Book Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
I wanted this reading experience to be a solid five stars. I had such high hopes. After all, Red Queen did win the 2015 Goodreads Choice Award for Debut Goodreads Author and was nominated in the Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction category as well.
The story centers around Mare Barrow, a member of the servant class with red blood. Her prospects in this world ruled by those with silver blood and mystical X-Men powers are grim. As a Red, Mare has developed no expertise in a trade, so she is conscripted into the royal Silver's military. Her country of Norta has been engaged in an ongoing war with neighboring countries for generations. Conscription is a death sentence.
Of course, through a chance encounter, Mare is spared conscription. Instead, she finds herself in the royal Silver court discovering that she possesses special mystical powers herself. She's whisked away to hide the fact that she's a Red and the political intrigue begins.
Which characters are lying? Who's manipulating who? Who can Mare trust? Is Mare trustworthy?
Those questions kept me interested in the plot enough to keep reading.
Seeing this dystopian world from the insider's powerful circle was refreshing. Even a bit surprising. Sure, Mare was still an outsider, shunned by the other high-born ladies of the court, but many of her interactions gave some insight into political motivations and movements that you don't always see in YA fiction. In this world, there was also no expectation of privacy. Even among the royal Silvers, cameras watched everyone's every move.
The step-brothers Cal and Maven had an interesting dynamic. I didn't know if I should trust both of them or pick one. And the plot did move along quickly so deciding on who to trust was difficult. New information would get thrown into the mix consistently enough that I kept second guessing motives for everyone.
This pacing and my constant speculation did make me feel like the stakes in this YA book were a bit higher. Then there was the cover illustrating a crown covered in blood. When people started dying, I wasn't surprised. However, I did get the sense that any life was up for grabs. I liked that Aveyard made me feel like even the main characters could suffer.
When romantic subplots began developing, I started rolling my eyes. All of the romances felt contrived. However, as the plot began wrapping up, one of the romantic subplots sneered at itself in an incredibly satisfying way. And this mockery made me like this plot twist more than I would have otherwise. This one plot twist even has me debating whether or not I want to continue reading the series.
And that's where my praise for this book ends.
The world building is pretty typically shallow for a YA book. There are no details for why Norta has been at war for as long as she has. This creates a sense of weariness that makes me care little for any of the characters. Another unfortunate effect are the revolutionaries who are nothing special. They exist as a plot device, but not as dynamic characters. I didn't care what happened to any of them either.
The conflicting structures of the society were a bit hard to take as well. People build their own homes and live in villages. Red children must find apprenticeships or suffer conscription. The "big city" description reads like a medieval architecture and design.
But then the Silvers have these supernatural powers like telekinesis and the ability to manipulate elements. The weaponry of the guards is clearly advanced. The world is covered with video screens and cameras.
The obvious clashes of old and new made it hard for me to immerse myself in this world. Usually, I like to visualize author descriptions, which involves me making inferences and filling in some blanks as I move around the world. But here, I had no idea what might new scent might pop up into her world building potpourri. Just irritating.
I also disliked Mare for most of the book. Early on she takes actions that almost kill her sister. She's no Katniss. Rather, she's a selfish brat with very few social skills to help her make her way through the royal Silver court. Maybe, I was supposed to feel sympathy for Mare's working girl servant class struggles, but I didn't. She came off just as seemingly entitled as the Silvers. Not in her possessions, but in her attitude.
In the end, there was just not enough original material in the story to make me love it. I barely liked it. Meh.