Title: Red Queen (2015)
Series: Red Queen – Book 1
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia
Extent: 383 pages
This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.
The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.
That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.
Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.
But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart…
Red Queen reminds me of The Hunger Games, especially the first few chapters, and The Selection (although I DNF-ed it because I can’t really stand special snowflakes). Later on, the world-building reminds me of X-Men (the movie franchise). The overall concept? A bit of Red Rising. I’m not saying that Red Queen is a rip-off, not at all, but it does use very similar plot devices to other dystopian YA out there and therefore doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
I found Mare to be a bland, cardboard cut-out protagonist. She’s bitter, selfish, inconsistent, and a bit of a damsel-in-distress, often requiring assistance from the men around her. What I found most annoying about her, however, is her treatment or thoughts about the women around her–and women in general, from deciding that trying to look good is foolish:
Her gaze lands on Cal—I mean the prince—trying to entice him with her doe eyes or the occasional flip of honey-blond hair. In short, she looks foolish. — Chapter 7
… to making sweeping generalisations about marriage:
Like any wife, she hates her husband for challenging her, and like any queen, she hates the power the king holds over her. A bad combination. — Chapter 11
… to letting her jealousy take over any sympathy she might have had:
If all goes to plan, he’ll never hug his sister again. Evangeline will have lost a brother, just like me. Even though I know that pain firsthand, I can’t bring myself to feel sorry for her. Especially not with the way she holds on to Cal. — Chapter 19
She’s just not a likeable heroine at all.
Unfortunately, most of the other characters didn’t really engage me either. The two princes–Cal and Maven–were pretty predictable, technically caricatures of the respective positions that they held in their family and the kingdom. Cal behaves and thinks much like a Crown Prince would, and Maven behaves and thinks much like the second prince would. Essentially, it’s a bit ‘been there, done that’ for the most part.
The romance came on too strong too. The love triangle is… acceptable, if not predictable, but to me, there were other parts of the story that should perhaps take centre stage: the revolution, the war brewing between the Reds and the Silvers, the history of how this whole system came to be.
If I were Mare, I would pretty much invest as much time and resources as possible into discovering how she got her powers or into training so she could best help her cause. Instead, she waffles between prince to prince and then hints to us that yet another boy (a third one!) has feelings for her. When she’s not doing that, she’s going back and forth between deciding Cal’s evil and falling in love with him. It’s too much, and it’s frustrating. 😦
Another of my complaint is that the villains aren’t really super smart. This is kind of an odd thing to talk about, but this scene kind of bothered me:
My throat tightens, like I can feel the chains the king and queen are wrapping around me. “What about my life—?”
“She means her family. Mare—the girl has a family.”
Gisa, Mom, Dad, the boys, Kilorn–a life taken away.
“Oh, that,” the king huffs, plopping back down into his chair. “I suppose we’ll give them an allowance, keep them quiet.”
“I want my brothers brought home from the war.” For once, I feel like I’ve said something right. “And my friend, Kilorn Warren. Don’t let the legions take him either.”
Tiberias responds in half a heartbeat. A few Red soldiers mean nothing to him. “Done.”
Maybe I’m used to really evil villains, but if you really want to threaten someone and make sure that they do whatever you say, isn’t the best course of action here to deny their request and hold it as a threat? Even if they had said no, there was nothing she could have done. The fact that they agreed so easily to Mare’s wants made me feel like they should have taken a lesson in Villainy 101.
There’s a twist at the end of the book that–for all intents and purposes–disappointed me. I’m not saying it made Red Queen a bad story, but it did make it a conventional one. I thought it would be absolutely interesting to subvert cliches and have the character play an opposite role, that is, for them to be [highlight to read spoiler] the good prince instead of the bad one [/end spoiler]. It was in a way quite predictable, as numerous hints were dropped throughout the book.
In the end, Red Queen is just another dystopian YA novel bound by the conventions of the genre. It doesn’t push boundaries or try anything new, and I don’t think I’ll be picking up Glass Sword.