You Don’t Have a Good Reason to Plagiarize

As a graduate student with teaching responsibilities as part of my financial aid package, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to prevent plagiarism in the classroom. Schools and universities have taken increased measures to address increasing levels of plagiarism in the past several years, and I think some of what they have learned can be useful to the book blogging community as we continue to address the plagiarism in our own midst.

Background

Over half of students admit to academic dishonesty. The percentage can range from 50% to 75% depending on the source or study you read, but the point is that the number is high. While I doubt the amount of plagiarist book bloggers is anywhere near this large, I do think it’s worth noting that plagiarism is a real problem.

So what should we do? Start by addressing the reasons that people plagiarize. The reasons I list below are common ones students give when confronted with their plagiarism by an academic council, but they strongly mirror the reasons plagiarist bloggers give. None of them, however, are good excuses–and I’ll explain why.

(Source 1) (Source 2) (Source 3)

Excuses for Plagiarism

Ignorance

I’m listing this one first just to get it out of the way. I believe there is a small segment of the population who actally is a bit hazy on what exactly constitutes plagiarism. For instance, adult learners might be more at risk for accidental plagiarism due changing standards and research methods since they were last in school, and international students used to different conventions of citation may also struggle.

Therefore, I’m all about clearly defining plagiarism for people who may be unaware, so here it is: “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person” (Merriam-Webster). This includes direct copying and pasting, paraphrasing that clearly still mirrors the original author’s words, and paraphrasing that changes the original author’s wording significantly but still steals the original author’s ideas.

However, my personal opinion is that most people who use the ignorance explanation are using it to avoid the consequences of their actions after being caught plagiarizing. Most people do know what it is and that it’s wrong. And the fact that most bloggers caught plagiarizing don’t mention ignorance as a reason supports this.

Lack of Time

This is a big one for book bloggers. The pressure to have a consistent blogging schedule, to post frequently to please readers, to meet deadlines for review copies or book tours can be real. As a community, book bloggers can do little to combat this for others. We can’t pick up another blogger’s house chores or work responsibilities to help them make more time for reading and writing. However, whenever possible we should make stressed-out bloggers this assurance: If you ever feel a need to plagiarize to keep up with your blog, it’s time to take a break. You are not going to lose readers, publicity contacts, or friends because you take a hiatus or post once a week instead of seven times a week. We will all still read and love and support your blog. And if you really feel the need to always have new posts, here’s a better solution than stealing: look for a co-blogger who can help shoulder some of the workload.

Pressure to Succeed

People often plagiarize when they think their own writing isn’t “good enough.” Maybe it isn’t “long enough,” “insightful enough,” or “smart enough.” In the blogosphere, these thoughts are just garbage–in a good way. Unlike academic writing, book blogging comes with few conventions. Personal voice and style are valued. A review can be short, long, chatty, analytical, or full of gifs, and it can be a good review. Your reviews never have to sound like someone else’s in order to find an audience. You never have to review a certain way in order to get followers or publicity contacts or traffic or anything else you think makes a blogger “successful.”

Lack of Stigma around Plagiarism

People who plagiarize often do so in environments where they have seen other people doing the same. This can be seeing other students cheating in classes or seeing journalists get away with plagiarism online. The idea is that other people are plagiarizing and succeeding because of it: getting high grades, awards, or public praise. Plagiarism begins to look desirable and normal.

But there is a huge stigma against plagiarizing in the book blogging community. See here, here, or here if you’re not convinced.

Belief that Plagiarism is a Victim-less Crime

It isn’t. Small school children being taught the evils of cheating often use this logic to defend cheating: It doesn’t hurt the other person and you’re not technically taking something away from them. They still have their original work; you just happen to have a copy of it. Small school children are mistaken.

Plagiarizing does hurt the people whose words are stolen, and it hurts the people who had supported the plagiarist and promoted their work. In the blogosphere, it can also hurt the book community at large, as publicists and authors become wary of working with bloggers and providing them with ARCs.

