Review: The Emblazoned Red by Dawn McCullough-White

Once, in another world—a dark world, the world of Faetta—there lived paladins and pirates, tyrants and scallywags, vampires and the undead. In this world a revolution is brewing. The royalty of Sieunes are in chains, and those priests and paladins who follow the holy word of the gods are under attack. In the west, the kingdom of Kellerhald receives the fleeing priests in their temples of the paladins of Silvius, god of the Sky.

Here, a young woman has just passed her tests to become a paladin. A pirate crew raids along the Azez Sea. An undead creature, wielding great power, roams the graveyard of Yetta. And a lost soul, crying out from beyond the veil, seeks out a pure hearted warrior to hear its plea.

Amid the turmoil of the revolution, Ilka’s mettle is tested. Rescued by pirates, she ends up with an unlikely ally: the pirate captain himself. The newly trained paladin finds herself collaborating with the undead, working with a vampire, and worst of all, longing for revenge against the man who has ignited the revolution in Sieunes: Francois Mond…

Death of an Innocent. Rise of a Paladin.

Book One in the Trilogy of the Tyrant, a stand-alone series set fifteen years after the Trilogy of Shadows.

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The Emblazoned Red was interesting. A strange and dark adventure, it has vampires, the undead, pirates, and a whole range of different beings in a medieval-like setting. With a strong-willed female protagonist covered in fierce armor, wielding a sword and tamping down a supernatural gift, a loyal, heart-warming pirate, a couple love stories, and a revolution between bordering kingdoms, this premise has so much potential. 

But I wish there was more—more depth and obvious purpose to all the characters introduced, more plot besides Ikla and the captain’s relationship, more action and overall storyline regarding the revolution. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters except for Ilka and, sometimes, Nate. I didn’t know anyone else’s motivations, their feelings, or why they were in the story at all before they were either killed or seemingly no longer mattered in the book. Even Ilka’s surface was barely scratched; she’s in a unique position, especially considering her bloodline, but it never goes deeper than skin or farther than she can lift her weapon.

While there was a resolution, the story fell flat because it only hints at the war, the king’s intentions, Ilka’s spiritual struggle, Nate’s past, and so many other things. There isn’t a true villain, and the one who supposedly is doesn’t ever make an appearance or is talked about much. I was expecting something epic but was left with a feeling of “That’s it?” Granted, this is the first book of a trilogy, and the writing is fabulous, but I experienced something I never have before: I glanced at how far I was in the book because parts dragged and it began to feel endless, but I was actually at 88%. My first thoughts were: What the heck? Where’s the meat? Where’s the story, the development and plot? 

The Emblazoned Red  is a standalone spin-off series of Trilogy of Shadows, which I have never read. I probably would’ve appreciated this more if I read the original series—and only if this wasn’t a continuation of it, like The Emblazoned Red might fill in some blanks but takes place on a different plane of the original, making a new story, not just another angle. Sadly, it didn’t come off that way, not to me. The book might be better categorized as a long serial and a sequel. The MC in the first series appears to be wandering aimlessly in this one. The revolution seems to be well underway, yet I don’t know any of the details. I was lost in the world and dynamics, and not in a good way.

Not a bad read, but not great or what I expected either. Fans of fantasy worlds and the dark, wicked undead, as well as serial series, might enjoy it. If someone can convince me that the original series and the next installment in this one has more development, I would read both because the overall writing is good and the storyline has promise. I need more than that, however, to give a book more than …

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