Scarlet (Scarlet Revolution book 1) by Genevieve Cogman (book review)

Eleanor Dalton dreams of opening a dress shop in London but, as the maid of a Baroness in 1793, she despairs that her dreams are too large for the world. Even if she could rise above her gender and her station, her mistress does not let her servants go. Vampires are territorial and possessive, even among the landed gentry. An uncanny resemblance to a French aristocrat brings her to the attention of Sir Percy Blakeney and suddenly Eleanor is swept into a world of magic and intrigue on the dangerous streets of Paris in the height of the French Revolution.

As dangerous as their quest to free an imprisoned aristocrat is, a chance discovery brings Eleanor into another war, the centuries old battle between the vampires and the enemy they had thought long vanquished.

‘Scarlet’ is Genevieve Cogman’s first novel after ‘The Invisible Library’ series which I enjoyed and I admit to a little trepidation. Alternate history is so often fact and exposition forward and what I liked about ‘The Invisible Library’ was the easy, almost chatty, writing style. Happily I was wrong.

‘Scarlet’s’ hero Eleanor knows her own mind just as Irene does in ‘The Invisible Library.’ They go out and get the job done. Yes, sometimes they need rescuing, but they aren’t damsels. The historicity of ‘Scarlet’ forces Eleanor to be more strident though. She is a lower class female thrust into the plots of male aristocrats. Even as they praise her bravery and resilience, they expect her to meekly follow their instructions and not bother herself with details, clearly ridiculous in the chaos of revolutionary Paris.

Eleanor’s struggles are very real and are what bring the history to life without expositioning the reader to death. Even though the plot is essentially a heist with much derring-do, it doesn’t particularly read that way to me. Eleanor is living these risks that sound like a roleplaying game when summarised out loud from her perspective they are serious risks. The Scarlet Pimpernel story would be so easily rendered more amusing than dangerous with the over the top persona of Percy Blakeney but Cogman instead emphasises the danger over the thrill.

There are any number of books out there that retell classic stories from a different, often minor, character’s point of view. Neil Gaiman redeemed Snow White’s evil stepmother in the short story ‘Snow, Glass, Apples’. Ursula Le Guin wrote the ‘Aenead’ from a female perspective and Margaret Atwood did the same with ‘The Odyssey.’ These changes in perspective help shift the way we see these classic stories and open up the world these stories exist in. Adding a supernatural element is also not new. Seth Grahame-Smith retold ‘Pride And Prejudice’ with extra zombies. Sherlock Holmes has frequently been smashed in with Lovecraftian horrors. But these are big changes. Some are more subtle shifts as in Katherine Addison’s ‘The Angel For The Crows’ where adding wings to the famous detective doesn’t change the story per se but really shifts the world I reviewed here.

Cogman has made a smallish shift in ‘Scarlet’ by adding vampires but this small shift in book 1 is going to get quite a bit larger in subsequent books.

All in all, I found ‘Scarlet’ thoroughly enjoyable. It takes the derring-do of the Scarlet Pimpernel story and adds an everyday practicality even with vampires being added to the mix. I recommend it for fans of cranky, non-nonsense heroines like Galaxy Stern from Leigh Bardugo’s ‘The Ninth House’ and Galadriel Higgins  from Naomi Novak’s ‘A Deadly Education’ or fans of readable retellings like Sherry Thomas’ ‘Lady Sherlock’ series.

LK Richardson

May 2023

(pub: Ace Books/Penguin/Random House, 2023. 368 page paperback. Price: $17.99 (US). ISBN: 978-0-59363-828-6)

check out website:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.