Belief that Plagiarism Won’t be Caught

It will. Plagiarist bloggers have been caught multiple times in the past. Sometimes the matter is resolved quietly with private emails between the original author and the plagiarist.  Often is not. Plagiarists then face public shaming, angry tweets and emails from the victims, and reports made to review sites and publicity contacts. Often the plagiarists end up deleting their blogs, Goodreads, and social media accounts–or having them deleted by the host sites. Worse, plagiarists who blog under their real names are left with clear online records of their unethical actions, which could affect things like their future job prospects.

So if you think plagiarizing seems worthwhile, think again: Is it worth losing a career opportunity because you just had to post that review of the newest YA book on Monday instead of Friday? Are the benefits really greater than the costs?

How It Feels to Be Plagiarized

If you haven’t heard about the latest blogging plagiarism scandal, suffice to say that one reviewer plagiarized from over fifteen bloggers, posting the reviews to her personal book blog and Goodreads account. The reviews on her blog have been deleted but many remain on Goodreads, some “reworked” since she was confronted but still clearly plagiarized. If you want more information, it’s readily available, but my main point is not to continue shaming the plagiarizer–as tempting as that is. Instead I want to talk about how it feels to be the one whose work has been plagiarized, something I thought would never happen to me.

If we don’t all know that plagiarizing is wrong, we should. And frankly, many plagiarizers in the blogosphere exhibit behavior that indicates they do know it’s wrong; they attempt to hide their tracks by “mixing” reviews from multiple sources, delete the evidence when confronted, issue apologies saying they knew and did it anyway. Despite the many reasons plagiarizers give, I still really have no idea what drives them to copy other bloggers’ work. The payoff is little. Any pressure to post certain types of reviews or a specific number of reviews per week is all in their minds. Any prestige they gain as a blogger is lost instantly when their plagiarism is discovered. So if knowing plagiarism is wrong and knowing doing it has practically no benefit doesn’t stop people, I hope posts like this, where victims of plagiarism say how terrifying and awful and angering it is to have their intellectual work stolen, will make someone stop before they plagiarize.

My first reaction to the whole ordeal was a sinking feeling of dread and suspicion. A lot of the evidence had been deleted before I was aware of the plagiarism, but I did a little digging and was able to find the plagiarizer had recently reviewed a book I had–a book that has only about 30 reviews on Goodreads. The chances she had stolen mine seemed high, and I was scared. I have never been plagiarized before. I had no idea what to think or what to do if my suspicions were founded. I almost didn’t want to look, but I did and quickly realized I had been right to be suspicious.

Cue feelings of horror, disbelief, and a bit of hilarity. Am I even “popular” enough as a blogger to plagiarize? Is this particular review even good enough to be worth stealing? Is this some twisted sort of honor? Any impulse to laugh died when I started reading the plagiarized review, though, because it’s just weird to see your words twisted and posted as someone else’s. The plagiarizer had taken my review, my thoughts and opinions, and attempted to make them hers by adding phrases like “these characteristics remind me of my little sister.” MY OPINIONS OF THE PROTAGONIST REMIND HER OF HER LITTLE SISTER??? The more I read, the more twisted it seemed and the sicker I felt.

When I finished, I tried to do all the rational things. I had someone else read the review to see if they saw the blatant copying that I did. I tried reading all the Twitter threads to see how the other bloggers who have been plagiarized had reacted. I tried to find a way to contact the plagiarizer politely–and initially ran into a wall. The worst thing after finding my words had been stolen was finding that I might never be able to confront the plagiarizer because her Goodreads profile had been made private, her blog reviews deleted, and her Twitter account closed. I wanted to know why I was plagiarized. And it looked as if I’d never have the chance.

