Wolf hunter arrives in town and declares that the Wolf is one of the villagers, Daggorhorn descends into a spiral of paranoia and mistrust, with neighbor turning against neighbor.

With the village in disarray, will the Wolf be able to sneak its way through the cracks in the village’s unity? And with everything that is happening in her world, will Valerie still be able to escape the specter of the Wolf and live a life together with Peter?

With its teenage protagonists, supernatural elements, and love triangle, it’s easy to see that the book and movie are gunning for the same teenage crowd that made “Twilight” a success. The movie even shares the same director with the first “Twilight” film.

Luckily, that is where the similarity between the two novels end. While “Twilight” held sex at an arm’s length, with its characters dutifully staying virtuous until after the marriage night, “Red Riding Hood” makes no such reservations. While nobody actually has sex, Blakley-Cartwright makes it clear that it’s only because of the circumstances, and not out of any moral reservations.

Besides, Blakley-Cartwright’s prose says all the things that are left unsaid. Rather than depend on dialogue, Blakley-Cartwright concentrates effectively on building an atmosphere muggy with sexual tension. Every action seems to have a sexual undertone, and Valerie’s propensity at stumbling upon either Peter or Henry sweaty and shirtless doesn’t exactly help in clearing the air.

Let me present to you guys a few examples:

Sometimes I felt like she took classes in the Vilma Santos School of Subtlety.

There is also a dark and savage undercurrent running all throughout the book, from the menacing presence of the Wolf to the seemingly uncontrollable attraction between Valerie and Peter. That menace bubbles up to the surface as the town descends into paranoia with the arrival of expert Wolf killer Father Solomon, and barely lets up until the book’s end.

The book – and the script upon which it was based – should also be commended for acknowledging the darker morals of older versions of the “Little Red Riding Hood” tale. Valerie is no shrinking violet, but perhaps the most interesting thing about her character is that she acknowledges the darkness within herself and the possibility that, in fact, the Wolf may just be what she wanted.

Being based on a finished script also prevents the book from indulging in chapters of romantic exposition meant to cater to its teen audience. While there are still enough penetrating stares and breathless kisses in the middle of the night, it does not overpower the plot, which moves along at a brisk pace.

But while the book benefits a lot from being based on a script, its shortcomings also come from that very same place.

Perhaps so as not to spoil the film’s ending, the book ends on an uncertain note, complete with a teaser at the end of the book, enjoining readers to check out a website that promises an extra chapter after the movie’s release date. Aside from being gimmicky, it also gives the book an unsatisfying finish, which may not sit well with most readers.

The plot also stalls at about the last quarter of the novel, when Valerie and the rest of the characters try to figure out which one among them is the Wolf. Perhaps the tension is better presented in the film, but it falls flat within the context of the book.

Nevertheless, “Red Riding Hood” is a good enough job at refashioning a centuries-old tale, and certainly bodes well for the movie upon which it is based. Readers who want a little sex and mystery mixed in with their childhood fairy tales will surely get a kick out of this one.

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6 thoughts on “Book review: Sarah Blakley-Cartwright’s “Red Riding Hood””

  1. This book was only made as a advertisment for the movie. There is no ending and you have to log onto the website which currently does not exist until the movie comes out.

    1. Yes, I did make note of that in the review. 🙂

      You do have to admit that at least as a advertisement, it’s at least better written than some of the YA supernatural romances making the rounds.

  2. Thanks for the review. After reading you compare it to Anne Rice’s version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, I’m even more intrigue. I’m looking forward to actually reading and watching the movie 🙂

    1. Well, I just compared them in the sense that they’re both re-imaginings. 😀

      They are both very sensual retellings of old tales, with the main difference being that Anne Rice is more X-rated while Red Riding Hood may be PG-13. 😀

  3. Ididnt like the book. i found it unromantic and it falls short of what I expected. Lets hope the movie does better.

    1. Honestly, I didn’t find the book romantic either. But I did appreciate a lot the sensuality and savageness roiling underneath everything.

      Just out of curiosity, what were you expecting when you read the book? 🙂

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