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Something Red: A Novel by Douglas Nicholas

Something Red: A Novel (edition 2012)

by Douglas Nicholas

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11013109,733 (4.01)5
Title:Something Red: A Novel
Authors:Douglas Nicholas
Info:Atria/Emily Bestler Books (2012), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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Something Red by Douglas Nicholas

  1. 10
    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (JGolomb)
    JGolomb: Similar medieval, monastic vibe

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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
I love this book. It's moody, engaging, and beautifully written. I wallowed in the lovely prose and was frightened by the menace. ( )
  Lou_Cadle | Aug 24, 2014 |
At the time when I read this one I thought - blah its going so slow and what is really going on. It was just plodding. But the more I think about it - because it sometimes peaks at me from my "giveaway or donate" book shelf - that it was well written but just needed more OOMPH in a lot of areas. I think it could have been GREAT if there was more action and less of an attempt at suspense because the suspense just didn't quite hit the mark.

I'd say this was about a 2.5 for me. Between a meh and a eh sort of feeling. I liked the characters and really loved the twist at the end - I just wish there were more going on throughout the whole novel instead of everything just happening in a big rush at the end.

*A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own. ( )
  Pabkins | Jun 24, 2014 |
Something Red is not what I would consider a typical fantasy novel, but that is not a criticism. It is set in 13th century England and is both a coming of age tale and a haunting mystery. There are definitely fantasy elements and magic in it, but they are not revealed or understood initially. Part of what sets it apart is that it is told from the perspective of young Hob, a 13 year old orphan (see... it is a fantasy book, it has an orphan boy as the protagonist ;) ), who is traveling with Molly, a stoic, strong female who is leading the group, her lover Jack and her granddaughter Neiman. The difference, to me, what set it apart, was that Hob has no knowledge of magic, or strange fantastical creatures. The story centers on Hob's journey with Molly and the others and the fear of the unknown that was wreaking havoc around them. What is going on is left for the reader to discover as the story progresses and Hob himself discovers and understands it.

This is not a fast paced book, even during the parts that contain "action". But it is a wonderfully vivid book. I found the authors descriptive prose to be beautifully written. It was lyrical and the imagery and sounds surrounding the settings were so masterfully created. I honestly can not think of another novel I have read that has accomplished this to the level that Nicholas has in this book. Others may disagree, but what he did, worked really well for me. I will also mention that perhaps the vividness, and flow of the prose should not be surprising since Nicholas is a poet (and an award winning one at that).

The book is not perfect, I could make some criticisms for parts that I would like to see done differently (or not at all), but those are minor and overall, this was a very enjoyable read, and something different. ( )
  tenaciousreader | May 24, 2014 |
Something Red captures the purest elements of suspense: the fear of the unknown, of the mundane suddenly becoming unreal. The tale is told from the perspective of Hob, a thirteen-year-old boy recently apprenticed into a motley band of travelling musicians. Hob's companions are Jack, a dark and silent man of impressive strength and great gentleness, Nemain, a beautiful red-haired girl of about Hob's age, and Molly, the mysterious and powerful healer and leader of the group. As the band travels about the northwest of England, their ordinary experiences of travel are repeatedly interrupted by terrifying deaths and maulings that defy all attempts of defence and protection. As the fear steadily grows, it is unclear which is more terrifying: the mysterious beast deep in the shadows of the forest or the unknown monster within the group itself.

The book itself defies categorization. Although the blurb describes it as a combination of mystery, fantasy, and romance, I would consider it much more of a historical novel or coming-of-age story with a touch of the supernatural. The plot itself details the characters' trek across the country as they attempt to avoid the mysterious being that seems to stalk their very footsteps. Although there is a continual and brilliantly constructed feeling of suspense and fear of the unknown, to me, the story lacks the action-driven focus of a thriller. The mystery itself is not particularly complex; there are very direct hints throughout of the individuals involved, although the actual mechanism has a fantastic and unexpected twist. hover for spoiler

It instead feels focused on the experiences of the journey and their effects on Hob as he grows into manhood. The title itself perfectly captures the mood of the story, for the suspense and fear stems from the unknown, from the “something” glimpsed in the dark shadows of the forest, the ambiguous hints about the gruesome secrets of one of his companions, and his own confused feelings for the red-haired Nemain as he stands on the threshold of maturity. Red, the colour of blood, takes on the attributes of both violence and life. “Something red” becomes allegorical of Hob's fear of and fascination with the unknown as he transitions to adulthood.

