Alexey is more than a hundred years old and has no real memory of his life before he came to the winter-wrapped stronghold of Kalinstad. The people of the city found him, saved his life, and Alexey never worried much about his missing past. Kalinstad offered happiness and he didn’t want to look back.
Then two Darkrow, magical servants to the Blue Emperor, come to Kalinstad. They are demons, possessed of great power, and they find in Alexey a willing pupil. But as Alexey begins his tutelage, his memories slowly return and the delicate shell that Kalinstad has offered starts to crumble. He must fully embrace his past if he is to have any kind of future, even if it means losing everything he has come to love.
Alexey Dyed in Red was intriguing, maddening, simple, and complex all in equal measure. The simple: Alexey is a affable man who adores his adopted homeland and wants only to continue his ordered, comfortable life. The complex: his past is tangled with myth, bloody power, and the whim of false gods, all of which come to a head by the end of the book. I couldn’t help being drawn further and further into the story and the escalating consequences offered a sense of taut edginess. So why was it also maddening? Because I always felt I was missing something. The way in which the book is written is rather awkward and, while occasionally lyrical, it is more often abrupt or lacking in exposition. Additionally, I felt things were happening off page that were neither fully explained nor even addressed, which left the narrative with gaps, both minor and major. As a result, I was always struggling to play catch up and untangle the plot and this got old fast.
Alexey is a sweet, seemingly uncomplicated character who borders on naïve and childish at times. As his past is revealed, he remains somewhat unchanged and never seems to mature overly much, even as the true extent of his magic is revealed. He is impish rather than reserved or cold and I liked this about him. Porfiry and Vasilily, the demonic Darkrow who come to Kalinstad on a mission from the Blue Emperor, are rather his complete opposites. They are outwardly disdainful and arrogant, but they offer true affection towards Alexey. They quickly become his champions and offer their support unconditionally as his world begins to spin out of control. They are physically fragile, but stronger than Alexey in some ways because they have accepted the horrific actions that made them what they are. They are honest about themselves and Alexey must model his own growth upon them if he hopes to survive. We never get to explore the physical side of their relationship in any depth, though it is alluded to on a couple of occasions, but they seem to work as trio and I enjoyed the complex relationship between them.
Alexey Dyed in Red definitely had its interesting side and I applaud the author for the original aspects of the plot as well as the great characters. But this book needs a more significant fleshing out. There are often gaps and narrative snarls that are never fully untangled or meshed with the wider storyline. This was pretty aggravating and that the plot lacked a natural flow, which made the process of reading it something of a challenge. Still if you want an original fantasy with a decidedly unique twist, you might enjoy Alexey Dyed In Red.