I eventually did find an email address on the plagiarizer’s blog. I have emailed her and am waiting for a response. However, I have since learned more about the situation and have seen the responses she sent to other victims–and I think I will never be satisfied. She explained to them she felt she needed to post reviews on a schedule and felt she needed her reviews to be longer. But this doesn’t make sense to me, and it doesn’t seem enough. These reasons are superficial, and they can’t take away the feelings of fear and anger and hurt. I wasted hours of my life trying to track down the plagiarized review, trying to find ways to contact the plagiarizer, trying to figure out what was going on with my review and the other bloggers’ reviews. I will never get this time back.

So if plagiarizing ever seems like a good option to you, remember that the work you are stealing belongs to real people and that you’re “helping” yourself only by hurting them.

UPDATE: The reviewer replied to my email assuring me she means to take down any lingering reviews soon.  She explained she liked my review and thought by copying it she might eventually be able to review in a similar style on her own.  While I’m glad her response was calm and polite, I can’t help but feel skeptical, knowing she kept plagiarized reviews even after she had initially been confronted by other bloggers.  I think her suggestion she might delete her entire Goodreads account stems mostly from shame and the knowledge major bloggers have been spreading the word about just how far her plagiarism reached.  I worry that, if major bloggers and large numbers of bloggers were not “behind me” in this situation, I would receive much less closure.  Being plagiarized can be scary particularly for bloggers who don’t know if the weight of the blogging community will be behind them.  While on one hand I shy away from vigilante type justice and mass shaming of “bad bloggers,” I also worry that this can be the most effective way to deal with plagiarizers who may otherwise feel themselves immune from consequences.

Eden’s Wish by M. Tara Crowl (ARC Review)

Eden's WishInformation

Goodreads: Eden’s Wish
Series: None
Source: ALA
Publication Date: September 1, 2015

Official Summary

All twelve years of Eden’s life have been spent in an antique oil lamp. She lives like a princess inside her tiny, luxurious home, but to Eden,the lamp is nothing but a prison. She hates being a genie. All she wants, more than anything, is freedom.

When Eden finds a gateway to Earth inside the lamp, she takes her chance. In a moment, she’s entered the world she loves. And this time, she won’t be sent back after three wishes.

Posing as the new kid at a California middle school, Eden revels in all of Earth’s pleasures-but quickly learns that this world isn’t as perfect as she always thought it was. Eden soon finds herself in the middle of a centuries-old conflict between powerful immortals. A ruthless organization run by a former genie will stop at nothing to acquire the lamp and its power-including hurting Tyler and Sasha, the mortal friends who have given Eden a home. To save her friends-and protect the magic of the lamp-Eden will have to decide once and for all where she belongs.

Review

Eden’s Wish is exactly the type of fun middle grade story I would have loved reading as a child–short, sweet, full of life and just a touch of danger.  As a more experienced reader, I can see that this book doesn’t stand out in the market; it’s clearly riding the growing trend of genie stories and doesn’t offer anything new either to that or middle grade novels in general.  However, I still enjoyed the story, and young readers who are not concerned about whether this book is going to still be around in ten years will certainly do so,  as well.

Protagonist Eden is basically Disney’s Rapunzel in genie form; she hasn’t seen much of the world outside her lamp, and when she gets the chance to do so, she’s a mix of unbridled excitement and awkwardness. She doesn’t really understand how school or social conventions work, but she’s totally excited to find out.  While Eden’s personality fits her situation, it does read like a bit of a rip-off.  The good news, however, is that it means readers get to see the very familiar setting of middle school in an entirely new light.  Is it weird you have to raise an arm before speaking in class?  Should school be exciting?

I was actually more invested in these world-exploring scenes than the main plot–the idea that two groups of genies are after Eden and her lamp.  It’s obvious what choice Eden needs to make. The fact that even the good genies come off as unnecessarily brash and intimidating doesn’t negate the fact that they’re right.  Eden just has to figure out how to make the choice on her own terms.  This does mean the book is a bit more about the journey than the destination, but I liked the other parts of the journey better.

