I like words

Red Queen: Review

2.5 Stars

There are a few things that confuse me about this book. First, what the hell did I just read? A dystopian twist on the Hunger Games? Sci-fi; fantasy? The world is certainly set up as fantasy - different lands in varying degrees of turmoil all centered around the same social class issues. The Silvers are the elite, silver-blooded and magical; the Reds are glorified slaves, non-magical and red-blooded. But every time I settled into the world building, technology flared across the page and jerked me out of the setting. Modern advances such as cameras, television screens, broadcasted news events...it's a good thing Victoria Aveyard can turn a good phrase, or I'd have had an impossible time staying in the story.

Perhaps it should be three stars for the writing alone, actually, which is witty and pulls you in instantly, but the MC barely convinced me of her conviction for anything - her family, her friends, her people, her life...

And that's what holds this story back. Mare flip-flopped so much I lost count how many times she said/thought something only to go in the complete opposite direction two pages later. She's an unreliable narrator, and not in an interesting way. By the end, every time she had a strong thought or declaration, I just rolled my eyes and waited for the inevitable failure to stand true to her word a few pages later. 

At the start, Mare is built up as a strong character, made tough by her life in the slums and thieving, holding only a few cherished people dear. Being forced into a war neither she nor any of the Reds believe in, and her hatred of the oppressive Silvers that keep them low, had me hooked right away. But for all the bravado in some of her words, and fewer of her actions, each opportunity that arose for her to act on her "beliefs" was less than satisfying. This started as soon as she is discovered to be an anomaly in her kind - a Red, with magical abilities to control electricity (there it is again, modern technology jumping in). For the first several chapters, we're shown Mare's hatred for the Silvers, not out of jealousy for what they have that Reds don't, but the sheer injustice of what they stand for. And yet, when she's plopped down in front of them and told "You're going to pretend to be one of us and marry my son, the prince, and you're going to learn to be one of us," she sure does take it pretty well. I mean, I understand that this is the plot of the story, and she needed to be moved into this situation somehow, but come on, she's supposed to be a hard, street-wise fighter, and she just falls in line without ANY fuss. 

"'You will kneel," the queen murmurs, her voice soft as velvet.
should kneel, but my pride won't let me. Even here, in front of Silvers, in front of the king, my knees do not bend. "I will not," I say, finding the strength to look up."

That little scene had me excited. Yes! We're going to have a strong heroine here; she won't take any shit, she'll fight them every step...

But, as I said above, Mare's only moments of tiny defiance come in safe circumstances, and are quickly followed by pages of:

"What do you really want with me? Even in my head, my voice quivers...A shiver of fear shoots through me."

This is the real Mare, and all the glimpses of something stronger are only confusing character discrepancies. Don't get me wrong, I would be absolutely fine with her character being a normal, scared girl thrust in over her head, growing as the story progresses. But she cannot, I repeat cannot switch back and forth between that normal girl and a fierce warrior of her cause. It makes me wonder if Aveyard was undecided herself on which direction to take her main character. While the prose itself is great, character development and plot construction are unbalanced, and that's a key element to story telling.

There's a love triangle, but one I barely noticed. Mare's betrothed to the younger prince, but from her first chance meeting that landed her in this mess she's had eyes for the crown prince. I suppose there's also her Red childhood friend as well. The fact that the love triangle, to me, is a side note in the bigger issues at hand was a plus. It's nice, pulling us along emotionally, and while I didn't exactly guess the twist at the end, I knew something of the sort was coming. It was just all too perfect how a certain Silver prince came over to her cause, how easily a belief instilled in him since birth was set aside as he swooned. By that point, I think I assumed that was just how the author did things, conveniently dropping her characters convictions - or lack there of - to suit her purposes. But we've got a nice villain for the next book by the end, so there's that.

The Mare of Red Queen makes for an underwhelming heroine. I said in an update I was wishing for a little more Adelina from The Young Elites, but hell I would have settled for her little sister by the end. The blurb for Glass Sword looks intriguing; full of the promise of satisfying action, but I'll go in warily and *perhaps* be pleasantly surprised.

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Virginia DeFeoComment