One of the aspects that brought this story to life was the beautifully detailed renderings of the characters' surroundings. Nicholas truly breathes life into the world he creates via the elaborate details he provides. He also clearly did an enormous amount of research, and his love of the time period imbues his descriptions with a palpable combination of magic and familiarity. Nicholas' style is almost cinematographic in the depth of its visual detail. The characters' surroundings are described in so much depth that they become characters and entities in themselves. One particular moment, when Hob's senses are alive to potential attack and the entire world seems to grow silent, stood out for me. Nicholas perfectly captures that sense of inner stillness, of the world holding its breath, despite the ongoing mundane conversations that continue around Hob. I almost felt as though I could hear the faint breathing of the ox and the droning of one of the pilgrims as my ears strained to capture the whispers of danger around me.

Compared to the landscapes, the characters themselves felt curiously incomplete to me, rough sketches in an immersive and exquisitely painted landscape. Much of the narrative and description is provided by the third-person limited narrator, who, although ostensibly from Hob's perspective, does not precisely channel Hob's thoughts. Instead, the point of view is more distant, clearly telling the story to those removed from the environment. When the surroundings are described, the narrator often provides details about standard practices of the time, such as cleaning the rushes on the floor of the Great Hall during feasts. These details help to provide the wonderful lifelike realism of Nicholas' world, but in some sense detract from a feeling of closeness to Hob, since they are clearly outside of both his current experiences and his thoughts. Most of the action and narrative is provided from this third perspective, and in fact there is surprisingly little dialogue between characters. Often, I was told of Hob's thoughts or provided with summaries of conversations rather than experiencing the conversations themselves. This distanced me from the characters, for I could not hear them speak and was not privy to the details and quirks that would bring them to life. Robert, a knight that the travellers encounter and who is encumbered with a troublesome horse, is one of the most vocal characters. His dialogue and comedic antics with the horse made him, for me, one of the most rounded characters in the story.

However, the personalities I could glimpse in the characters were excellent. Molly, in particular, stood out to me, for she completely defies the standard fantasy female tropes. Although attractive, she was not given unearthly beauty; instead, she is comfortably padded and of ripe years. Formidable in both intellect and skills, she is easily the match of all the men she encounters. She defies the current religious ethics by continuing to contact and be guided by the old gods of Ireland, and it is her will which guides the actions of the others.

Overall, Something Red is a perfect read for a person looking for a unique read that defies categorization and is independent of standard fantasy tropes. The story provides a window into a beautifully researched and detailed world of the thirteenth century, with an edge of the supernatural so closely tied to historical folklore that does not feel out of place or contrived. Something Red is the perfect novel to pick up for a poetic, deep, haunting, and immersive journey.

I received this as an ebook from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, Inc., via NetGalley.
( )
  page.fault | Sep 21, 2013 |
This was a terrific book that I would be happy to recommend to anyone who likes an old-fashioned monster story. It's set in the medieval period with a cast of winning characters: Molly, an exiled queen of Erin and her granddaughter, also a queen, Hob (Rob), the boy Molly adopts, who becomes a man in mind and body during the course of the book, and Jack Brown, the gentle giant whose own secret is the key to the clan's survival. I could see the touch of the poet in all aspects of the book: it's language is beautiful and precise in terms of its descriptions of the world that the characters live in as well as in the way that it gives us insight into the characters and backgrounds. The author builds suspense slowly throughout the book, and he has a very good understanding of how to create a satisfying conclusion. He doesn't just release us after the climax; he connects the events of the book to the future for these four people. I really can't recommend it enough--it surprised me thoroughly, and I've seldom been as touched by a book (which might be a funny thing to say about a novel of horror, but it's nonetheless true). I can see it is a book that will be with me for a while. Even now, I want to go back and read the last quarter of the book again--and I've read the last few pages at least three times already for the sheer pleasure of their release. ( )
  Denise701 | Mar 6, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Library Journal Sept 21, 2012

