Sisters Red is the best kind of fairytale retelling, in that Jackson Pearce takes the kernel of a fairytale (“Little Red Riding Hood” here, obvs) and then … just runs with it. There’s no need to hew too closely to the “original” story—because what is the original story, anyway? Instead we get this cool, thrilling urban fantasy adventure about sisters who slay werewolves … like, yeah. I’m down with that.
Scarlett and Rosie March are young when a werewolf kills their grandmother, leaving them orphaned and virtually alone in the world. They grow up and start hunting wolves, partly out of revenge, partly to protect other would-be victims. However, the sisters are not as close as they want to think. Hunting is an all-consuming calling for Scarlett, who has honed her body and mind into a weapon with a single purpose: hunting wolves. Rosie, younger, less scarred (physically and emotionally) is devoted to her sister and their shared cause—yet she feels the tug of the outside world, and an attraction to the March sisters’ close friend and hunting partner, Silas the woodsman, in a way that Scarlett just doesn’t. That, of course, is the source of tension as the sisters and Silas temporarily relocate from their sleepy town to Atlanta to stop the werewolves from finding and turning a Potential new wolf.
The relationship between the March sisters reminds me so much of the relationship between Dean and Sam Winchester in Supernatural (which I adore). The parallels aren’t quite exact, but Scarlett is such a Dean and Rosie is such a Sam when it comes to their outlooks on hunting and whether or not they can have a life outside of it. And Scarlett has that same over-protectiveness of her younger sister that Dean has with Sammy, even after all these years. It’s this dynamic that is largely the reason why Supernatural has stayed so strong for 13 years, and this dynamic works just as well in Sisters Red, largely as a result of Pearce’s storytelling and narrative structure. By alternating chapters between each sister’s point of view, we understand each one’s perspective and thinking. To Scarlett, Rosie can seem young and feckless and too … alive. There’s an envy there, and a sadness as well. To Rosie, Scarlett is this heroic, driven, but also hollowed-out person. Rosie measures herself against Scarlett and always feels like she’s falling short—yet she is so reluctant to strike out on her own, for it would mean abandoning her own sister.
These are never easy issues to address, so I love how Sisters Red tackles it. I love that the drama and conflict that comes out of these issues never feels contrived. Silas is literally in the middle of it, with his and Rosie’s nascent romance. He tries to appease both sisters, and it’s so interesting, watching the three-way interactions, the way each person’s desires to help the others conflicts with their own needs. I think Pearce does an excellent job of keeping everything feeling real and balanced while still driving the characters and story forward.
The actual setting and plot are less impressive. There isn’t a great deal of worldbuilding here. That is for the best, in some ways—too much exposition can definitely ruin many a good book. And I guess it replicates the fairytale atmosphere. You never see someone explaining the socioeconomic structure of Snow White after all. However, because of the urban fantasy-esque setting in an actual city, I think I would have liked a little more attention to what’s happening in the wider world. How big a problem, exactly, are these Fenris?
Similarly, the plot is a so-so journey of fights and sleuthing and cleaning of apartments. The revelation regarding the identity of the Potential is fairly easy to see coming a long way off. The fight sequences are OK, but those are never why I come to a book in the first place.
Sisters Red is a great, interesting way to take “Little Red Riding Hood” and transpose it into the present day. With more knives and hatchets. And werewolves! I liked it, and I’d recommend it, but it also didn’t knock my socks off. Not sure yet if I’ll read more of Pearce’s retellings.
I want to conclude with: shout out to the cover artist, strawberryluna, for an amazing cover. Just marvel at all the different layers and elements, the way you see Scarlett, Rosie, and a wolf in there (did you miss the wolf? I missed the wolf at first). Bravo.