RATING: 3 1/2 Stars
“In school, we learned about the world before ours, about the angels and gods that lived in the sky, ruling the earth with kind and loving hands. Some say those are just stories, but I don’t believe that. The gods rule us still. They have come down from the stars. And they are no longer kind.”
[THIS BOOK IN ONE SENTENCE: A pick-pocketing teenage girl lives as a second-class citizen without the superhuman powers possessed by the ruling Silver nobles, but when she finds her way into the King’s Court, her own unbelievable magic is discovered.]
Let’s explore one of the most hyped-up young adult books of 2015.
* * * Skip down to the MY THOUGHTS section for my opinion and review only; the MY SUMMARY section explores the book as an unspoiled synopsis.
Mare is a 17-year-old girl who resides in an impoverished village that’s losing almost all of its able-bodied, jobless citizens to the war. Her three older brothers have already been shipped off to the front lines and nightmarish trenches, and as her best friend Kilorn reaches his 18th birthday, Mare becomes progressively more afraid that she’ll lose him to battle too – in a war that’s not even his to fight.
Mare and her fellow villagers are Reds; that is, they’re regular humans, which means that they’re seen as inferior to the elite Silvers, who possess supernatural powers beyond measure or comprehension. The Silvers use Reds as little more than cannon fodder, dumping unprepared teens with no skills on the front lines. To them, 1000 Red lives will never come close to the life of one precious Silver citizen. Although the Silvers appear to be all about lavish seafood and hogging the latest technologies, they also lead a government that’s defending itself and the wealthy minority from enemy nations of Silvers (and their own Red workers). Silvers occupy coveted officer positions while overseeing Red death by the hundreds, depending on inequality to fight an endless war for more resources.
Everyone in the village must attend regular gladiator spectacles as a reminder of the elite people’s power. It’s power that Silvers will seemingly always wield over their non-blessed, red-blooded counterparts. Mare and her loved ones are conditioned to accept this and try to satisfy themselves by watching Silvers get hurt in the arena. From snarling men with gargantuan muscles and psychics to unassuming young knights with the ability to manipulate water, fire, vines and more, these mandatory arenas serve as constant representations that the Silver overlords are far too special to be rebelled against.
But maybe Silvers aren’t the only special ones. Mare is more than a lowly, obedient Red; she’s a swift-footed thief who will do anything to keep her loved ones out of harm’s way. If that means violating laws to get them out of the war, then so be it. Before she knows it, Mare is caught up in court intrigue and has to defend herself against disturbing powers that she didn’t even know existed. However, if she can channel her true self, she might have a chance against those who only know how to be false. Anyone can betray anyone is the pervasive attitude that needs to be held if Mare wants to survive in the Silvers’ world.
“We destroy. It’s the constant of our kind. No matter the color of blood, man will always fall.”
It’s evident that Aveyard’s screenwriting education influenced much of this book. I felt like Red Queen was written to become a movie. From the non-stop action to the standout, dramatic character lines, this book packs a strong and rapid punch straight into the reader’s gut.
I can tell that this writer is good – really amazing, actually – at building up to the climax and then releasing the chaos all at once. She doesn’t give us even a moment to stop and breathe. Everyone else blathered on about Red Queen until I saw its impact for myself: Game of Thrones (seriously though, the Queen, amirite? Cersei brah) plus X-Men multiplied by the Hunger Games speeding out of control.
Yet I still had a few problems with the novel. I’ve gotta be honest; I couldn’t stop picturing Mare as Katniss Everdeen. That’s not my problem; it’s the author’s writing. Every book borrows from other stories – it’s been that way since the beginning of time when people were still sharing tales around the fire. But Red Queen borrows far too much. And it’s obvious, which is why I had to bump it down a star.
The worldbuilding fell a little short; there were blank slates that needed to be filled for more of the setting and the history of this society as a whole. I could clearly see Mare’s town, the Silver capital, and other key locations, but there were barely any setting descriptions to fill in the rest of the world’s holes. It’s dystopian fiction mixed with fantasy; I could tell that much. Besides that, this bookiverse had more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese.
Yes, I enjoyed it. Yet sadly, the reminiscence of so many other YA novels stank in my head, and Aveyard didn’t offer enough additional originality to make it go away. This novel combines elements from so many bestsellers and does it in a highly skilled way. But books aren’t objects that can be made from the bones of predecessors alone. You need meat; you need your own story to tell. I could see a hint of that here, but not enough to come crashing out, which was what Red Queen needed: real substance.
Not just a buzzword high-stakes book that scratches the surface but doesn’t dig down to the psyche. This is engineered to bring out the YA-loving masses in droves ($$$).
So, read at your own risk. Red Queen IS compelling. The characters are people to care about. But it feels a little bit wrong. I must admit that I was okay with that due to my slight crush on Prince Maven and sympathy for Mare. I want to know what happens in the next book and will certainly read it. But when I do, I hope to the gods that Aveyard fleshes out her world and brings a fresher heart to the center of Mare’s story.
There are also Red Queen novellas coming out later this year that follow some of the cooler secondary characters from the novel. I’ll check them out as well. Aveyard is a debut author and has plenty of time to reweave her work and watch it grow.
I’d recommend this book to lovers of high fantasy & dystopian fiction, sassy females, and anyone who enjoys the thrill of rapidly moving court intrigues, rebellions and coups that can quickly turn fatal – IF you take a wrong turn. 😉
Red Queen was published on February 10, 2015 by Orion Publishing Group.