Nicholas, Douglas. Something Red. Emily Bestler: Atria. Sept. 2012. c.315p. ISBN 9781451660074. $25. F
As a makeshift family led by an Irish healer in 13th-century England makes their way across a mountainous, frigid terrain, their newest adopted member, Hob, struggles to stay warm and keep his wagon on the path. The nomads become uncomfortably aware that they are being stalked by an unseen, deadly force as they proceed through the woods. As the terror builds, Hob and his new family must decide whether they will fight for the little they hold dear. Nicholas, an award-winning poet, creates a turbulent world of Norman knights, hidden royals, and warrior monks, where no one is whom they appear to be and evil lurks in the wings. The historical detail and gradually building fear is vibrant and palpable as the novel rockets toward its conclusion.
Verdict This darkly atmospheric debut novel is well worth its measured plot-building for its horrific, unexpected ending. Fans of historical fiction with a dark fantasy twist would enjoy this.—Katie Lawrence, Chicago
added by Scribes | editLibrary Journal (Sep 21, 2012)
Something Red was chosen as one of the Best Books of Fall 2012 by Publishers Weekly.
added by Scribes | editPublishers Weekly (Aug 3, 2012)
Author: Nicholas, Douglas

Review Issue Date: August 15, 2012
Online Publish Date: August 2, 2012
Publisher:Emily Bestler/Atria
Pages: 336
Price ( Hardcover ): $25.00
Publication Date: September 18, 2012
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-1-4516-6007-4
Category: Fiction

Award-winning poet Nicholas (Iron Rose, 2010, etc.) treks into the wilds of medieval England in his first novel, a saga vibrant with artful description. . . .
Nicholas adeptly creates the medieval world, intriguingly populated by guilders, knights and wayfarers from faraway Lietuva. . . . Nicholas’ language, its relevance to ancient times in syntax and vocabulary, and his extensive research into medieval England, bring this book to life in a brilliant fashion. [His] descriptions of life at the inn and later at the redoubt of the Norman, Sir Jehan, the Sieur De Blanchefontaine, are superbly realistic. Nicholas’ portrayal of Blanchefontaine and its inhabitants, from castellan to page, ring with authenticity.
A hauntingly affecting historical novel with a touch of magic.

