Aveyard, Victoria. Red Queen. 2015. New York, New York. HarperTeen, HarperCollins.
Mare Barrow is a red, and that distinguishes her as belonging to the lower class. Those with silver blood rule her kingdom with their magical abilities. Mare steals in order to provide for her family terrified of the day she will be drafted into the military to fight in the war. Reds are drafted if they are not apprenticed to a tradesman by a certain age. Fate steps in to change her circumstances when she meets Cal, whom she thinks is a trader. Feeling sorry for her he sets her up with a job at the palace as a servant.
Mare starts to adjust to working at the palace, but the prejudice towards reds continues to plague her. The Queenstrial is about to begin, and Mare will be serving refreshment to the silver nobility who have come to watch. This is a tournament in which girls from noble families fight each other to see who is strongest. That girl will become engaged to the Prince, and someday be Queen. Mare realizes that Cal is the prince. While serving she falls into the arena as combat is taking place.
She releases lightning, and it is revealed to everyone that she has a gift just like the silvers. A red with power could upset the balance of the kingdom. The King and Queen force Mare to adopt a new identity of a silver noble family whose line has ended. She is trained to be a noble and engaged to young Prince Maven. Mare tries to take on her new role without forgetting where she came from. However, a red organization called the Scarlet Guard is planning rebellion, and they plan on using the red with silver powers for their own ends. Mare must decide whom she can trust, where her loyalties lie, and what she can do to improve the lives of her people.
Being a first novel and first in a series, Red Queen has flaws and strengths. Its rich description and world building are seamlessly woven into the plot. Aveyard has created a harsh society with pressure, conflict, class war, and court intrigue.
While other characters seem wholly real like Maven, Cal, and her friends and enemies, Mare herself is never clearly defined. She’s not particularly talented with her lightning gift, studies, or patriotism to the red cause. She bumbles through trying to save her friend Kilorn from the military draft by agreeing to pay a large amount of money to smuggle him out of the country. Most of the time Mare runs away from her problems and it is particularly evident when her actions cause her sister’s hand to be injured ruining her career as a seamstress. Mare runs away afterwards not being able to face her part in the tragedy. Mare’s main antagonist in the story is the Queen, and while the Queen’s motivations are clear Mares are not. In fact the Queen manipulates her quite easily, and while she seems to rebel against this nothing much comes of it. The reader may be disappointed in her lack of character growth throughout the story.
Maven and Cal are much more flushed out characters with clear motivations and strong scene presence. Their competitive relationship ripples with tension whenever they are together. Maven can sense Mare and Cal growing closer, and seems to despise it. Maven is political, methodical, and crafty, while Cal is idealistic, hopeful, and sincere. They are both sons of the king, but have different mothers. Cal is doted on by the King and Maven is often ignored. Cal is the warrior with the stronger gift, and Maven while being gifted instead hones his wit to razor sharpness. These princes drive the plot much more than our heroine, which is perhaps Aveyard’s greatest flaw in the novel.
For a story about high stakes, rebellion, class war, and court intrigue, Red Queen fails to deliver the urgency and depth of such peers as Divergent, Hunger Games, and other popular dystopian young adult series with strong female characters. The book is extremely popular, and one surmises that the reason is that the story is plot driven rather than character driven. Mare doesn’t have a great support system like Katniss and Tris, and this limits the great ensemble cast feel of others series. While the world of Red Queen is fully realized, Mare isn’t a compelling enough heroine to keep this reader yearning for more.
“A sizzling, imaginative thriller, where romance and revolution collide, where power and justice duel. It’s exhilarating. Compelling. Action-packed. Unputdownable.” (USA Today)
“Aveyard weaves a compelling new world of action-packed surprises… inventive, character-driven.” (Kirkus)
“A volatile world with a dynamic heroine.” (Booklist)
“Breakneck pace and engaging characters.” (School Library Journal)
Book Clubs or discussion groups could talk about the pressures of the society that Aveyard has created. Is there any hope for peace between reds and silvers? What drives the strong to take advantage of the weak? What is so compelling about the reformation of empires and countries in fiction? What leads a person to rebel? Are the Scarlet Guard terrorists or patriots in the story? What is the difference between the two?
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Reviewed by Beth K.