“But I’m not like everyone else, as they’re always so quick to remind me. The burns on my palms make that super clear.”from The Red Labyrinth
Zadie Kalver is a Blank, a person without a Skill, and she lives in Trinnea, a town where Skills are the only thing that matters and Blanks are treated as less than human. But when the entire town mysteriously forgets that her best friend—and town hero—Landon Everheart even exists, she realizes she must enter the deadly Red Labyrinth in the hopes of finding help to save everything she loves most in the world.
The Red Labyrinth is a ya-level fantasy-dystopia novel with a lot of heart at its heart. Author Meredith Tate spends a great deal of time exploring the backstory and motivations of its main characters Zadie while she is inside the Red Labyrinth, and it’s that time that was most compelling to me as a reader. The interplay between Zadie and the so-called Devil of Trinnea dives deep into the motivation of each, and makes this book a thoroughly worthwhile read.
The Red Labyrinth doesn’t pull any punches on how it treats the main character. Zadie is an outcast, a lower-class citizen with few legal rights and even fewer fans in town. There were times when I was physically cringing at the abuse Zadie received from some of the townspeople, but that just made me like her even more for her spunk, determination, and loyalty to the people she loves. Zadie is powerless and yet one of the bravest people in the novel, and will drop everything to help someone in need.
The world building of the Labyrinth’s interior is unique and intriguing, and presented interesting challenges for the characters as they made their way through. Again, this portion of the novel was the strongest for me. Where I felt the world building could have improved was during the opening segment while the main character was moving around in her hometown of Trinnea. Simple terms were used, such as “bike” and “airbike” that didn’t give me enough information to know what this bike was like and how it might be different from the objects I already know. I felt as if the author relied a bit too much on the reader’s imagination for filling in these kinds of details. There is a broad stroke of “dystopia” painted over the lives of the Trinneans but few descriptive characteristics to tell me how this dystopia is unique. The juxtaposition of technology and magic/fantasy elements without those concrete details left me unable to visualize the world.
However, the worldbuilding overall is extremely rich, and there are a lot of questions raised and answers hinted at in this first novel that make me want to read more. In addition, the emotional resonance of the characters is intense and compelling, and is something that stuck with me for a long time after I finished reading. That kind of emotional connection to a character is like making a new friend, and I found myself wanting to go back for more.
For readers who look to make a strong emotional connection to characters in novels, this book is definitely for you.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Flux for providing an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.