Book Review: Ruby Red



Title: Ruby Red

Series: The Ruby Red trilogy, book 1

Author: Kerstin Gier

Translator: Anthea Bell

Genre: YA / historical fantasy

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.

Length: 322 pages

Library: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–Main

Challenge: Peek-a-Book 2013 Women Challenge

Summary: A teen girl clumsily embraces her destiny and the time-traveling mystery that surrounds it.


Thanks to the Doctor Who reboot, a whole new generation is entranced by time travel. Luckily for those of us who love YA lit, this has led to some fun, creative fiction, including this fast-paced spin around time and history. All her life Gwen’s been raised to believe that her cousin Charlotte is the carrier of the family time-traveling gene, which leaves her free to enjoy a normal life of school, friendships and boys. As it turns out, however, Gwen’s mother, Grace, has pulled a fast one–for reasons that are deliciously still hidden at the end of book 1–and it’s Gwen who’s destined to be the time traveler. This does not sit well with Charlotte, the rest of Gwen’s family (who’ve become a little snooty about their DNA), and Gwen herself, who doesn’t particularly fancy random jaunts through history. Especially since she, unlike Charlotte, hasn’t been groomed for this stuff since birth.

It’s a wonderful spin on a classic theme: the ordinary heroine who turns out to be someone extraordinary, and struggles to grow into it. The bulk of the book is expository, setting up the heroes and villains, occasionally muddying the waters as to who is which. Gier’s choice to use the language and structure of alchemy as the heart of her mystery is an inspired one, and Gwen–a/k/a “The Ruby”–has a lot of catch-up work to do before she can understand just why she’s so important to so many people’s plans. The spanner in the works here is Gwen’s attraction to Gideon, a fellow time-traveler and member of the secret society Gwen’s family belongs to. Like many a YA heroine, she finds the boy terribly pompous, but so darned cute. It would be eye-rolling except that the relationship is fraught with peril: is Gideon really on her side? Or is he being nice to her for nefarious reasons of his own?

The pace here is brisk, and Gier throws a lot of information at the reader very quickly, mirroring Gwen’s own experience, but older teens–and adults who love this genre–will manage it easily, allowing themselves the pleasurable experience of frequently being smarter than the heroine (there’s something very satisfying about shouting “No, don’t do it!” at a book, sometimes). A special nod to the translator here is definitely warranted, as the story’s tone and language hit the perfect sweet spot for people who like YA lit. Hopefully future books in this series will be just as much fun, and delve more deeply into the promising structure and plots Gier has set up for her readers.

Recommended for: Whovians, especially those keen on Rose Tyler or River Song;  teens and adults who like romance, time travel, history, mysteries, or any combination thereof; people who like to fall into a good series; Anglophiles; people who like short, speedy reads.


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