Mar 15, 2012

Review: Song of the Red Cloak by Chantel Acevedo

Book cover of Song of the Red Cloak by Chantel Acevedo
Title: Song of the Red Cloak [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Chantel Acevedo [Website|Twitter]
Standing: Stand alone novel?
Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Fantasy
Published: July 26th, 2011 by CreateSpace
Format: Kindle edition.  
Source: Purchased.

A prophecy has been told of one prince's betrayal of another, of a slave uprising and the destruction of Sparta, of love and death.  The time has come to pass that these prophesies may be fulfilled.

Galen and Nikolas have grown up the best of friends, much to the concern of most of Sparta; Nikolas is a prince, destined to be king, while Galen is a helot--a slave--destined only to serve.  Galen dreams of freedom, of being a true Spartan and wearing a red cloak, but he knows this will not happen, so he will help Nikolas to achieve his.  While assisting Nikolas in a cruel coming-of-age ritual, Galen and Nikolas have a run in with Zoi, a mysterious young woman with unusual powers.  Galen, however, begins to suspect that Zoi has her part to play in the prophecies he learns from Karinna, Sparta’s beautiful new sybil.  

So, like many out there, I tend to shy away from self-published books, at least until I hear good words from others.  Chantel Acevedo is a real life friend of an author I love, Rachel Hawkins, and she had such kind words to say about Chantel and her book that I just had to give it a shot.  Chantel Acevedo is a total sweetheart, and I was excited to read a book that began as a NaNoWriMo book to see what someone could achieve from this event.  I am so happy to say that not only were there no noticeable typos, Song of the Red Cloak offered a compelling story of friendship, love, and BADASS SPARTANS.

Song of the Red Cloak was an excellent historical fiction, with some awesomely creative fantasy elements drawn both from Grecian myth and Acevedo’s own creation.  I loved all of the elements of Spartan society that were discussed, especially the details about the women.  I’ll say it right now, if I ever have to be part of a past society, I’ll take Sparta please (just not as a helot).  They get to go to school, get trained to fight, can speak their minds, and are pretty much awesome:

When foreigners asked why Spartan women were the only females in all of Greece allowed to speak their minds, the answer was always the same:  because Spartan women gave birth to real men.
Yeah, I know, it’s one of those cliche Spartan phrases, but it’s always in Spartan stuff BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME.  Song of the Red Cloak did not include the other Spartan phrase, “Come back with your shield or on it.” so we’ll let it roll.  I will say though, that one of the things that bothered me a bit about the book in the first half was feeling a bit like I was getting a history lesson.  This is somewhat necessary to make sure readers understand terminology, but occasionally it felt like facts were thrown in because they were cool facts more than because they were necessary.  Another aspect that bothered me were a couple of inconsistencies in descriptors.  For example, near the beginning, Nikolas surprised Galan by coming up behind him, but about three pages later when describing Nikolas, it is said that he could never sneak up on anyone.  My only other issue was the time-line.  While the pacing of the story was good, things seemed to come to a head very quickly, in a matter of days events took place which to me would have made more sense over a matter of weeks.

Song of the Red Cloak addresses the age old and tragic issue of prophecy.  As so often with prophecies, they are open to interpretation, misinterpreted, or people attempt to avoid them.  This, as always, works toward the detriment of those involved.  We see this story through the eyes of Galen, a slave who both respects and hates Spartans.  I very much enjoyed the focus on a male protagonist, and a story where there was just as much (if not more) emphasis on the value of his friendship with Nikolas as there is on his relationships with Zoi and Karinna.  All in all, I very much enjoyed the world depicted by Acevedo, which was both historically accurate and wonderfully creative.  

Likelihood that I'll be back for more:  I’ll totally check out whatever Chantel Acevedo writes next!  I admire her for self-publishing, and think she’s got some great stories up in that head.  Song of the Red Cloak was stand alone, but it seemed very open for the continuation of this story. She also has another book out, Love and Ghost Letters, which won the International Latino Book Award.

Recommended for:  Fans of Ancient Greece (Sparta in particular), people looking for a focus on friendship, strong women--because Sparta had em’ and some hot dudes too.

Real life repercussions of reading this book: boyfriend had to sit through 300 with me.  Yeah, guys like 300, but they probably don’t like watching it with their girlfriend literally drooling at all the eye candy.  Also Spartans make me want to eat large amounts of next-to-raw meat and punch things.  And kick people down pits.

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