I want to preface my review today by saying that I know this author. She was an English teacher at my high school and although I never took one of her classes myself, I really really wanted to! She has an incredible way about her, which carries seamlessly over into her writing. Her writing voice is charming, witty, and funny. I may or may not gently stalk her blog, which is how I found this book! (A full year after it was published… I never said I was a good stalker…)
In Chantel Acevedo’s young adult novel, Song of the Red Cloak, two young princes, born to separate houses, cling to their mothers. Neither knows it yet, but only one will grow up to be king of Sparta. A prophecy from the Gods declares that one boy will go on to betray the other. So, it is decided that there will only be one prince, and the other baby must be sacrificed to the Gods for the good of the people of Sparta.
Fast forward 16 years where we meet Galen, a helot (slave). He is a kitchen boy at the local school where Spartan boys train to become strong and cunning warriors. Galen dreams of one day wearing the red cloak of the Spartans into battle, however such things are impossible for a boy in his station. The closest he can ever hope to get to being a true warrior is to spar and practice with the Spartan boys at the agoge (school).
Luckily for Galen he has found a unique friendship with prince Nikolas, heir to the Spartan throne. Their friendship allows Galen certain privileges that other helots simply would never have. Others in Sparta are troubled by the boys’ bond and have a hard time accepting that two who are so different could be so close.
In the book Nikolas and Galen find their friendship tested in a way neither could have anticipated. Nikolas’ family holds the power in Sparta, but the other royal family wants their turn to rule. Their son, Acayo, attends school with Nikolas and makes every effort to assert dominance. In addition to scheming royals, there are also two young ladies who threaten to come between Galen and Nikolas. The mysterious and powerful Zoi and Korinna have secrets that threaten not only the boys’ friendship, but also Sparta itself.
Prophecies. Sacrifices of blood. Gods and goddesses. As a reader I couldn’t have been more captivated by the story. I have always been fascinated by Greek myth and Ancient Greek culture. This book blended the elements of Greek study that I love with elements of Spartan life that I have never known before. Acevedo does a wonderful job of explaining the rituals and giving background on the time period without making it sound like a lecture. Each historical fact is woven carefully into the story, which makes it all the more interesting to read.
Galen is a truly heroic main character. His loyalty to Nikolas combined with his bravery in the face of a fight and dream of one day wearing the red cloak, regardless of his station in life, makes his journey exciting to watch. With each chapter it becomes more and more clear just how Spartan he really is, despite the class in which he was raised. By the end, Galen has truly earned his red cloak and as a reader I found myself rooting for him every step of the way.
However, as I read I found it harder and harder to keep up with all of the action. There is a complicated sequence of events that leads Galen to discover something within him he could never have imagined to be true. The pace of the story was fantastic because it urged me to keep reading and I honestly didn’t want to put it down. But, I found that with this pace and all of the information I was getting occasionally meant that I glossed over some really important pieces of the puzzle. I found myself re-reading to pick up a breadcrumb or two that I lost along the way.
Once I had all of the pieces the story fell neatly into place and I was back to being a happy reader. I love that this story was mostly about friendship. It was about two boys, who against all odds become brothers. It was a journey of self-discovery. Figuring out who you are as a person and who you are among your people. Personally, as a young woman who is searching for her place in this world, I found myself totally attached to Galen’s quest.
This story is epic. It has everything! Packed with action, romance, adventure, and even magic there is so much to love! As I read I kept track of all the new facts I had learned. I was inspired to read more about Sparta, which allowed me to create an even better picture in my mind of Acevedo’s intricate and beautifully described world. That world made me love the story even more. I am so glad that I stumbled across this book. I sincerely hope that you consider picking it up…mostly because I really need someone to talk to about the ending!
P.S. As if she weren’t bad ass enough…this book was self-published. Super cool. Super brave. If you want to know more about the reason she chose to do that, you too can gently stalk her awesome blog here.
5 out of 5 Stars
Song of the Red Cloak by Chantel Acevedo
Paperback: 310 pages