Red Queen. Victoria Aveyard. Orion. July 2015.
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.
Last month, myself and Anne over at The Book Adventures of Annelise Lestrange set up a Book Club! Red Queen was our official March read. (You can read Anne’s fantastic review here). We spent a long time discussing, theorising, fangirling (a little), and ranting (a lot) over this book, and I feel I have so much to say about it, but I’m going to *attempt* to summarise.
Overall I enjoyed this book – it was an entertaining, quick read, the writing style flowed well, and I loved the world-building. Red Queen is one of those books which, although not written in loads of sensory detail, you can clearly picture, as if you were watching it on screen. The fight scenes were also pretty cinematic (and kickass).
I think it’s important to clarify that I didn’t hate the book, because there are some negatives coming now which might make it seem like I did. This book is not perfect – it does have potential, but there were a great many things that irritated me about it.
When I first started reading the book, I was getting serious Hunger Games deja vu. The set up scene with Mare skulking around the market, in a rural town where nobody has enough to eat (contrasted of course with the capital, where the rich live in luxury and have plenty because those in the outer sectors are forced to work hard so they don’t have to) seemed so familiar. Then, when Mare’s friend Kilorn was introduced, their relationship (a kind of childhood rivalry that turned into deep, family-like friendship) reminded me instantly of Gale and Katniss; this is where the eye-rolling began. There were a lot more Hunger Games vibes as the book progressed, but I won’t go into all of them now. I don’t mind books echoing other books, and I’m not saying that this book was a copycat because it absolutely was not, but I just didn’t feel I was reading something wildly original. It felt like a mishmash of books I’ve read before.
One of the more original aspects I did love about the book was the blood division system. The Reds (like Mare) have red blood, and are considered second class citizens. Most of them live in complete poverty. The Silvers have silver blood and special abilities which manifest in various kinds of elemental magic; because of these abilities, Silvers have all the power, wealth, and opportunity society has to offer, and Reds have nothing. There’s a war going on between Mare’s Kingdom and the next, and Reds are constantly being sent to the front lines to die (so the Silvers don’t have to), because they are considered expendable. Mare’s naturally pretty pissed about this, and wants to fight back against this oppression, so when a Red rebel movement calling themselves The Scarlet Guard start carrying out attacks, she decides she wants a part of it all.
Another thing I enjoyed about Red Queen was exploring the world of the Silvers. Mare is sent to work at the palace, and for me the court and its politics were complex and cleverly built. It’s here that the story really starts to pick up; Mare unwittingly does something (trying to be vague to avoid revealing spoilers) at a public event which frightens the Silvers because it changes everything. To cover up what happens, the Silvers lie to the public and pretend Mare is one of their own (rather than a lowly Red), and to seal the story further and make sure Mare remains at the palace where they can keep an eye on her, they force Mare to become betrothed to Maven, one of the King’s sons.
Something that annoyed me about this book was Mare herself. I didn’t ever feel an emotional connection to her, and I think it’s because she didn’t express much emotion herself. As I mentioned, she’s angry about the oppression of the Reds, but she didn’t seem angry enough, and it made it seem like her motivations for joining The Scarlet Guard were weak. Mare has lost people she loves to the war, and you would think that she would be a total mess, seething with anger, and devastated, but apart from getting a bit upset when she hears the news, I never felt like she was grieving. Her grief perhaps lasts for one scene. It just didn’t feel realistic. I also felt she should have been a lot more frightened, considering the dangerous situation she was in at the palace, being constantly watched by the Silvers to make sure she didn’t slip up and reveal their lies.
Something else I found unrealistic in this book was the romance. There’s a kind of love triangle set up (square if you count Mare’s childhood friend Kilorn, which I’m gonna, because I’m pretty sure he was making lovey eyes at her in at least one scene). The main players are Maven (the Silver prince Mare is forced to become engaged to) and Cal (his older brother, the crown prince set to become King someday). I didn’t really buy the romance vibes with either of them, and when the L word was used (I’m not saying who this relates to, because, spoilers), I actually rolled my eyes, because it seemed so ridiculous. The relationships were very underdeveloped, and there was no tension or chemistry. I just didn’t feel those feels.
Something that did mess with my emotions, however, was the dynamic between Maven and Cal. Their relationship was a complex one, and there was a lot of rivalry and jealousy there. I felt sorry for Maven, because he was always in Cal’s shadow, and never felt he was good enough. He acted dejected and downtrodden about the whole thing, but you could tell there was a lot of bitterness brewing under the surface.
On the whole, I liked both brothers – Maven came across as quite gentle and emotional, whereas Cal was a strategist, more interested in politics, and determined to help his father find a way of defeating his enemies. To begin with, I definitely preferred Maven, as I felt he was more complexly written, and I loved that he saw the wrongness in the way the world was set up to favour Silvers and oppress Reds, despite his position of privilege. At the same time, I often found myself frustrated with Cal, because he refused to believe things could change – he felt turning society upside down and fighting for equality between Reds and Silvers would just lead to more deaths, and therefore wasn’t worth it. He failed to realise that sometimes freedom comes at a price, and wasn’t prepared to take the risk for the greater good (even though deep down I know he could see how wrong it all was). Cal won me over a little by the end of the book, so I’m interested to see how he behaves in the next book.
You’ve probably heard by now that there is a twist in Red Queen, and that it left a lot of people reeling. Unfortunately I managed to guess what the twist would be. I’m not sure how, because I don’t think there were any heavy handed clues – I think it was just a case that I thought things were too good to be true, so my mind started theorising, and I turned out to be right. Although I called it, I actually LOVED the twist, and the aftermath of the reveal was such an intense scene. As I mentioned before, I didn’t have a lot of feelings whilst I was reading this book, but this scene gave me all of them, and it was pretty damn gutting.
As I said before, I’ve got mixed feelings about this one, and I think it’s flawed, but there were a lot of things I loved about it (even when parts of it had me rolling my eyes.) I’ll definitely be picking up the next book, because after that ending, I’m desperate to know which direction the story will take next.