How often is it that there are books based on Hungarian history? Rarer still, a historical fantasy inspired by 19th-century Hungary? That’s why I’ve been itching to read Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves since its March 2017 debut. While the premise is intriguing, and of course I so appreciate the unique setting, the book felt like a pretty generic YA fantasy.
Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.
Her life might well be over.
In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.
As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.
Let’s talk about the setting first, since that is one of the things that truly sets Blood Rose Rebellion apart from other fantasies that it’s compared to. Set in 19th-century Europe, we get a slice of historical life as Anna moves from England to Hungary. She witnesses rebellion and revolution, and the injustices against the Romani are detailed very thoughtfully. Eves makes a point of calling out the term “gypsy,” as being an ethnic slur for these minorities. I had only discovered the historical context behind the term recently (forgive my ignorance!) so I had a newfound appreciation for the consideration Eves displayed.
But! Yes, unfortunately, there’s a big, giant “but!” Eves inserted actual real, historical events and people into her book. In one sense, it made the historical fantasy all the more… historical. But if you’re going to do that, you must do it with accuracy and precision! Unfortunately, this was not the case with Blood Rose Rebellion. Lex’s review on Goodreads explains all of this is great detail, but there were some huge inconsistencies with how Eves used the Hungarian language in the book. Then, she switched up the timelines of actual events in history to suit the pacing of the book. I think that’s a fine line between historical fantasy and just blurring the “historical” part of a fantasy.
I might have forgiven these inaccuracies (since I didn’t even realize them at the time, until I did some research after finishing the book), except that Anna was just a totally unlikeable character from start to finish. I feel like I’ve been plagued by a series of unlikeable protagonists, and I’m starting to think that maybe I’m just being really, really picky. But Anna was lackluster in many ways. She struggles with being a woman without magic in high society, where her peers are powerful. This is incredibly cliche, maybe even more so because Anna, in all respects, is extremely privileged. She’s wealthy and beautiful and yet, she thinks her life is wretched without magic. She doesn’t treat the people around her kindly, and I hardly ever felt that her heart was in the right place when she made certain pivotal decisions throughout the book.
I’m trying to be more conscious of how I rate books. I think some part of me was copping out by giving some books three stars, in an effort to be considerate of the author and the thought that went into writing the book. I mean, heck, I can’t even bang out a book, so how in the world could I criticize someone else’s?! But, after some internal deliberation, I just had to dock three stars for the boring protagonist, the iffy “historical” aspect of the book, and the lack of satisfaction I had after finishing the book.
I rate Blood Rose Rebellion 2/5 stars!