Overall, Eden’s Wish is just a fun, fluffy book perfect for children who want a mix of fantasy and contemporary in their novels.  The book is currently a standalone but clearly set up to be open to sequels.  Recommended.

If You Like Inkheart, Then Read…

if you like

If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like, scheduled once a month. If you have more suggestions, feel free to tell us in the comments! You can check out the rest of these lists here.

Story Thieves by James Riley

Whenever possible, Owen escapes into one of his favorite books.  Learning that his classmate Bethany can actually jump into stories and experience them, then, is just about the greatest revelation ever.  Bethany warns him they cannot interfere with any plots, but Owen longs to change the course of his favorite series and become a literary hero. But Owen’s actions have unintended consequences and soon he finds himself starring in what could be his first and only adventure.

The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein

Billy is spending the summer with his mother at the lakeside cabin of one of her colleagues, Dr. Libris, but unfortunately, there’s nothing to do–except read.  As Billy turns the pages, however, he begins to realize that the stories are coming alive. Now Hercules, Pollyanna, Robin Hood, and an evil space lizard are all running around the local island.  Can Billy become a hero in his own story and return everything to normal before someone gets hurt?

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

While reading a book about a magical land called Fantastica, Bastian discovers that he has entered the story–and that only he can save the world from destruction.  Bastian must give the Childlike Empress a new name before Fantastica disappears, but his own failings may make him lose his way.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

When an unknown criminal begins stealing characters from great works of literature, special operative Thursday Next will have to enter the pages of Jane Eyre to save a classic novel.

The Pirate Princess by Jeremy Whitely, Rosy Higgins, and Ted Brandt

Princeless 3Information

Goodreads: Pirate Princess
Series: Princeles #3
Source: Library
Published: June 2015

Summary

Adrienne has busted out of her tower along with the help of her guard dragon Sparky and now she’s on a mission to rescue her sisters from their various prisons.  But when she finds another princess trapped in a tower, Adrienne knows she has to rescue Raven Xiantao, daughter of the pirate king and sworn enemy of her own father, King Ashe. Soon she’s swept up in Raven’s quest for revenge, but can the two overcome their differences before Raven’s enemies destroy them both?

Review

The Pirate Princess sidetracks heroine Adrienne from her mission to save her sisters as she rescues Raven, daughter of the pirate king, and helps Raven to reclaim her ship.  Though the storyline is slightly reminiscent of a mini quest in a video game, seeing as it holds little relevance to the main plot, Raven’s fiery spirit will no doubt endear her to many a reader, and make this volume a welcome addition to the Princeless series.

The commitment to representation made by the series is evident from the beginning–Raven comes from an Asian-inspired culture and she is clearly a lesbian.  The story introduces these elements without comment, make its case for diversity by making diversity natural.  Of course, making all the diverse heroines generally awesome does not hurt it case, either!

Though the Princeless series works hard to defy stereotypes and to subvert typical anti-feminist story elements, initially this volume seemed to have, ironically, fallen into one of the more annoying anti-feminist scenarios.  Since Raven and Adrienne are both strong females, of course they have to fight each other to see who would win!  Fortunately, the characters soon work out their differences and recognize their mutual awesomeness–and one could argue that their initial moment of jealousy is simply a sign of their humanity.  Still, I wish that fight scene has been avoided altogether, loaded as it is with anti-feminist connotations.

Besides the random fight and its amazingly quick resolution, The Pirate Princess proves another fun romp with Adrienne and her friends going up against the patriarchy.  Bedelia sadly receives little story time, but Raven’s wit, combat skills, and sassiness almost make up for this lack.  It is nice to see female with actual combat training featured–watching Adrienne take out all the king’s men when she can barely hold a sword may be funny, but it does not make a lot of sense.

The Pirate Princess is a lighthearted and humorous interlude in the Princeless series.  It serves little purpose in regards to the plot, other than to provide some political information that could easily have been inserted by other means, but the story possesses heart and humor enough to allow it to stand on its own.  I am sure I am not the only reader early awaiting Raven’s return in an upcoming installlment.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee

Ophelia and the Marvelous BoyInformation

Goodreads: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: January 28, 2014

Official Summary

Unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn’t believe in anything that can’t be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia’s help.

