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Book Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Updated on October 10, 2016

In the fairy tales, the girl smiles when she becomes a princess. Right now, I don't know if I'll ever smile again.

— Red Queen, p. 114

Plot Summary:

Red Queen has a lot of familiar, even nearly cliche, plot elements. It takes place in a country geographically similar to the north-eastern United States, but socially it is very different. People are divided into "reds" and "silvers". Silvers are elites, they have impressive supernatural powers and silver blood. Some can control plants or animals, some can manipulate fire, metal, or water, some are superhuman in strength, speed or toughness, others can even read and control minds. Their fantastical abilities are showcased in arena fights, to remind the peasant-class "reds", who lack these abilities, of their lowliness. Reds, with red blood and no powers, are seen as inferior, insignificant, and not special.

Until Mare Barrow. Mare was originally a teenage girl living in a village called the Stilts (so named because the houses are all on stilts to prevent flooding damage from the nearby river) who makes a living by pick-pocketing merchants. She envies her sister, who can make beautiful embroidery, and as such will be valued by the silvers and able to afford a better life than the one Mare has had to live so far.

But a few events leading Mare to the capital lead her to learning something unexpected about herself: she has the ability to control and produce electricity. But her blood is red. The king and queen force her to hide, to go along with their story that she is actually a silver raised by reds when her parents died in the country's ongoing war. But over time, with the help of some new silver friends she makes, Mare decides to help a group of rebels fighting for the equality of reds. But she's playing a dangerous game.

"I know you have your own reasons for - for sympathizing, but their methods cannot be--"

"Their methods are your own fault. You make us work, you make us bleed, you make us die for your wars and factories and the little comforts you don't even notice, because we are different. How can you expect us to let that stand?"

— Red Queen, p. 298

Review:

In the beginning, I thought this was going to be a barrel of young-adult fantasy cliches. I mean, the protagonist is special, rebellious, daring, has trouble "fitting in" with upper class society, and doesn't care for traditional femininity. What a shocker. (Pun intended.) Oh, and get this, she has a sister she envies because the sister is more feminine, traditional, and better at sewing and manners. Never seen that before! And there's no major YA stories I can think of that have oppressive governments where one special teenage girl rebelling is all it takes to bring them down. Or where the underclass' oppression consists of "entertainment" designed to reinforce their powerlessness. Where the protagonist has to dress the part of an elite and is forced to act as though she favors the status quo to protect people she loves. Hm. Wonder where I've seen that before?

But obvious similarities to The Hunger Games aside, Red Queen was still a great book. I enjoyed reading it, and I wasn't able to put it down at the end. Yes, Mare is a typical teenage girl's fiction protagonist, and this is a typical teenage girl's fiction plot. But there is beauty in what makes this book unique. There is a charged emotional energy to this. Like the Uglies trilogy, there is always more and more depth to be uncovered in this rich fictional world. The interesting thing is that the characters are so well-written that even when some of them do bad things, their reasoning is understandable. Even Evangeline, a character who seems intentionally despicable (sort of this world's Draco Malfoy), is somewhat sympathetic. That takes a special kind of writing skill.

Red Queen does what I want a novel to do: get me to care. In the beginning, I was skeptical, in the middle, I was dazzled, and by the end, I couldn't put it down, and now, I'm eager to read the rest of the series. I consider it similar to other YA fantasy I like.


Rating for Red Queen: 9/10

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    • RachaelLefler profile image
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      Rachael Lefler 4 weeks ago from Illinois

      "but then she discovers her powers and I feel she suddenly becomes weak" Well not really, suddenly she is vulnerable because she's exposed and surrounded by elite fighting machines trained from birth, including the queen who can control minds. She's trying to undermine the silvers, but she is forced to go along with them for a while because it would be so easy for them to either kill her, lock her up forever as a prisoner, or mind-control her to get her to do what she wants, if she doesn't comply or appear to comply willingly with the whole "pretend to be a silver princess" thing. I mean, it's not realistic nor is it as interesting to have a strong protagonist who's equally strong in all situations - Mare was way over her head there, going from never having seen a silver up close to having to pretend to be one, over night. It's kind of similar to the criticism of Sansa in 'Game of Thrones', like why wasn't she stronger, well even strong people can be simply outgunned, for a while, and forced to at least pretend they want to cooperate with their enemies. Sansa wanted to sneakily undermine the Lannisters while pretending to be a good little hostage, and she saw that not playing the game meant being beheaded. Which would probably also make Robb furious, making him do something tactically stupid out of anger. So I can kind of get that Mare is similar to this situation. She's angry at the silvers, but expressing that anger will just get her killed. I think it takes a lot of strength to do that, to pretend to be happy to dine with your enemies.

      I do think that there are flaws in 'The Red Queen' but I think they mostly have to do with poor world-building. I mean, it just seems like the author made up war and oppression for the sake of creating conflict, but the war doesn't make a lot of sense. Maybe it's explained later in the series, but wars are messy, expensive, and disrupt commerce, so they don't tend to last very long. Let alone for generations.

      Mare just seems like a typical YA protagonist type like I said in the article. She is kind of predictable.

      I do want to finish 'Glass Sword' at some point. I think there's enough charm in the story, but it is kind of more plot-focused than character-focused. A lot of the characters are kind of boring. But I like that 'Glass Sword' expands on Farley's background more, so she isn't just a one-dimensional "brooding tough chick" character. Maybe Mare develops more throughout the series though, as she learns things.

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      Gabriella G. 5 weeks ago

      I see what you're saying about the plot but when it comes to the characters I'll have to disagree. I've never been so frustrated with a book's characters than I've been with the characters of Red Queen. Mare Barrow, in my opinion; seems whiny, incapable, self conceited, and needs to get her priorities straight. She spends the first bit of Red Queen talking about being a thief who does what she can to provide for herself and her family which is fine. I like that she uses her skills to do what she can. She also shows her distaste for the discrimination against the Reds which is also understandable, but then she discovers her powers and I feel she suddenly becomes weak?? She no longer speaks on behalf of the Reds and adopts a so called "mask" to protect herself. I understand that she's meant to hide the fact that she's actually Red but even her thoughts begin turning Silver which I feel betrays herself and who she is. As the book progresses she begins proclaiming her own strength and how she "could kill everyone in the room if she wanted to." Yet, when it really comes down to it, countless times, she has turned a blind eye and looked away. I'm currently reading Glass Sword and I have yet to see Mare actually do something to save someone of her own free will without having some sort of motive behind it. I'm the kind of person who looks for great characters and good character development and despite such a wonderful plot, Red Queen has really disappointed me when it comes to its characters...