This book has been sitting on my shelf for the better part of nine months. I am not sure what finally made me pick up Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, but I have the sinking suspicion it may be because I recently binged Season 4 The 100, on Netflix.
Red Queen tells the story of Mare Barrow, a pickpocket in a world where the nobles and the commoners are divided by the color of their blood. Those with silver blood possess supernatural abilities that make them almost godlike, while those with red blood are destined to be labors who seek employment to avoid conscription at the age of eighteen.
Mare is about to turn eighteen, and is attempting to escape conscription when through a series of events she realizes she has ability she never knew she had, an ability that she shouldn’t have because her blood is red. This leads her to live a life of secrets and lies as she plays into the royal family’s farce.
This book sucked me in, and I devoured the first six chapters in one night. There was something about Mare’s world that was really intriguing. The first third of the book focuses on Mare’s microcosm of the world and the reality she faces, and then it gradually unfolds into something that’s more intricate and devious.
In the end though, the entire book boils down to one difference, and that’s the red and silver blood. Everything that Mare goes through is because of this ability that she shouldn’t have, and the idea of passing her off as nobility sounds familiar, but at the same time Aveyard’s built an entire world around the idea that is both familiar and foreign to us.
It wasn’t until I stepped back and processed it a little bit that I realized exactly how much this book reminds me of The 100, mostly due to the color of blood. The premise of the The 100 (both the television series and the book series by Kass Morgan) depict one hundred juvenile delinquents sent to Earth after a nuclear holocaust to see if it’s survivable. The premise of the Red Queen is a world that has already gone through a revolution, and when we meet our character the regime is in place.
Where these series connect is the idea of blood giving someone special abilities. The 100 presents something called Nightblood, or blood that appears black, that doesn’t enhance the person with any special abilities, but it does mean that the person in question can become the next commander of the clans.
While I started Red Queen with this connection in mind, that’s not what I walked away with. By the time I put the book down, the lines blurred dramatically, and I wasn’t sure what to make of anything other than the fact that I have to go find a copy of Glass Sword immediately.
I will admit that I have become slightly disenchanted with young adult dystopian novels, because I was asking myself “How many ways can we present a world where a teenager is responsible for saving everyone?”
Red Queen was a pleasant surprise because, although Mare is only seventeen, she’s in the middle of a well-crafted world that she’s been thrust into and now has to navigate.
It’s a world that is not only relentless, but also a world where words lie all the time. As much as parts of Red Queen’s universe remind me of the Roman gladiator fights mixed with some more technological feudal customs, the heart of this book is the way words and appearances aren’t what they seem.
On page 134 in the paperback version, there was one quote that resonated with me. At a luncheon with a bunch of other silvers Mare encounters Colonel Macanthos who questions the Queen. Mare observes:
In a fair fight, Macanthos could probably tear Elara apart with her bare hands. But instead, Elara tore the colonel apart with nothing but words. And she’s not even finished. Julian’s words echo in my head: words can lie.
And this is a theme that permeates throughout the whole book so that by the end I came away hungry for the next book in the series. I just need to know how these seemingly impenetrable lies unfold.
I do walk away from this book with questions, but most of them are my own regarding day-to-day life in this world. And the other questions I have answered are more like threads, that I am trusting will be answered in the other two books. They mostly concern how Mare’s ability works, but since it looks like we’re set up to explore more of Mare’s world, I am going to put my faith in the author and assume it will be addressed.
There are also parts where this book lags. There are some overly repetitive places where Mare analyzes her feelings for both princes, and her ability to protect her friend Kilorn, but this book is a promising start to the series, and I am eagerly awaiting reading Glass Sword.
FINAL RATING: 4 STARS