Finally, I got my hands on the much-hyped Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, one of the most heralded YA books of 2015 thusfar…and it sat on my shelf for weeks. In my defense, I was plodding through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a much different sort of book. After that, I gave my eyes a well-earned break and stuck to television for a few days. Anyways, onto the review!
Mare Barrow is a skilled thief. As a common Red, its the only way she can help keep her family from hunger and poverty, at least until she turns 18 and is conscripted into the army. She expects her life of slavery under the elite powerful Silvers will continue until she dies, but her world is shaken up when she is hired by the palace as a servant and then discovers that she wields power over electricity despite her lowly blood. Disguised by the royal family as a long-lost Silver to prevent rebellion from both the Silvers and Reds should the truth be discovered, Mare enters into a dangerous game hoping to spark change, but both Red and Silver blood will be shed to achieve it.
Mare, oh Mare. You know that saying, “You can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink”? Mare is not that horse. She’s pretty easily lead around by her nose and plunges herself over her vacant little head into any water, especially if a guy bats his eyes at her. She has not one, not two, but THREE! love interests whom she does a myriad of idiotic things for, from getting caught in a riot to pickpocketing a prince to joining a rebellion. She doesn’t have a strong conviction about any of these decisions, which I would admire, but rather she acts impulsively and then vacillates before allowing a man to bail her out of her troubles. Also, despite being a stranger in a strange land, she trusts way to easily, both the people who are hiding her secret for a high price (the Silvers) and the people who want to use her secret in a deadly way (the Reds of the terrorist Scarlet Guard).
The thing I liked the most about Mare is that she did see the repercussions of her actions, in that she regretted killing innocents in some instances, though she forgot about them quickly when faced with her own problems. This realistic impact of terrorism and war is unfortunately lost in many fantasy books. I do wish that the supporting cast was given more depth because it was less poignant when characters like Lucas, Julian, and Walsh die for Mare’s mistakes.
Likewise, the “bad guy” of the piece, Maven, had weak motives in my opinion and came across as a caricature, as did his evil stepmother-ish mother Queen Elara. I enjoyed Maven at first, even though I quickly suspected him of duplicity, but being jealous of your older brother and his crown is the oldest excuse in the book of villainy. And honestly, despite murdering the king and wanting to kill Cal and Mare, I don’t necessarily know if he’d be a worse king than Cal, who also wanted to keep the slavery status quo going. Plus this whole coup exposed a rather obvious lapse in Silver security – if you have individuals with mind control abilities, how have they not already seized power? It was bound to happen since there doesn’t seem to be any Occlumency.
One of my biggest issues about the book was how similar it was to other YA fantasies I’ve read and even to other pieces of pop culture. For example, the blood prejudice reminded me of Harry Potter (and I’ve heard it’s even more like Red Rising, which I haven’t gotten to yet), the superpowers reminded me of The Young Elites or X-Men, the Queenstrial was a deadlier version of The Selection with a tinge of The Hunger Games and Mean Girls in its aftermath. And that’s just a small sampling of the parallels I spotted. It just felt very unoriginal, even in a genre than tends to be repetitive. However, it was an easy, engaging read that I finished in a few hours and the writing was (mostly) solid. The phrase “Rise, red like the dawn” gave me the chills every time it came up.
Sadly, Red Queen did not live up to the hype for me. But I still may pick up the next book in the interest of seeing where things go. I was pleased that romance fell by the wayside at the end, with Mare literally announcing that she’s not picking either suitor, but I don’t expect that to remain the same. Nevertheless, I am hoping to see some fire and blood (whoops, wrong book!) before the inevitable happy ending.