As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy’s own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world.

A story within a story, this a modern day fairytale is about the power of friendship, courage and love, and never ever giving up.

Review

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a simplistic book–and this is both its one redeeming quality and its downfall.  The book delights in the simplicity of the idea that sometimes magic just happens and there’s no explanation needed.  But it also draws heavily on middle grade novel tropes and offers readers a quest tale that’s so incomplex it might as well not be a quest at all.

Middle grade readers will be familiar with the premise of the story: a child gets to hang out in a unique museum for a while, and it turns out there’s something strange and magical about it.  Personally, I love museum stories.  But I have also read a lot of them, and Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy does not offer me much that’s new.  Ophelia does not really get to explore the museum or exult in history or odd artifacts. She spends most of the time in rooms that are not actually displays and is only interested in artifacts directly related to her goal.  The history nerd in me is bummed at the missed opportunity.

Unfortunately, the quest that takes her away from the wonders of history is not always that interesting either. Her first set of tasks are repetitive; she basically has to do the same thing while facing difficult obstacles.  While I can appreciate the experiences would be pretty intense to live through (facing a man-eating creature isn’t boring just because you’ve done it before!), that intensity does not necessarily translate to readers who have already seen the character perform a very similar set of actions.  Twice.

The Marvelous Boy’s journey makes up for this a bit.  His tale is interwoven with Ophelia’s, and it is here where the real magic happens.  Foxlee’s imagination shines brightly in these scenes, and the sparse yet lyrical prose really fits the Boy’s story.  I wish I felt the same sense of magic while reading the museum scenes.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a cute story.  I think younger readers would enjoy it, particularly if they have not read a lot of stories in this vein before.  For me, it just wasn’t original enough to capture my attention.

Discussion Post: Do Negative Reviews Really Get “Attention?”

Discussion Post 3

Negative reviews are a hot topic in the book blogosphere.  Every once in a while, someone somewhere gets offended, and we have a discussion about what the value of negative reviews is and whether they have a place on book blogs and review sites likes Goodreads.  Somewhere in this discussion, someone always mentions that negative reviews get all the page views and people must be writing them just for the attention.

My negative reviews never get any attention.

I don’t know if this is just because Pages Unbound isn’t big enough to tick anybody off.  I do believe we are lucky in our readers; they tend to like what we post and are polite and encouraging in their comments.  Whatever the reason, I have never had an author pick up on a negative review I’ve written, and I’ve never had a rude comment from an offended fan on one.  No one freaks out because I didn’t like such and such a book when I “should have,” so I “clearly didn’t read the book correctly.”   The comments on my negative reviews are always reasonable: readers telling me they’re sorry I didn’t like the book, calmly agreeing that they didn’t like the book, or respectfully listing the reasons they did like the book.  Then we all move on with our lives.

It’s my positive reviews that get the attention.

Every once in a while, an author picks up on a positive review I have written.  Sometimes I tweet them if I loved the book.  Sometimes I think their publishers find the reviews and forward them to the authors, if they’re particularly flattering.  (Having interned at a publishing house, I can tell you they keep records of any and all reviews of their books they find online.  I was a bit baffled and slightly embarrassed to see some of my own reviews already in their database when I arrived.)  And then those authors share my positive reviews.  Suddenly I’m getting traffic from their Twitter accounts, their Facebook pages, and their blogs.  If I were in blogging for the page hits, I would write glowing accounts of everything I read, not negative ones.

What has your experience been?  Do negative reviews get all the attention?  Or are people more attracted to positive reviews?

