This is a world divided by blood – red or silver. The reds are commoners, ruled over by an oppressive Silver elite, a race of individuals born with powerful and remarkable abilities. Red Queen follows Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from a poverty-stricken family, destined to serve in the war alongside her brothers before her. 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 lineage and the red blood coursing through her veins, she possesses a deadly power of her own – one potentially more powerful than any Silver’s own abilities. Red Queen is a novel of betrayal, lies, power and the inevitable love that follows.
While Red Queen is not original in premise, having the same vibes of The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Selection, drawing on over-used tropes of the dystopian genre such as the love triangle, the militant resistant group and the betrayal from unexpected avenues, I still very much had a fun time reading it. For her debut novel, Aveyard writes stunningly, using a short simple style that effectively gets across the emotion and turmoil of our protagonist Mare Barrow. Aveyard beautifully describes the struggles Mare encounters as she desperately tries to keep up with the lies she has been made to fabricate, all while learning to truly understand who she truly is with her newfound abilities.
“In the stories, the old fairy tales, a hero comes. But all my heroes are gone or dead. No one is coming for me.”
The characterisation in this novel is also incredibly endearing, allowing you to forget the unoriginal plot as you root for the characters instead. Mare is a strong, fierce woman who starts off semi-weak only to develop and grow into a strong individual who fights for herself, for her family and for everyone else like herself who have suffered discrimination at the hands of Silvers. With every choice she makes, she has her family in her heart, and you can’t help but hope she makes it out alive, so she can reunite with her siblings and her parents. Then there’s Cal, the crown prince who lives under the delusion of hierarchy. He believes it is easier to maintain a dictatorship, an oppressive government than it is to enact change and help liberate those in need. He’s the powerful, stubborn, tactical military brother who is all about the action, the foil to his smart, quiet and caring sibling, Maven, the second son to a kingdom. Steadfast in his beliefs, Maven starts as a sweetheart until he becomes someone else entirely.
Each character is well developed, from the main protagonists, to the Queen and the families that surround her. Even the side characters such as Lucas, Kilorn, Julian – each has their own stories, their own motivations that you find yourself quickly reading on to hopefully see what their fate will be. And in true dystopian fashion, no character can be trusted in Red Queen. Following the advice of Julian, I didn’t trust anyone and suspected every single one of them throughout the book. And, boy, was I right to do that… (that ending!)
What I liked the most about Red Queen, however, was the action sequences. Each Silver and their respective families have extraordinary superpowers, inspired largely from the X-Men series with some families having the ability to control water, others metal or fire. It was these powers that Aveyard crafts to create the undertone of political plots, deceit and games that runs throughout the novel, creating an atmosphere of utter bloodbath between the families. There’s one scene in the arena where we watch Mare fight for her life and it’s so excellently written that you can image watching it on the big screen, or as if you yourself are in the audience, watching from afar as the spear finds itself through a certain characters head…
“The truth is what I make it. I could set this world on fire and call it rain.”
My criticisms of Red Queen, however, are that it is very predictable at times. There really isn’t any twist or turns that I didn’t see coming. I found myself even saying “oh that will happen next” only for in the next couple of chapters, it happened. Consequently, I lost all eagerness to really finish the novel with any speed. It also took me quite a while to really get into the book – the beginning is quite slow before Mare eventually finds her purpose. But, this may have also been influenced by how I started this novel during a book slump… (oops). I also really hope that the world gets more developed in the rest of the series as I am so curious about the land surrounding the palace, the history of the families, the other Reds who have silver abilities and I would love to hear more about the Red Guard and their history and plans.
While Red Queen is not what I initially expected, I was pleasantly surprised despite its similarity to other YA dystopian novels. I am interested and itching to see where Victoria Aveyard takes the story in the rest of the series.