added by Scribes | editKirkus Reviews (Aug 2, 2012)
Issue: July 1, 2012
Something Red.
Nicholas, Douglas (Author)
Sep 2012. 314 p. Atria/Emily Bestler, hardcover, $25.00. (9781451660074).
Poet Nicholas puts his flair for language and imagery to good use in his atmospheric first novel. The tension level ratchets ever higher as a traveling troupe comprised of the strange and wondrous Mistress Molly, her equally mysterious lover, her devoted granddaughter, and her impressionable young apprentice/son roam the bleak countryside of northwest England. The medieval setting lends itself perfectly to the dark and the fantastic, as this motley band of vagabonds is compelled to stave off the nameless and faceless evil swirling about it wherever it goes. After it takes refuge in a castle, relief is short-lived, and the band must grapple with terror on a grand scale. Not for the faint of heart, this pulsepounding page-turner grabs you from the start and never lets you go. A wickedly clever and evocative combination of history, horror, mystery, and magic.
— Margaret Flanagan
added by Scribes | editBooklist, Margaret Flanagan (Jul 1, 2012)
PW Starred Review:
Rich in historical detail, this suspenseful coming-of-age fantasy grabs the reader with the facts of life in medieval England and the magic spells woven into its landscape. Hob, a 13-year-old orphan, has found a place with the traveling troupe of Mistress Molly, an Irish medicine woman who can speak with crows. Traveling south before winter, Hob helps guide Molly’s wagons while navigating the troubles of the road and the temptations of inns. Forced by rockslide and storm to seek shelter in Blanchefontaine, a Norman castle, the troupe soon realizes that the greatest danger, the Beast that has been harrowing the countryside, is now locked up inside with them. Debut novelist Nicholas brings a poetic turn to his prose (Molly hits a bull’s-eye with a dagger the way “a gardener carelessly flicks a pebble away from a plot he is weeding”) and introduces monks, Crusaders, tanners, foreign nobility, shape-shifters, and even oxen to bring his magical Middle Ages to splendid life. (Sept.)
added by Scribes | editPublishers Weekly (Apr 30, 2012)
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The wheels were solid disks as high as Hob himself, and the wood was warped a little and wet with the snow now coming down hard and clinging in patchy lumps to the rims.
“There is nothing,” she said, and then, still looking away into the woods, reached sideways and took Ernald's arm firmly, “but be said by me, there was something hunting along our trail not a sennight since, and should it come here, see you and yours are within the gates.” She shook him gently. “Do not be slighting it, Ernald, great strong lad that you are and brave as a bear: it is something terrible, that no one should run to meet.”
Lady Isabeau was tall for a woman, nearly as tall as Molly, but slender where Molly was stout, with a smooth immobile face that looked as if it had been carved from ivory, pale and serene. Hob stared at her: glossy black hair bound about the brows with a broad white linen fillet and partly concealed by a veil that draped down her neck; dark eyes beneath dark brows plucked thin; unsmiling lips, full and well-shaped. There was so little expression on her face, and its beauty was so unworldly, that Hob had a moment when he thought her an apparition, or a graven figure. “Blanche comme la neige,” came to his mind, a song Molly had taught him, “belle comme le jour.” The thinnest of scars ran from her hairline down her forehead, divided her left eyebrow, and curved along her cheek to the corner of her mouth, and seemed at once to augment her beauty and to reinforce its carven stillness, as if some wright's chisel had slipped in the course of fashioning her visage. A linen band of the sort known as a barbette ran down from the fillet at her temples and passed under her chin, framing her face, and rendering her features all the more austere.
Her gown was a muted purple; heavy embroidery of red and blue circled its neckline, and it was gathered by a zone of gray silk, sewn with pearls, that circled her hips. From this belt depended a silver ring, as wide around as a big man's fist. On the ring was a bunch of black iron keys, of varying sizes: the symbol and reality of her standing as administrator of the household. As she spoke, she fiddled with the keys as though they were prayer beads; they gave off a continual muted clink, just barely audible to Hob above the rumble of voices, the thuds and thumps of plank tabletops settling onto their trestles.
Something had curdled in the atmosphere of the great hall. A further restlessness, a sense of unease, seemed to seep into the air through the walls. The cat, once more in its favored perch in the window recess, began to back up against the shutter, its ears flat and its eyes wide. After a moment even this refuge would not suffice, and it dropped with a small bang onto the table below, leaped to the floor, and scuttled along the wall till it disappeared through an archway near the dais.
Dame Aline, somewhat younger than her husband, was a short, sturdily built woman with fair hair beneath a white lace coif, small square hands, a merry giggle. She had a mask of light freckles across her face that on feast days she hid beneath a powder of rice mixed with dried white rose-petal: a faint scent of rose hung about her even tonight, when she wore no powder. Her cheeks were full, making Hob think at first of a squirrel with acorns in its cheeks. He thought her plain, especially next to the ivory perfection of Lady Isabeau. As the evening wore on, though, she seemed more appealing to him, by reason of her blithe chatter, her delight in each jest, and above all the contrast she made with the dire ominous bulk of her husband. He sat beside her and cut her meat, as was polite: men cut for women, the younger for the elder, the lesser for the greater. When he had done, she placed her hand on his arm affectionately; she smiled in his face. Her rounded cheek, her easy laugh, lent her a childlike prettiness, and Hob wondered that she had no fear of the sinister castellan, who made even the tough-as-gristle sergeant Ranulf uneasy.
“Precious Christ!” cried Sir Balthasar, looking down at what lay on the floor. “Has he been torn by demons?”
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"During the thirteenth century, in northwest England, in one of the coldest winters in living memory, a formidable middle-aged Irishwoman and her little troupe are trying to drive their three wagons across the Pennines before the heavy snows set in. Molly, her powerful and enigmatic lover Jack, her fey granddaughter Nemain, and the young apprentice Hob soon find that something terrible prowls the woods through which they must make their way. As they travel from refuge to refuge, it becomes apparent that the evil must be faced, and it is then that Hob learns how much more there is to his adopted family than he had ever imagined"--… (more)

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