OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Genevieve Cogman is a freelance author, who has written for several role-playing game companies. Her work includes GURPS Vorkosigan and contributions to the In Nomine role-playing game line for Steve Jackson Games: contributions to Exalted 2nd Edition and other contributions to the Exalted and Orpheus lines for White Wolf Publishing: Hearts, Swords and Flowers: The Art of Shoujo for Magnum Opus: and contributions to the Dresden Files RPG for Evil Hat Productions. She currently works for the NHS in England in the HSCIC as a clinical classifications specialist.
FORMAT/INFO: Scarlet will be published by Ace Books on May 9th, 2023. It is 368 pages. It is told in third person from Eleanor’s POV. It is available in paperback, audiobook, and ebook format.
Scarlet is a book that unfortunately fails to really engage with the premise it’s created. Scarlet’s biggest success is being a love letter to The Scarlet Pimpernel, and I do want to commend it for how successfully it captures many aspects of the original story. Scarlet is set after the events of the original book, and while there are vampires this time around, we’re led to assume events happened in more or less the same manner. The result is that, if you are a fan of that story, you’re joining a new POV character as she meets the original characters, and I was charmed by those interactions (“Sink me!”).
Unfortunately, that faithfulness to the feel of the original story may be what causes its downfall. The author smartly shifted the POV to a lower class woman, one who in theory would have sympathy with some of the ideals of the French Revolution, even as she works to rescue those who are suffering as the Revolution spirals out of control. But while there are some moments where she points out conditions that caused the French Revolution, she never meaningfully engages with any of the characters about the societal conditions that she herself is experiencing. Her love interest has some terrible ideas about class structure, and while they have a fight, she ultimately forgives him without him reforming his ideas in the slightest. Eleanor seems content to grumble about things to herself in an internal monologue, without truly calling anyone on it, which seems a missed opportunity when you’ve taken the effort to shift the POV in the first place.
But where the book really fell apart for me was the use of vampires in the story…or rather, the lack of use of vampires. There’s a lot of handwringing by the French about vampires being part of the aristocracy and therefore evil, but you could honestly remove vampires from the story entirely and the adventure would almost be entirely unchanged. That was mainly where my disappointment came from; if you’re going to take the time to add a fantasy element to a classic story, it needs to contribute to making the story fresh in some way.
CONCLUSION: I was fully prepared to love Scarlet on its terms and have a fun little romp. I absolutely adore the original tale of The Scarlet Pimpernel and enjoyed seeing the author take those characters on a new adventure. But although the author tried a few things to revise the story as both a fantasy and a revisionist look at the tale, the book didn’t really work on either front.