First things first: this book’s target feels definitely YA to me, even though the back-cover blurb is not very specific about it. I wish I had known or better understood this beforehand, because I’m a few decades past the optimal age to appreciate this specific sub-genre, so this is bound to color my point of view on the story.
Crimson and Cream is both a hero’s journey and a coming-of-age tale, following the adventures of young Jetsam as he searches for his lost roots and the possible chance of avenging his parents’ death. In a city where magic has been banned by law (a very interesting take on the subject), Jetsam’s magician parents have been killed to set an example, forcing him and his twin brother Flotsam to eke out a hand-to-mouth existence in the town’s underground tunnels. This is one of the themes I thoroughly enjoyed, because the descriptions of the urchin band the twins have attached themselves to are quite vivid and it’s impossible not to feel deep sympathy for characters as Ratboy or Mole, while it’s far too easy to picture them in all their rag-tag defiance and ingenuity.
When Jetsam is forced to leave the city that’s been his whole world, to avoid a determined bounty hunter and also to shed some light on his own past, the story takes on a more fantastic flavor, spiced with wizards, trolls, dragons and – of course – magic. It’s a cruel world, though, or at the very least one where the young are exploited, or treated as commodities, so the main character must grow fast and develop a thicker skin. Not to mention some cunning that must take him beyond the relatively simple survival skills that served him well until that moment: nothing, in his previous life as a “tunnel rat”, really prepared Jetsam for what he finds outside. In the course of this adventure, the boy will make some incredible discoveries, not least about himself and – possibly – his destiny, which will be without doubt explored in the next installments of this series.
The book is fast-paced and intriguing, and it was a pleasant read even though, as I said at the beginning, not my “cup of tea” anymore: the YA feel is quite evident in narrative elements like the pairing of Jetsam with a canine companion prone to cute antics, the main character’s natural empathy and kindness toward other creatures and the presence of beings like the wood nymph he encounters at the beginning of his travels. The negative side of this background (from a personal perspective, of course) comes from the stark black or white nature of the characters, who can be either good or bad, with no allowance for shades of gray in between, so that we are afforded only a lighter scrutiny on what makes them tick; or the repetition of information already presented to the readers, no doubt to remind a younger audience of what transpired before.
On a “technical” note, this is indeed a well-written book, devoid of typos, misspelled words or mixed tenses – which speaks of a careful editing that’s not always a given with independent authors, and for which this specific author must receive full credit and praise. There are however a few peculiar quirks to his writing, like an abundance of adjectives that, especially in action sequences, tend to weigh down the narrative flow, or the use of inner thoughts in italics: there are a few too many, according to my tastes, and they tend to be distracting. Also, I’d like to mention the constant use of the word “discern” where “see” would have been more than enough, or “comprehend” instead of “understand” – it’s not a real complaint on my part, of course, but still… I find it curiously quaint.
All in all, a good book to introduce the younger readership to the genre, and one I would strongly recommend for that purpose.
My Rating: 7,5/10