Review: Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Title Sisters Red
Author Jackson Pearce
Published June 7th 2010 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages 328 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance, Fairytale Re-telling
Part of a Series? Yes (Book 1 in the Fairytale Retellings series)
Source & Format Purchased from Chapters, Paperback
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChapters


Scarlett March lives to hunt the Fenris – the werewolves that took her eye when she was defending her sister Rosie from a brutal attack. Armed with a razor-sharp hatchet and blood-red cloak, Scarlett is an expert at luring and slaying the wolves. She’s determined to protect other young girls from a grisly death, and her raging heart will not rest until every single wolf is dead.

Rosie March once felt her bond with her sister was unbreakable. Owing Scarlett her life, Rosie hunts ferociously alongside her. But even as more girls’ bodies pile up in the city and the Fenris seem to be gaining power, Rosie dreams of a life beyond the wolves. She finds herself drawn to Silas, a young woodsman who is deadly with an ax and Scarlett’s only friend–but does loving him mean betraying her sister and all that they’ve worked for?

“The wolf opened his wide, long jaws, rows of teeth and bloodstained tongue stretching for her. A thought locked itself in Scarlett’s mind, and she repeated it over and over until it became a chant, a prayer: I am the only one left to fight, so now I must kill you.

A chance meeting with a predatory stranger bearing a mysterious black mark on his wrist one fateful afternoon has the power to change the course of sisters Scarlett and Rosie’s lives forever. Ever since that day, Scarlett has become a force to be reckoned with, driven by the insatiable need to exact revenge on the creatures that murdered her beloved grandmother and stole one of her eyes. Accompanied by her younger sister, Rosie, and their close friend, Silas, the three fight Fenris, the ravenous werewolves that few in Ellison, Georgia even know exist. When the population of Fenris continues to increase at an alarming rate, it soon becomes clear that the werewolves are on the hunt for the newest ‘Potential’, a Fenris whose abilities are latent but will have the possibility to be turned during the next phase of the full moon. Desperate to make a difference and help to cull the rising population of werewolves, the three travel to Atlanta in order to be at the center of the activity where the hunting grounds will be the most lush. But as Scarlett soon finds out, hunting in the big city is anything but a walk in the park, and they will need to use the Potential Fenris as bait if they have any hope of luring the werewolves to their deaths.

“I remember more. I don’t need to see the stain to remember the sound the Fenris’ teeth made when they popped through the skin on Oma March’s stomach. Or the way it felt to see out of my right eye for the last time, the image of a claw careening toward my face, the exploding sensation. The strong vengeance and turmoil that rushed through my body, the desire to be the last thing the monster ever saw. The blur of red blood and crimson rage that changed me forever.”

I have yet to read a fairytale re-telling that I didn’t enjoy in some capacity. There’s something undeniably admirable about an author who has the talent and ability to put their own innovative twist on a widely-recognized and beloved story. Having previously read two of Jackson Pearce’s novels, Sweetly and Purity, I was familiar with her work and knew she was more than capable of handling the re-telling of any story with ease. Thankfully, my trust in Pearce was not misplaced. A loosely-based interpretation of Charles Perrault’s classic tale of Little Red Riding Hood, Sisters Red is a macabre masterpiece that incorporates aspects of modernity while still retaining the essence of the timeless classic.

“We have the same heart,” I mutter, shaking my hair from my wet face. The same heart, torn apart so that I could stay safe in our mother longer while she put her body in front of mine. Her body in front of mine so that I could stay safe longer instead of face the mouth of a monster. Always her body in front of mine, always her to be wounded, to be cut into pieces and hacked away at while I see with both eyes and can think of a life beyond hunting.”

