This is a world divided by blood—red or silver. The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change. That is until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power. Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime. But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance—Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.
Red Queen debuted in February 2015, but it didn’t hit my radar until last year. It took me quite a while to get it finished, but that was mainly because I’m scatter-brained and 2020 was a royal sh*tshow all the way around.
In any case, the story opens with Mare–a poverty-stricken thief–doing what she does best: picking pockets at her local market. It isn’t often, particularly in YA, that readers are introduced to a protagonist who is morally grey. YA Heroines have had this societal standard thrust upon them that they should be pillars of good and righteousness. That simply isn’t the case with Mare. She hates the Silvers for everything they are–and for everything she isn’t.
“It doesn’t matter that the blood is everything we aren’t, everything we can’t be, everything we want.”
When Mare is thrust into this world that she hates (and is entirely unfamiliar with), she is faced with several challenges that will either ensure her survival or put nails in her coffin. During her time with the royal family, she befriends the youngest prince, Maven. He is a wonderfully written character. He reminded me so much of Peeta from The Hunger Games that I was instantly a fan. I fully shipped Mare and Maven, and I was so ready to see them change the world together for good. They share the idea that Reds are more than slaves for the Silvers and plan to overthrow the current regime with the Scarlet Guard, a group of rebels that have openly defied the Silvers and bombarded their palaces. I won’t go any more into the plot because it really is best when read. I could talk about it for days and still not do it justice. Victoria Aveyard did something really incredible with this series, and while I just finished the second book, I am already looking forward to other installments.
I do want to touch on a few things before I close. The biggest complaint I see about this series is that Mare is boring. I wholeheartedly disagree. Typically, YA is filled with heroines that are turned into overnight badasses after living lives of either extreme poverty or facing severe hardship. Mare faces both of those things, but she does not come out on the other end of it with a positive attitude. She sees the world for what it truly is and doesn’t want to be in the world of the Silvers. She feels guilty when she starts to enjoy the luxuries that come with wealth, but she never forgets where she comes from. She never forgets the real reason she is there. She grows into her abilities and masters them over time. There is nothing boring about that.
I’ve also seen reviews that call her self-centered. And she is, but that’s the point. She knows that she is the weapon that can undo all of the Scarlet Guard’s work and the Silvers’ work. Instead of pretending like she doesn’t know how important she is or fighting against it, she embraces it. Female leads are rarely allowed to embrace their power and shy away from it. They never get the chance to take the spotlight and say, “I am powerful and I am not afraid of it.” I’m not going to go on some big long feminist rant, but I do think that’s an important distinction. Mare is not self-centered, she is strong. And I, for one, find it refreshing that a female character is completely aware of the fact that she could start a war with a wave of her hand.
I also want to comment on some things that Aveyard does well from a craft standpoint. I normally dislike prose that is flowery for the sake of being flowery, but I found myself getting completely lost in Aveyard’s writing. I would read sentences over and over just so I could truly appreciate how beautiful they were. And it wasn’t every sentence that was laced with detail, so it felt extra special when I came across the ones that were. Aveyard takes little moments of worldbuilding and paints these spectacular pictures in just a few words. The metaphors she uses were some of the most original I’ve seen and I was truly floored by the way she writes. There are some slower sections of the book, but the artful way she writes more than made up for the slow pacing for me. Ultimately, I loved this book and I hope this review encourages you to read it. Maybe you’ll love it, too.