There was something just a little off about this pairing. Red Rising by Pierce Brown is a dynamic, bold book that is fast paced and brutal in its telling. It is dense, wordy but never difficult to read. On the other hand, the H. Upmann AJ Fernandez is complex, subtle, and sweet to experience. The Talisker Storm is closer on point except it is also a sweeter, smoky Scotch that develops a complexity in its taste.
Red Rising never really grows beyond the telling of the chosen one in a Hunger Games setting but based on Greek mythos. It has the potential to be sweet but is too violent a story to really tug at the heart strings. Talisker on the other hand has the potential to be ferocious but turns out to be a smoother, peaty drink with hints of vanilla sweetness. The H. Upmann, for all its intricacy of flavors, remains a light to medium bodied smoke.
The characters in the book are flawed and bold, larger than life in every way. The H. Upmann is subtle with milk chocolate, creaminess and nuts that develops an earthy overtone as you go. Not so with the characters in the book, which don’t so much develop as become more of their main characteristics. The Talisker storm is less complex, much like the characters but better balanced between its sweetness and its peatiness.
The world building in the book is going to sound very familiar, as it takes all the best bits of other stories and mashes it together. It’s artful but forced feeling. Not so with either the Talisker or the H. Upmann, which go against their normal grain to bring something different to the table.
While all three were individually dynamic, the book was definitely overshadowed by the drink and the smoke. Indeed, if I had to say it – and I’m about to – the smoke outshone everyone. It was not an unpleasant pairing, just slightly disappointing in that they were not of an even level of craftsmanship. I think I would pair the AJ Fernandez with a more subtle book, such as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. I think I would pair the Talisker with the same for its balanced flavor profile reflective of the depth of character and development.