Themes Explored: dystopia, teenage angst, magic, totalitarianism, war, poverty, privilege, caste society, family, sibling relationships, anger, self-reliance, rebellion, perseverance, mind-games, manipulation, seduction, betrayal, loyalty, romance, infatuation, mutation, court intrigue, gladiator fights, terrorism, discrimination
Synopsis: The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers. To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change. Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the center of
those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that she possesses a deadly power of her own. But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win? (Adapted from Goodreads)
Review: I had high hopes for this novel. Based upon the plot synopsis, I thought this was going to be a high fantasy novel with some dystopian elements. Instead, it was just another young adult urban dystopian fantasy. Urban fantasy is not my favorite sub genre and it has recently exploded in popularity. If you were wondering about the distinction between urban and high fantasy, the main difference is in the time period of the narrative. High fantasy is normally set in an entirely fictitious world; urban fantasy occurs in contemporary times with tinges of the supernatural. Sometimes urban fantasies are set in historical or futuristic periods. The main prerequisite is that most of the action occurs in or around a city. The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies are both urban fantasies, though they focus more on dystopia than the supernatural. Red Queen is certainly well-written and I thoroughly enjoyed most of the narrative, but the novel is rather formulaic. However, it is a debut novel. And most debuts tend to read like a literary paint-by-numbers; so formulaic is not necessarily a negative.
In this new world, people are divided into social based upon the color of their blood. The two types are the Reds and the Silvers. Reds are the common people and are viewed as little more than an inexhaustible and exploitable commodity. They have no “powers” and exist solely to make the Silvers lives easier. The Silvers are the ruling class and their blood is silver in color, hence the name. Unlike Reds, Silvers possess “supernatural powers”. Examples include: super strength, ability to control the elements (water, fire, etc.), mind control, ability to manipulate metal, teleportation, ability to control plants, and so on. The basic point Aveyard is trying to make is that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Because the Silvers are technically superior to the Reds, they have the ability to exert absolute control over those they deem inferior. That is until Mare shows up with a supernatural ability she should not possess. My one problem is that Aveyard never divulges where the Silvers came from and how they rose to power. I hope she explores this in future installments, especially since the narrative keeps referencing a past apocalyptic event.
The main protagonist is seventeen year old Mare Barrow. She is a Red and is year away from conscription. If a Red teenager cannot find work or an apprenticeship before their eighteenth birthday, they are conscripted into the army and shipped off to go fight in the Silvers’ never ending war. However, there is a rebellion brewing and the Reds are tired of being forced to live in abject poverty. Mare is tired of barely scrapping by and having to steal in order to survive. She despises watching everyone she cares about being forced into the army. However, Mare is a typical cookie cutter YA heroine. She is a young woman with a strong sense of survival who is unwittingly forced into be a revolutionary. And Mare does not realize her full potential/the power of her position until she is mentored by a sympathetic Silver. She is also naïve and makes some incredibly stupid decisions. Though I did appreciate the fact that all of Mare’s actions had dire consequences. No one came swooping in at that last minute to save her, she had to face the consequences on her own.
Unfortunately, Aveyard decided to include a rather unconvincing love triangle. Though love is the wrong word, it is more along the lines of an infatuation. And of course one of the love interests is a Prince. Why does the love interest always have to be a Prince? I am sorry ladies, but there are simply not enough Princes to go around. Someone is going to have to settle for the Duke or, shocker, a commoner. Oh the horror. While I think the Prince is a compelling character, the “love story” felt overly contrived and hastily done. It just felt out of place and none of the characters were developed well enough for the triangle to be even mildly interesting. What derails the novel is the underdeveloped characters. There is the stoic older Prince, the overlooked younger/jealous Prince, an evil queen, a manipulative/ gorgeous Princess, a tyrannical King, a hotheaded revolutionary, and a naïve young female who finds herself stuck in a world she does not understand. Now, there is nothing wrong with any of these character types. But the characters need some development and unique quirks to feel like real people instead of stereotypes. I hope Aveyard focuses on character development over world building in the next installment. She has some compelling characters, they just require more depth.
Now onto the positive elements of Red Queen, mainly the world and society building. Aveyard deals with a lot of issues in the narrative: court intrigue, caste divisions, superpowers, world building, and world building. I like how she explores how people with a perceived physical advantage can exert their will over everyone else in a misguided attempt to help society. At least I think that is the point she is trying to make based upon some of the dialogue. The actual world building start off slow but becomes more complex as the narrative moves forward. Aveyard does a good job balancing her world building with character action, I never felt bored during the descriptive paragraphs. Mare’s world is familiar, there are a lot of security cameras and televisions, but also alien. There is an excellent mix of modern technology with supernatural abilities. The world building is the strongest and most unique element in the book. While Red Queen is not an original story, it is still an enjoyable read. The pacing is good, the narrative moves quickly and only drags in the beginning. I will probably read the next couple of installments. Overall, this is a solid debut novel with lots of potential.
Red Queen, Orion, 2015, ISBN: 9781409151173