Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen, #1). | My copy: Hardcover, 383 pages, HarperTeen, 2015. | Source: Library. | View on Goodreads here.
Graceling meets The Selection in debut novelist Victoria Aveyard’s sweeping tale of seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose once-latent magical power draws her into the dangerous intrigue of the king’s palace. Will her power save her or condemn her?
Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood–those with common, Red blood serve the Silver- blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.
To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard–a growing Red rebellion–even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.
Red Queen was probably my #2 most anticipated book of 2015. Why? First and foremost: that gorgeous cover. Perhaps one of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen. And second, because it’s fantasy and I just eat fantasy right up for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Prior to getting my hands on a copy, however, I saw a bunch of reviews that were all over the spectrum: good, bad, and in between. This made me anxious, and I went into the book still with high hopes but perhaps a bit more critical than I originally would have been. Well, I read it in two sittings, about half the book each time. And by the second half, I kind of forgot to be as judgmental — I was just enthralled by the story and had to finish it! That’s a really great thing about this book, that I was interested enough to forget about looking at it critically for the most part. However, now that I’ve finished it and am thinking back on everything, I did have a number of issues with it, but none of them scathing.
At time I felt many similarities to other books, like The Selection, The Jewel, and Red Rising. (Graceling only to an extent, as it’s compared to in the blurb, and The Hunger Games only the teeniest bit.) Interesting to note that The Selection, The Jewel, and The Hunger Games are dystopias (Red Queen felt like a fantasy-dystopia hybrid), that The Selection, Red Rising, and The Hunger Games are about the uprising of the lower-class, that The Jewel and Graceling feature people with magical abilities, and that Red Rising literally has the peasants/lower-class labeled as “Red” and the royalty/upper-class labeled as “Gold” — in Red Queen, the royalty are “Silver”. This didn’t really bother me — in the YA genre, a lot of books start to feel very similar to one another; it’s just what happens, especially in the fantasy and dystopia genres. I only really care if the book itself is well-done, with interesting characters, plot, world, etc. That being said, Red Queen has a mixed bag of characters, plot, and world, even though the overall story is pretty great.
At page 20 I remarked on Goodreads: “Nice world building so far. Dystopian fantasy it seems like so far. Also, this book needs a map. Pretty much all high fantasy books need maps, IMO.” Definitely still agree with the book needing a map. Beyond the actual setting of the book, I could not visualize clearly the other parts of the world. Maps clear that stuff up in a heartbeat. Plus, they’re just cool to look at. But the world building was pretty sweet in the very beginning of the book. I liked Victoria Aveyard’s descriptions and explanations. I just wish they’d been talked about even more as the book went on.
Mare, our protagonist, is a Red. And she’s got a magical ability. Which is, like, impossible, because only Silvers possess these types of powers. The King and Queen decide to hide this anomaly in plain sight: by making an elaborate plan to pass Mare off as a long-lost Silver while they figure out a way to use her to subdue/stop the Scarlet Guard, the revolution. I liked Mare and disliked her at varying points in the book. She made mistakes, she was naive, but she was overall a very strong character who grew into her strength.
Now let’s talk about the freaking love square. Yup, you read that right. Mare’s got three boys she likes and who like her! There’s Cal, the older Prince, the heir to the throne, Mister Perfect. There’s Maven, the younger Prince, the one always in Cal’s shadow. And there’s Kilorn, a childhood friend of Mare’s who joins the Scarlet Guard. The dashing warrior heir, the smart and quiet younger brother, and the gruff and wild revolutionary. Of them all, I liked Maven the most — he was much more layered than Cal. Kilorn wasn’t in the picture much, as Mare spends a lot of the book cooped up with the royalty, but I could tell that Kilorn loves her and she just hasn’t realized she loves him, too. (Are we seeing any similarities to Katniss and Gale here?) Cal, though, was the one who Mare was the most attracted to. And the most two-dimensional of the three boys. Sigh.
Now, I just absolutely have got to talk about the CRAZY TWIST I didn’t see coming but probably should have because of all the clues that were dropped multiple times. (But, like I said in the beginning of this review — the book just grabbed me and I was reading it to enjoy the story and not to pick it apart and look for those clues, even if they were a bit obvious, now that I think about it.) So skip this next paragraph if you haven’t read Red Queen.
At page 144 I remarked: “I like Maven. I like him a lot. He’s much more complicated than Cal as of right now. I hope he and Mare actually form a strong friendship… Basically, I’d be very interested in shipping him and Mare.” SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ THIS NEXT PART UNLESS YOU HAVE READ RED QUEEN! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! Wow, I sure fell for all those lies. Maven got me and Mare. He betrayed us both. I feel emotionally violated! Wow, what a creep. I can’t believe I thought of shipping them… Well. I still think Maven is a very conflicted character, but now I am disgusted by him and his actions. (My exact reaction on page 344 to the s*** that just went down: “Omigod omigod omigod omigod. Well. That was unexpected and unfortunate.”) I should have guessed something was fishy about his character… “He is his mother’s son” was dropped a lot, now that I think about it. And his mother, Queen Elara, was an absolute bitch. (She reminded me a little bit of Cersei from Game of Thrones. The TV show, since I haven’t read the books.) But I suppose I wanted Maven to break that mold, so I went on believing he was actually good, cared for Mare, and really did want change to happen. How very wrong I was… Also, since this is where I can talk about spoilery things, on an unrelated note, I totally knew that Shade wasn’t really dead. Right as soon as the characters told Mare, “Oh, yeah, your brother died before he could come come,” I was like, nope, he’s still alive. And I was totally right! When Shade appeared at the very end I was like, yawn, saw that coming a mile away. END OF SPOILER.
Red Queen was a very enjoyable book, despite it not being a very original concept. The plot twist was insane, and I really want to know what happens next — book 2, come out sooner! While I had problems with all the cliche (at times) characters, I definitely see room for growth from everyone. I also see a solid love triangle coming. And that does not thrill me. But I would definitely recommend Red Queen. It’s a powers novel, a type of book I tend to really enjoy, and a fantasy-dystopia hybrid that really pulls it off well. Now all I need is a map of this world, and maybe for someone to slap Evangeline for me (although Mare did a pretty good job of showing that bitch up herself). ♦