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