In V.M. Sawh’s The Hunted Rose we are treated to a reboot of the children’s story “Little Red Riding Hood.” But in place of its generic forest and characters as archetypes, The Hunted Rose takes place in France during its occupation by Germany in WWII, and the characters are fully-realized people involved in the moral ambiguity and violence of war.
The tone of the book is set immediately with a death at the hands of a group of sadistic Nazis, leaving Rose, our hero, alone and in danger of becoming a victim herself. We are of course treated to the Woodsman and the Wolf, a visit to Grandma’s house, and Rose’s eventual red cloak, but all in ways that subvert the original story. That’s right, knowing “Little Red Riding Hood” back to front is not going to help you predict what’s coming.
The characters are believable and the reader is led through their struggles with the gray morality of wartime. The Wolf and the Woodsman, in particular, are both horrible and pitiable, with one of them looking to give an 80s slasher movie villain a run for their money. There is a gothic flair to the book, with the settings both in nature and inside buildings giving a palpable sense of claustrophobia
Sawh’s voice is clear and present. Even as characters remember past events, we are kept aware they are experiencing them through the lens of their current situation. Sawh treats each character, evil or otherwise, with a fair hand, making it hard to discount anyone’s struggles, even though they may have caused, or desire to cause, much suffering to others.
The end is the master stroke. I did not see it coming until it was too late to dodge, and it subverts the folktale completely. The Hunted Rose doesn’t so much turn “Little Red Riding Hood” on its head as it shoots the story out of a canon for it to land in a completely different space: a gothic story on the shelf near Frankenstein and Dracula.
A great read. Not too long, not too short. For this Goldilocks, it was just right.
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