Scarlett and Rosie March presented the opportunity for a fascinating character study as the reader is allowed to watch them develop both as individuals as well as together as siblings. Two halves of a whole, the sisters have a symbiotic relationship, bound together by a shared belief that despite their many differences they share a metaphysical connection that transcends all the limitations of the rational, natural world. Despite their abiding love for each other, however, the two girls can’t help but find themselves increasingly at odds with one another. It’s a testament to the power of Pearce’s writing that she was able to evoke such a strong emotional response from me. As an only child who is largely ignorant of the complicated dynamics that can exist between siblings, I never expected to be reduced to tears as I watched the two sisters struggle to redefine their relationship and cast off their antiquated notions of what truly bound them together. But that’s precisely what happened. With seemingly effortless ease, Pearce touches upon universal issues to which we can all relate, forcing us to question the lengths to which we’ll go to hold someone near, even if that might not be the best place for them. Although set within a fanciful, paranormal world in which werewolves abound, the problems that Scarlett and Lia face, both as individuals as well as sisters, are ones which many readers will be able to recognize and learn from, most notably the act of growing up and growing apart.

“That’s why I hunt: to kill the monsters that destroy lives and ruins families. I don’t know when it will end, exactly – there’s not really a finish line, unless I somehow kill every Fenris in existence. That feels like dreaming to win the lottery, but it’s still a dream. All the fear, the darkness…gone.”

Permanently scarred, both physically and emotionally, by her first experience with the Fenris at the age of only eleven, Scarlett has become consumed by her mission to exact revenge on werewolves in the ensuing seven years. Haunted by the knowledge of the existence of such ferocious creatures and the potential devastation they have the ability to cause to an innumerable number of other families, eighteen-year-old Scarlett cannot help but feel a sense of obligation to protect the innocents who know nothing of their existence. Like an albatross round her neck, Scarlett’s overwhelming sense of duty prevents her from imaging any sort of future for herself that doesn’t involve hunting as a main pursuit. More than a simple obligation, however, over the years hunting has transformed into a fundamental part of Scarlett’s identity, a passion for which nothing else can rival. With her sister and Silas by her side, Scarlett can think of no better future than battling the Fenris together. But what if Rosie has something entirely different in mind?

“I listen to the teacher gently talking – fold here, flip here – the paper sliding beneath my fingers for no reason other than the fact that I want it to be so. It feels as if I’m more than I was before I walked into the class, more than just a hunter. I’m also something silly and pointless and wonderful, doing something that isn’t my responsibility, but rather just my simple desire. Somehow I get lost in the folds, each one chipping away some of the hardness that the years of hunting have built up until I feel new and bare and wonderful.”

Sixteen-year-old Rosie March’s life is one ruled by conflict. Defined by the constant battle of duty versus desire that rages within her, Rosie can’t help but long for something more than a life simply dominated by hunting. Saved by her sister when they were both children, Rosie interprets Scarlett’s sacrifices as a binding obligation that forces her to prioritize Scarlett’s desires over those of her own. While she longs to enjoy some of the simpler things in life, enrolling in the occasional dance or origami class, Rosie hides the truth from her sister, dreading the thought of every disappointing her. Rosie’s feelings, both for Silas and the uncomplicated, simple life she longs for, battle for supremacy against the debt she feels honour-bound to obey to her sister. Rosie was a very gentle, beautiful character, but I was happy to see her assert herself when need be. Her role in the final battle against the Fenris was extremely admirable and demonstrated the depth of Pearce’s characters. It was gratifying to see a feminine, delicate character also portrayed as strong, both physically and psychologically.

“I’m in love with a woodsman and I simply can’t be. Scarlett has no time for love, so why should I? But it gets harder and harder not to blurt out my feelings to him…I try not to touch him, not because I don’t want to, but because I’m afraid that if I let my hand brush his or he puts a casual arm around my waist, I won’t be able to stop. I’ll want to touch him again. And again.”

Sisters Red is also underscored by a secondary storyline involving the blossoming romantic relationship between childhood friends Rosie and Silas. I don’t know quite how Pearce managed it, but this romance was more evocative and more powerful than some of the more explicit books I’ve read recently. Every brush of the hand and secret glance seemed electrified. This slow-burning romance fizzled beneath the surface throughout much of the course of the novel, culminating in a heady display of emotion that swept me off my feet and made my heart absolutely ache in the hopes that Rosie and Silas might achieve their happy ending. The effectiveness of this romance was helped all the more by the gentle, sensitive Silas, who understands Rosie’s conflicted feelings of duty and obligation toward her sister and encourages Rosie to pursue her own desires and experience a life outside of hunting.

