Thank you to M. C. Kennedy for offering a review copy of A Wolf’s Rose! It was fun to step back into the world of retellings for a bit (this book carries obvious elements of Little Red Riding Hood with some Beauty and the Beast vibes), and the allegorical elements were interesting. Reviews have been somewhat harder for me to write of late, with so much going on in my brain, but I’ll do my best to make this an effective review.
I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions are my own.
What is A Wolf’s Rose about?
Can two broken people ever find redemption?
Roshien Cochall has one goal: appear before the Gwyns and prove that she can move beyond the mistakes of her past. Nothing seems to move her closer to that goal, however, and she is left feeling stuck.
Lorcan Mactire has been waiting patiently for nearly ten years to seize a cochall’s magic ring. Taking Roshien’s grandmother hostage, he lures Roshien to his fortress, confident that he will soon uncover the ring’s secret.
Is this Roshien’s opportunity for redemption? Can she somehow convince Lorcan to let her go—and maybe even take him with her? Or is this the beginning of her ultimate failure?
From the outset, this is clearly a Little Red Riding Hood retelling–it has the hood, the grandmother, and a “wolf”–but it doesn’t shove those retelling elements in your face; it’s very well-done in its subtle clarity.
The first introduction we have to Roshien is well-immersed in the world that Kennedy has created, and it raises immediate questions about some of the workings of the world. The writing carries the detail it needs to raise those questions and create a vivid impression of the world, though it’s maybe a little info-dumpy at the outset and not all of those questions are deeply answered in the book. We do come to understand the pieces that we need to understand for the book, though the pacing of that information felt a little choppy in places. The world does seem interesting, and I hope it’s explored further in other installments of the series–including the upcoming A Bird in the Snow which I will also be reading and reviewing soon.
The characters were the next hook for me personally, as Roshien is one of three siblings. The dynamics among them were great in the first few chapters, and I was disappointed that Ean and Orla had so little role in the story–even in Roshien’s thoughts–throughout the book. I would have liked to see more of how their absence impacted Roshien and how she felt about the way she was separated from each of them. I am glad that Ean gets a chance to shine as the main character in A Bird in the Snow, since he seems like a really dynamic character, and I look forward to reading more about him.
Grandmama was interesting. I liked her in the beginning, and her firm politeness. I never disliked her, but her advice toward Roshien in later parts of the book weren’t what I expected and I’m not sure how I felt about it. It seemed like such a peculiar mix of grace–toward Roshien and others–and the encouragement of extreme measures.
Lorcan was an interesting character. I enjoyed the chapters from his POV and the conflict we see there. I would have liked to see more of that in his interactions with Roshien, and more to set up their softening toward each other. The development of their relationship in the latter portion of the book didn’t feel natural, it felt like it went too far too fast, and (More spoilers:) the enemies-to-lovers plotline fell flat for me. The romance element didn’t feel necessary to the story, and I would have liked for the focus to be on the redemption itself without attraction distracting. (I also wasn’t quite clear on the age gap, and while I’m not inherently opposed to large age gaps, it did feel a little weird and inconsistent. Lorcan didn’t act as old as he was said to be, which made their relationship feel less weird but also made the age gap feel weirder.)
Sorry there are so many spoilers; you’re good again.
Roshien was fine as a main character. A little angsty, but called out on it. Pretty average, intelligence-wise, which is pretty standard for an MC. She didn’t feel like anything special. I wish her backstory had played more of a role in her behavior throughout the book, both to add depth to her character and to tie in more thoroughly when it did become relevant. But generally I felt as ambivalent toward her as I usually do toward a (particularly, female) main character and I know that’s just a personal trend of mine.
I did like Braich. He was a good gruff mentor sort of character, and the character who seemed the least emotion-driven. (Another personal trend: I don’t connect with emotion-driven characters as well as others.) I’m glad he played a central role.
Then we come to plot. I love the redemption theme in this book, and I think overall it was done pretty well. There are some things I think could have been tweaked to make it even stronger, but it was effective as it was and, in fact, probably the strongest part of the book. The plot is a little lengthy for the theme, the book probably a little longer than necessary, but it didn’t feel too drawn-out or draggy. And the writing itself is overall pretty strong, making it easy enough to read from that standpoint.
Overall, there are a number of developmental things I think could have made this book stronger, but it’s still an enjoyable read with a strong and important core theme. A solid three-star read, I think, with a bonus quarter star for its thematic strengths.
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