The Blood Guard by Carter Roy

Blood GuardInformation

Goodreads: The Blood Guard
Series: The Blood Guard #1
Source: Library
Published: 2014

Summary

Ronan Truelove thought his biggest problem was trying to fit in at school (a tough feat when your first name is actually Evelyn), until the day his mother shows up and tells him they have to run for their lives.  As it turns out, she is a member of a secret society called the Blood Guard dedicated to preventing the apocalypse, but now her cover has been blown.  Suddenly Ronan finds himself alone and racing across the country trying to find the Guard, and all he can think is that he now understands why his mother made him take gymnastics.

Review

 The Blood Guard opens with a bang and from there the action never stops.  Full of high-stakes chase scenes, intense fighting sequences, and unexplained magic, this story is the king that begs to be read in one  sitting.

Carter Roy draws readers into the story by introducing them to his world at the same time he introduces his protagonist Ronan to it.  Ronan has never heard of the Blood Guard, the order to which his mother belongs, and he has no one to explain the Guard to him.  He is running from an enemy he knows nothing about for reasons he knows nothing about, all while attempting to find an order he knows nothing about.  His confusion as he jumps into this whirlwind adventure mirrors the confusion of the readers, and both Ronan and his audience will find themselves racing ahead to attempt to find answers.

Readers, however, do possess knowledge Ronan cannot.  Because they understand that he is in a story and that stories tend to follow certain rules, guessing the “twists” in the plot is never hard.  I predicted the ending a couple chapters in.  It is a testament to Roy’s skill that the story proves interesting regardless.

Though I found the mythology of the world a little strange (and more than a little hard to believe), I thought the rest of the elements quite inventive.  Roy takes the rules of his world and pushes them to the limit, constantly asking “what if?” and pursuing the answer.  Certainly the book contains no dull moments.

The Blood Guard is a solid contribution to the middle-grade fantasy adventure shelf.  I look forward to the sequel.

A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen (ARC Review)

A Night DividedInformation

Goodreads: A Night Divided
Series: None
Source: ALA
Publication Date: August 25, 2015

Summary

The night the Berlin wall goes up, Gerta’s family is divided.  Her father and second oldest brother are in the west, while Gerta, her oldest brother, and her mother are left in the east.  But as the years pass and it becomes more and more dangerous to think, to speak, and to act, Gerta cannot stop thinking about what it would be like to get past the wall.  Then, she sees her father far away on a viewing platform, performing her silly childhood nighttime song.  In it, she sees a message to dig.  Now Gerta must decide how much she is willing to risk for a chance at freedom and reuniting her family.

Review

A Night Divided takes readers to the eastern side of the Berlin wall and shows them life through the eyes of Gerta, a spunky twelve-year-old who refuses to believe she must accept life the way it is, full of fear and restrictions.  Her constant questioning of the system can at times seem naïve, as though she does not understand the dangers of revolting against the government even as she watches the Stasi come for friends and neighbors, but her determination that things should be different also instills hope in a story that could quickly become deeply depressing.  Gerta, smart and strong-willed in the face of opposition, is a character readers will want to meet.

The plot has one simple goal: Gerta must tunnel to freedom before she is found and killed.  Most middle grade books are optimistic at their cores, so it is difficult to imagine Gerta will eventually meet with anything less than success, yet Nielsen does throw a lot of obstacles in the way of Gerta’s progress to help build suspense.  Practically no one in East Berlin can be trusted when providing the Stasi with juicy information about others can lead to so many rewards, so Gerta is hard-pressed to hide her illegal activities—even from members of her own family.  So while it is hard to think that Gerta might actually be killed in the novel, there is still a sense of danger and pervasive mistrust.

The tone is lightened by the presence of Gerta’s brother Fritz.  Fritz, about to be enlisted into the military and sent on the most dangerous missions as punishment for his father’s supposed crimes about the government, has worries of his own.  Yet he always has a smile for Gerta, time to help her, and quick-witted solutions for many of her problems.  With brothers like Fritz, it is easy to see why Gerta is willing to risk so much for her family.  Gerta’s mother is initially a harder sell—a woman so attached to her home and so afraid of leaving that she is the “reason” half the family is stuck in East Berlin at all.  However, Gerta’s actions help her mother question her own previous decisions, and by the end of the novel all the family has each other’s backs.  Their support for each other provides stability in a world where it is so easy to be suspicious.

