A recommendation printed on the back of Red Queen announces that it’s ‘a clever blend of The Hunger Games, The Selection, Graceling and Divergent’, and I can’t argue. Rather than adding to an already saturated market it blends together established tropes and story telling techniques in a cliché, unoriginal and predictable fashion that has a premise of so many other big YA novels. Crucially the novel also presents negative and damaging tropes to young readers.
In a world ruled by those with magic, the Silvers, the Reds are left as fodder for their wars and used only for labour. Mare is the oldest daughter of her impoverished red family who are struggling after conscription took away her three older brothers and the war left her father in a wheelchair. Without a job and facing conscription herself Mare is left as nothing but a thief, forced to steal from her own struggling community. But when it is revealed that she has powers only silvers should possess she learns that poverty and war are not the only perils her world holds. Desperate to keep her talents secret the monarchy force Mare into Silver society knowing they must do anything in their power to prevent an uprising. Surrounded by revolution and treasonous plots Mare is slowly discovering not everything is as it seems in the upper echelons of her society.
“All together you are poor, rude, immoral, unintelligent, impoverished, bitter, stubborn, and a blight upon your village and my Kingdom.”
Mare’s status at the beginning of Red Queen is unique: she is dependent on a younger sister, struggling with her inadequacies and not the confident, capable protagonist often presented in YA novels. This made for an unlikely heroine but it was disappointing that this individuality was not reflected in her character or during the events of Red Queen, as she remains self-assured and accomplished as the story progresses, leaving her with very little character development. Her backstory felt very familiar: an impoverished family with a quick and fast teenage girl bent with anger and determined to see rebellion, a feeling she shares with her only, equally athletic and impoverished, male best friend. Red Queen had a strong air of familiarity from the start. Mare is lost and lacking in direction, a theme which persists throughout the novel as she remains unsure of her future. Her development was minimal, maintaining her cocky nature and sure decision making until the conclusion, making the final scene all the more shocking to this young protagonist.
Cal and Maven were often guarded making it difficult to determine character development from simple deception. The confusing undertones and Mare’s own narrative casts doubts on both Princes which left frustratingly little information for any reader to decipher these characters true motives. Particularly for Cal, this made the ending confusing as the reader was told his personality and development rather than shown it throughout the novel. Maven was better crafted. This prince remained less illusive as he was engaged to Mare, making him a more developed and dynamic character. His contribution to the plot was more intriguing as Mare interacts with him often through the events of Red Queen.
“The people rose, the empires fell and things changed. Liberty moved in arcs, rising and falling with the tide of time.”
Despite the overdone premise, Red Queen does present the reader with an unusual, although slightly predictable, plot. The sense of revolution conjured throughout was hardly imaginative, neither was Mare’s character and unique qualities that set her apart from other reds, however the unsurprising plot points that are pivotal to this novel showed more originality. The repetitive writing style made the novels twists and turns disappointingly easy to decipher as the author simply leaves too many clues within the text for the integral illusion of surprise to remain. The story-line is intriguing and the pacing feels smooth. The story never drags and the plot progresses steadily throughout the novel, Mare’s history relayed to the reader in an engaging although predictable way.
Set in first person, the writing style felt clunky, dotted with unnecessary phrases and limited descriptions: favouring a plain, informative approach. The novel presents very few unusual words or pretty descriptions and those few added felt at odds with the remaining stoic prose. Red Queen’s writing style is easy to read and entertaining enough but lacks any personality which would embellish the novel. Furthermore Mare’s unreliable narrative; casting doubts across the motives of other characters, made it difficult for any reader to build up a true picture of the events. This suspicion made it particularly difficult to gage Cal’s character, who rarely makes an appearance except in Mare’s suspicious ramblings. This sense of distrust Aveyard conjures makes the novel’s ending confusing.
As is cliché to the genre relationships are central to the plot. The ever present love triangle trope makes another appearance, although presented to the reader in a slightly unusual way: it was difficult to decipher which feelings were real and which were put on to make political gains, drawing more parallels between this novel and popular dystopian The Hunger Games. Mare’s determination to focus on her rebellion, family and friend was refreshing although somewhat half hearted given the plot, ultimately, revolved around love. There is a strong sense of romance throughout the novel that steered large proportions of the plot. The romantic build up between Cal and Mare was confusing. With little introduction to Cals character past Mare’s suspicions. It was confusing why this relationship was so pivotal to the plot, the budding romance formed of scarce interactions making it feel almost random.
The portrayal of female relationships is what ultimately makes Red Queen a disappointment. The female characters presented to the reader show disparagingly little respect for each other. Mare’s jealousy of her sister, her quarrels with Evangeline and the bitchiness between the girls in the training arena was disappointing to read. Each female character, even Mare the narrator and protagonist, acts with her own cattiness, pushing away other women and fawning over men. Meanwhile the two princes, Mare’s brothers and best friend, Kilorn, are heralded for their strength and composure. The women of Red Queen are catty and histerical, easily upset and quick to turn on each other, providing no positive role models to the young women reading this novel.
“Words can lie. See beyond them.”
The theme of trust is prominent throughout Red Queen. Mare is regularly questioning the motives of those around her as a sense of distrust is crafted in the palace, a constant and foreboding backdrop to the events of the novel. As both Princes struggle to gain Mare’s trust, and those around constantly remind her that lies are ripe in the Silver’s world, this theme foreshadows the predictable. This pivotal theme forms the basis of Aveyards plot as the novel endeavours to explore it’s possibilities.
The target audience for this novel would be teenagers. Although there are violent themes, very few scenes are graphically described and I can’t recall any trigger warnings from the material.
“In the fairy tales, the poor girl smiles when she becomes a princess. Right now, I don’t know if I’ll ever smile again.”
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this novel. It adds very little to this genre, presents problematic views of women and, frankly, the writing felt clunky and flat.