Red Queen is one of the most popular Young Adult books that came out last year, and being a fantasy junky with a love of pretty covers, the moment I saw this novel, I had to see what it was all about. Of course, it took me a while to get it, but nevertheless I can now say I know what all the hype was about!
The story follows protagonist Mare Borrow as she’s living in a world where race depends on the colour of her blood – literally. The Reds live in fear, hate, and poverty, while the Silvers dominate the upper class and monarchy of the country of Norta. But the colour a person bleeds isn’t the only thing that differs between the two races; Silvers have immeasurable supernatural abilities, ranging from controlling fire, water, and metal to telekinesis or even people. When Mare discovers that despite her red blood, she has special abilities too, the King keeps the unbelievable secret hidden by forcing her to disguise as a lost Silver princess and betrothing her to his son. If things couldn’t get worse, Mare is thrown into the cold world of high class Silvers at a time when the Red rebellion is rising and she finds herself at the center of it.
This book had me extremely conflicted. Maybe it was because I’ve been at university for the past four years and it’s been a while since I read purely for enjoyment, but despite it’s flaws I really couldn’t put this book down. I’ve heard loads of people say that they loved Red Queen and I can see why! The setting is an interesting mix of grand and magical high fantasy, yet very futuristic in the sense that there is also old abandoned technology we are currently familiar with and advanced technology which could be in our future. The twists in this book, specifically at the very end where several major events go down, are intense and play out in a surprising way! Even if you predict whom may or may not be trustworthy as I did, I think the ending will still put you on edge.
So let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Mare as a character was refreshing in that her focus was never actually on how much she was swooning over the supposed love interests, Cal and Maven, and was focused on her own survival. I appreciate that Victoria Aveyard made a point of giving Mare a voice and her own way of thinking and viewing things, which may cause her to clash with other characters, but it was nice to see a protagonist with some genuine bite. However, I didn’t like that Mare didn’t necessarily grow throughout the book, and she never seemed to see past her own feelings. Her character was so headstrong and one-track minded at times that, while I understood where she was coming from, I had to shake my head. She attempts to think very deeply about her situation and what she plans to do, but she never followed through on her own.
Cal and Maven are our two main guys, and I have to say they also had their unique points and their drawbacks. Cal was so genuine that I hated him yet felt for his situation all at the same time! And Maven was certainly shaped by his tough past, in fact what I did like about these two was that they had full pasts and who they were in the present were clearly products of their past experiences. I really liked that not one character was without their faults. That being said, the romance in the present between Cal and Mare was not as plausible as I thought it would be; the two spend so little quality time together! It’s sad to say, but I personally I didn’t find any character in this novel very dynamic.
So on the other end of the spectrum, I can see why there are many who didn’t enjoy this book. Again, this may be due to reading stuffier or more dated writing styles for classes, but I actually enjoyed the author’s writing style. Every paragraph was meant to strike a nerve or add to the layers of anxiety and desperation, and while the writing could be a bit too cheesy for some, I didn’t mind it. However, there were a few things I couldn’t stand, such as the constantly italicised words which seemed a little over the top, and with such a great world and intriguing plot, the whole book felt rushed. While it’s understandable that Mare was focused on her situation, there was so much more fleshing out that could have happened that would make the story so much more thrilling!
There were also about five instances in the book where Mare would make a point of looking somewhere other than the person she was talking to, but then suddenly know exactly what their reaction to her was or what their expression was. It’s a small thing, probably something most people wouldn’t notice, but because I noticed it from the get go, it irked me throughout as it occurred again and again. A character can not know what a person is doing if they are pointedly looking away. It’s not possible!
In the end, I think what won me over the most was the world Red Queen is set in. It’s extremely complex with some great political strife, and I don’t think I’ve read a book where superpowers were so creatively integrated into a world such as this one. Victoria Aveyard was also not afraid to touch graphically on themes such as racism, poverty, and violence like torture, and the repercussions of them all. You don’t see a lot of heavy or graphic content in Young Adult novels so directly, and the fact that this book was about more than just Mare, her love story, and being freed from her princess disguise, is what truly kept me reading.
I struggled with what I would rate this book… but I’m going to officially give it a 3.5!