A Night Divided lacks the wild sense of possibility, suspense, and surprise that characterized Nielsen’s debut The False Prince.  However, it does feature a strong female protagonist, a thoughtfully elaborate plot, and a good overview of what it would have been like to live in East Berlin.  A great historical fiction choice for a middle school classroom.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red QueenInformation

Goodreads: Red Queen
Series: Red Queen #1
Source: Library
Published: Feb. 2015

Summary

In Mare Barrow’s world, those with Silver blood possess magical powers and live as gods.  Those born with Red blood, such as herself, are reduced to a life of poverty and near-slavery.  Mare does what she can to help provide for her family, working as a pickpocket in the village. Then one day a new life opens up for her, a chance to work in the capital.  But one misstep reveals to the world that she possesses what no Red can–a magical ability similar to that possessed by the Silvers.  To conceal the truth, the royal family proclaims her a long-lost Silver princess.  But Mare has never before played the game of court politics and, in this game, one wrong move will cost her her life.

Review

Red Queen attempts to breathe new life into dystopian YA, blending social injustice with supernatural powers.  However, at this point, nearly all the plot elements the book contains have already been done and it seems impossible not to compare the story with all those that have come before.  Some stories can make a prince in disguise or secret revolutionaries seem fresh and exciting, but though this book kept me reasonably engaged, it never blew me away.  It is a solid YA dystopia, and one sure to please fans of the genre, but I have to admit I do not understand all the hype it has received.

Really, just about everything in this story seems typical.  Mare Barrow, our protagonist, falls nicely into the category of saucy thief and later takes on her rags-to-riches role with the expected results–she talks back to people who have the ability to execute her because she thinks sass makes her powerful.  She meets the expected players in the game of politics–the charming and sunny prince; his moody and Loki-esque brother, the icy queen, the hardened female rebel.  More boxes can be checked–the wise academic mentor, the cunning woman who competes for the affections of the man she loves (maybe).  Meanwhile, her sister, docile and hardworking, seems reminiscent of Katniss’s sister while her boy friend (friend who is a boy?) takes on the role of Gale.

The world building manages to set the story somewhat apart, though of course at this point there is only so much a writer seems able to do with a dystopia.  Social injustice is the main theme here, with Silvers oppressing Reds so they can live in luxury.  The key difference comes with the introduction of Silver powers, which can include anything from element (fire, water) or metal bending to plant growing to mind reading to light distortion.  Actually, there seems to be little Silvers cannot do and the list of powers becomes so long and odd that after awhile I found it unconvincing.  Had Aveyard stuck with a simpler system with more defined rules, I would have believed in magic.  As it is, the world seems full of random superheroes who do not bother to use their powers for any real purpose.

The court intrigue easily proves the most interesting part of the story, though Mare falls into the game with slightly more ease than I would have expected.  Another character warns her she plays as someone else’s pawn and her inexperience means in all likelihood he is right, but still Mare does a remarkable job of at least trying to think like a political noble–I would have supposed her hardscrabble life and lack of schooling would have given her little time to reflect on how to survive a group of murderous nobles.

Unfortunately, Red Queen tries to add even more interest to the plot by introducing a love square.  Three boys in love with one girl.  Perhaps the love triangle has been overdone at this point, but I propose that we do not try to fix that by adding more love interests to the equation.  What are the odds, really, of two princes falling in love with a rude commoner?  What are the odds of three guys all pining for the same girl?  My suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

Red Queen kept me entertained for a day or two, but it did not impress me.  At this point, I do not feel interested enough in either the characters or the plot to continue with the series.  I can find Cinderella stories, dystopias, and court intrigue aplenty in other books–books that might strike me as more original.

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