100-Character Breakdown: A shaky start to a dystopian series loaded with twists and turns and a lot of potential for growth.
Genre: Young adult, fantasy, dystopian
Publisher: HarperTeen (February 2015)
After hearing a lot of praise for Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen, I was excited to read it. And now that I’ve finished, I can say it’s almost exactly what I expected: the novel is another solid young adult, dystopian effort. It has plenty of positives, including a high-tension plot, but overall it doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from other books in this genre.
The novel follows Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old living in the impoverished Stilts. In her world, those with red blood are the commoners, and the Silvers are the elites, silver-blooded people with powerful abilities. But Mare soon finds out that she is the exception to the rule: she is Red, but she might just have powers of her own. And when the royal family discovers her powers, she is thrust into a new role. The royal family crafts a tale, naming her a Silver princess to be engaged to one of the two princes. She is caught between two princes, between her blood and her powers, between her new role and a rebellion. And while caught up in this world, she knows, “anyone can betray anyone.”
Mare’s journey is tense, full of twists and turns, and guided by some strong narrative description. It’s just hard to move beyond the dystopian tropes. There’s the obvious caste system, the rebellion, the love interests. There are even arenas reminiscent in some ways to The Hunger Games (mainly in that they are used to ensure submission and infuse the commoners with fear). I’d go more into the numerous dystopian tropes, but then I’d be heading into dangerous spoiler territory.
I had a hard time getting through the middle half of the book. The first quarter introduces a new world, one that is well-built thanks to Aveyard’s writing, but the middle is where the tropes take over. That’s when my pace slowed. The characters felt stunted in their development, especially considering the main characters didn’t feel fully three-dimensional.
The good news: by the end of the novel, Red Queen differentiates itself enough and becomes a story of its own. In the last quarter or so of the book, Aveyard unleashes a ton of twists (some much more surprising than others). These, combined with the plot’s progression, give the series a direction that should result in more original sequels. If the next book keeps up the pace established in the end of Red Queen, then this series has the potential to become much, much stronger. And I’m a sucker for dystopian YA, so I plan on picking up Glass Sword to find out where the story goes.