“Ignorance is no reason to die. They can’t help what they are, still happily unaware inside a cave of fake shadows. They exist in a world that’s beautiful, normal, where people have jobs and dreams that don’t involve a hatchet. My world is a parallel universe to theirs – the same sights, same people, same city, yet the Fenris lurk, the evil creeps, the knowledge undeniably exists.”

The writing in this novel is superb. Told from the alternating first person perspective of both Scarlett and Rosie, Pearce allows the readers a glimpse into the minds of two unique and distinct characters whose voices were easy to discern from one another. While the identity of the Potential Fenris was quite easy to predict ahead of time, this is no way detracted from my enjoyment of the story. If anything, this knowledge actually increased my interest in the novel, as the anticipation it caused concerning the potential fall-out from this revelation was enough to inspire me to frantically turn the pages to determine if my suspicions would be confirmed and how it would affect the characters’ lives. Pearce elicited far more emotion from me than I ever could have expected from a simple fairytale re-telling. Each plot twist and development felt like a punch to the gut as the pacing of the novel ramped up to a fever pitch, reaching a crescendo that culminated in an action-packed, nail-biting sequence that made it impossible to put down even for an instant until it was all over.

“Stay out of the business of wolves, child,” he snarls.
I shake my head, licking my lips. “I can’t. I really, really can’t.”
He lunges for me.

Reminiscent of the darkly strange and lovely tales of The Brothers Grimm, Sisters Red was a gruesome, gory modern interpretation of the classic story of Little Red Riding Hood. Set in a world in which werewolves exist on the fringes of society, at its core, the novel is the story of two sisters desperately attempting to find their respective places in the world and navigate the shifting dynamics within their own relationship. With a healthy dose of action, romance, suspense and a beautifully rendered examination of the complicated dynamics that exist between two siblings, Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red is sure to have something that everyone will enjoy.

Overall Rating

Around The Web

Still not sure this is the right book for you? Why not listen to what some other bloggers had to say about it?

● Erica @ The Book Cellar wrote “With her modern twist on Little Red Red Riding Hood, Sisters Red is a darker, gruesome read that will captivate you until the very last page.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Christina @ A Reader of Fictions wrote “I devoured this novel like a Fenris devours tasty lady flesh…I urge those who love fairy tales and incredibly strong ladies to go pick this book up pronto. It is as awesome as this cover; I promise.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Sara @ Novel Novice wrote “Sisters Red is the kind of book you won’t be able to put down once you start. It’s high-energy and captivating. It has all the charm and appeal of a traditional fairy tale, with the ass-whooping and action that modern audiences will adore.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

5 Responses

  1. I was trying to remember if I read this, I get all the books with red in the title mixed up. I haven’t, but it does sound great. I love retellings, and have yet to find a Red Riding Hood one I really like. I love the sound of the relationship between the sisters. Great review, Jen!

    Alise @ Readers In Wonderland

  2. Gosh, I’ve had this book for FOREVER and STILL haven’t read it. In fact, I think I have the first 3 Jackson Pearce retelling books and I haven’t read any of them. Which is terrible. Especially since she’s a local author…and I have them signed. And everyone says this book is good, so I don’t know why I haven’t gotten to it yet.

    I liked what you said about the romance and how it was so evocative without being explicit. Those are always my favorite kinds, where not much actually happens, but it’s the emotions that really grab you.

    Glad you liked this one! 🙂
    Katie recently posted…Review: All Our Yesterdays, by Cristin TerrillMy Profile

  3. Wow, I’m not sure what’s holding me back from reading this book! I’ve previously heard mixed things about this book, but now you have me convinced that I have to read it ASAP! I’m actually quite a huge fan of retellings as well, and it looks like Pearce does the job well. I’m surprised that this book made you tear up, because goodness, she must know how to write sister relationships REALLY WELL! I’m really looking forward to this well-done romance that’s very emotional and real. Beautiful review, Jen!
    Jen recently posted…Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker | ReviewMy Profile

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Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!