The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.
To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.
Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.
But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?
Red Queen was one of the most talked about books of the year, and the reviews I’d read prior to reading it fell into two categories. Category Number One: amazing, action-packed novel with a kick-ass heroine and some secondary characters who are just brimming with potential. Category Number Two: boring, derivative, overrated, and full of unnecessary love-triangle angst.
Really? It was kind of both.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I liked Mare as a protagonist, the “everyone can betray you” atmosphere of the Silver court, and learning about the world and the different powers. However, so many elements of the book were things I’d seen elsewhere that it dampened my enjoyment of the story. In addition, Red Queen had several tropes that I’m really quite tired of seeing
I will continue reading the series. As I said, I liked this book, and I think the world and characters have a lot of potential. (I will also continue following Victoria Aveyard on Tumblr and Twitter for her sarcasm and her wonderful opinions on Game of Thrones). Red Queen isn’t my favorite 2015 debut, and it isn’t what I’m most excited about, but I still care enough to want to know where the series will go.
Other people have made lists of the books Red Queen reminds them of. I’m not going to do that here. Normally I don’t approve of doing that in reviews at all, because of the whole no-ideas-are-actually-original thing, but…wow, every single one of the main characters was an archetype I have seen countless times in young adult books. I still enjoyed reading them, but there was never a point where I was surprised by their behavior; I even predicted the really big final plot twist when I was about a third of the way through the book.
The premise of the book is that Mare’s Silver-like powers show up in front of the royal court, and instead of getting rid of her, the rulers decide to pretend she’s a silver and train her to use her powers. She is engaged to the prince and made to join the royal court. Honestly, though? Their reasoning for not doing the easier thing and just killing her seems flimsy to me. They say they can’t do that because everyone has already seen her powers and is wondering about her, but they could have easily said her powers were fake. They also wanted to use a Red-turned-Silver to win the support of the Reds and prevent revolution, which makes a bit more sense, but there are so many things that could go wrong with a plan like that (for instance, everything would fall apart the moment she falls and scrapes her knee) that keeping Mare around seems like it would be more trouble than it’s worth.
We have the love triangle drama, and here’s the thing. I don’t mind romances or even love triangles, I really don’t. What I do mind is when the romance is the least interesting part of the book, but takes up the most space in the story. This was the case here. I liked Cal and Maven as individual characters, even if they were pretty typical embodiments of tropes. Kilorn was okay–not particularly interesting, but I didn’t have a problem with him. But I wasn’t into any of their relationships with Mare, and I definitely wasn’t into the “I like X. . .but I also really want to kiss Y. . .” that permeated Mare’s thoughts on a regular basis. (Meanwhile, most of the major female characters are her enemies, and the ones that aren’t don’t actually interact with her all the much. Because god forbid we have female characters supporting each other.)
And then there were the multiple “this-character-is-dead-OH-WAIT-NOT-REALLY” moments. This is another trope that’s overused in general–and sometimes it works, but sometimes it just makes the character’s “death” a lot less effective and makes me wonder if the book is really as high-stakes as the author tries to make it seem.
My favorite thing about Red Queen is the world. I really enjoyed how Victoria Aveyard combined dystopian and high fantasy elements. Even though there’s a lot we don’t yet know about the world, our lack of information seems like something purposefully left open for the second and third book; we have just enough information to make us want more, and what we do know is pretty interesting. In particular, I found the powers of the Silvers fascinating; there are characters who can control minds, heal, and manipulate metal, water, or plants, among other things. Mare can manipulate electricity, which leads to some pretty awesome displays.
I loved the dark atmosphere of the book. The writing was sharp and intense, and there was a very effective balance between tension and action. Aveyard did an excellent job making me afraid for (and of) her characters. There’s a reason one of the most quoted lines in the book is, “Anyone can betray anyone.” Then there’s the last 1/4th of the book, which is kind of an explosion of Things Happening and showed some excellent pay-off after a long and intense build-up.
I know people have complained that Mare makes some really bad decisions, but I honestly didn’t mind. I like that she’s flawed, and she generally faces consequences for the mistakes she makes. There are two more books in the series, and plenty of room and time for character development. Meanwhile, Mare’s mix of ruthlessness and reluctance and her growing understanding of herself, her world, and her power make for a very intriguing read, as does the incredibly messed-up royal family (who I can’t say too much about without spoiling you, but they are the reason for the many comparisons between this book and Game of Thrones, if that means anything to you).
Honestly? Despite what I said before about the book being overly tropey and not really bringing anything new to the game, I have to admit the tropes were ones I loved. I’m a fan of royalty and power struggles and political intrigue and settings where you can’t trust anyone.
Do you like cutthroat courts, people with powers, and big epic revolutions? Do you have a high tolerance for cliches and love triangle drama? Do you not mind waiting for the next book in the series to get some much-need answers? If so, definitely pick this one up.