Wednesday, 7 October 2015

BOOK REVIEW: RED QUEEN BY VICTORIA AVEYARD


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...







*releases a breath she never realized she was holding*

Here we go. This is going to be a long one. I have feelings.



To anyone who hasn't read Red Queen and stumbles upon this review, I have three general pieces of advice:
1. Listen to those friends who have read it and deemed it the worst book of the year. It'll lower your expectations and therefore dramatically increase your chances of enjoyment.
2. Prepare for the trope. Embrace the trope. Love the trope.
3. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.

(So the third is more of a general advice. But I assure you that all three will help immensely.)

In a world where those of silver blood wield magic and rule, those of red blood are the enslaved and the oppressed. With no magic and no voice, the so-called Reds slave away for their oppressors day in and day out, their only hope a newfound rebel movement, The Scarlet Guard. Until, that is, one of the Reds finds that she, too, has power - and thus threatens the already precarious balance within the system. It is so that Mare Barrow finds herself among the Silvers, posing as one of their own, and with a chance to become a face of the rebellion "from within".

The forth best piece of advice I can offer regarding this series is this:
4. If you are the kind of reader who reads and likes a book (particularly the high-profile dystopian and fantasy books of the past few years) and you yearn for something similar to temper your hangover, then Red Queen is just the book for you. If, on the other hand, you hope for a unique plot and setting with each new read, it is my sincerest advice that you give this book a wide, wide berth. Because from very early on, Red Queen is two things above all others: entertaining and unoriginal. Where this particular scale tips for you is very likely to determine your overall enjoyment of the book as a whole. As for me, mine is in the middle. (See: advice 1 - expectation management)

Having already embraced the trope and having gone into Red Queen expecting the worst, I found myself quite pleasantly surprised. While the book starts out with Katniss and Gale's Mare and Kilorn's miserable lives in District 12 their village of Reds, and their preparations for The Hunger Games some war we never learn much about, the book pretty soon diverged from The Hunger Games enough for me to be able to enjoy it. What, then, was the issue which had me struggle to even rate this book 3 stars?

It was, plain and simply, its utter lack of depth. In Tropeland, there are few more interesting to me than the idea of The Grey Area in a Black-And-White World. With a magic-wielding protagonist from a magicless class caught between the two sides, the premise wasn't new, but it was my favorite kind of old. And it was also completely and utterly wasted. For one, there is never a lick of explanation as to why being both Red and Silver would make Mare "stronger than both". It's said, but it isn't shown, and I had trouble buying into it. For another, giving Mare the potential to be the grey area that demolishes the system only served to underscore how underdeveloped it is. But more on that in a second.

While on the subject of things I couldn't buy into - the world in general requires too high of a level of the suspension of disbelief, and that's only when it isn't terribly confusing. As the book teeters between wanting to be dystopian and wanting to be fantasy, the world teeters between a fantasyland reminiscent of Ancient Rome and... the sort of place where 24/7 camera surveillance and high-speed motorcycle rides are a thing. But more than any of those things, the truly unbelievable part of the world is also the most truly unbelievable part of the story - how excessively black-and-white it actually is. Painters depict nothing but the Silver dominance over the Reds, and those are the only two colors they use. Teachers teach nothing but the Red-Silver divide. And on both sides in everyday conversations, nothing else is discussed. Even behind closed doors, among families - it's All Silver, All The Time, or vice versa. This fictional world at the very worst doesn't get nearly as bad as our very own real world got at times throughout history, and still we managed to live and create and think beyond the atrocities of war. Still we escaped and still we were three-dimensional people with desires and concerns beyond warwarwarwarwaaaaaar. The people in this story largely don't.

Also, for all the grey-area talk, in the end this world was remarkably polarizing, and polarized. The Silvers both started and ended the book as evil oppressors, and the Reds as the lowly underdogs (mild spoiler: the poor saps can't even get their Great Rebellious Movement to do one thing right without botching it). The world is Silver-and-Red in much the similar way in which it is day-and-night. It's either-or. One negates the other. (Thus making The Red Dawn extra ironic. There's no dawn to be found here, guys. It's noon or midnight.)

Another thing besides the world-divide which never seemed to change throughout the story were the characters themselves (with one obvious Caveat Which Shall Not Be Discussed). In development, in arc, in all things that matter to characterization, Mare is the exact same person in the end as she was in the beginning. She hammers one point home a thousand different ways. She complains more than her twin Katniss and Bella Swan combined. She is a baffling blend of God complex and inferiority complex which makes her every thought erratic and disjointed. And she fools around with brothers, which is all kinds of questionable. Then there's Cal, the Honorable Warrior King Who Always Does The Honorable Thing. Maven, The Forgotten Spare Heir. Kilorn, Gale Hawthorne II. Evangeline, the Queen Bee(tch). A bunch of lowly Reds. A bunch of almighty Silvers. And so on. (And while on the subject of Evangeline, the amount of girl-on-girl hate in this book is truly staggering. In fact, Mare is just about the only girl who isn't a scheming, evil, malicious, two-dimensional a-hole - though she, too, hates and is jealous of just about every other girl out there. It's a wild, wild west among the girls. Two pretty ones can't possibly co-exist without murderous intent. It's a personal pet peeve and I resented it.) Mare is also able to recognize and discern the minutest changes in expressions of others - she can recognize love for a strange woman on her teacher's sheltered face, for example. But if this change in expression (always indicating love - she just has so very many love interests) is in a potential significant other, it is "an unfathomable emotion" she cannot grasp. WHAT IS THIS EMOTION THAT MAKE YOUR EYES GO HEART-SHAPED? Whatever could it mean? Surely the gentleman is merely pensive!

The pacing, however, is this book's saving grace. While the end is exciting in that way that makes you wish the whole book maintained that level of action, the whole book is, in fact, rather entertaining throughout, in terms of what goes down and how it all plays out. The final 25% is its crown jewel, but the first 75% are by no means castaways. Red Queen isn't a slow book. Red Queen isn't an uneventful book. Parts of this action, including the ending, are predictable, but parts were fresh twists on established twists, and ones which left plenty of room for intrigue and, frankly, very very good things to come in the future.

Come into my TBR, book 2. I have high hopes for you yet. (After all, Son 2 turned out more interesting than Son 1. Perhaps it's a running theme.)




I would also be very interested in your opinion: does Mare Barrow rhyme with bone marrow on purpose, or was this just an unfortunate coincidence? How did you enjoy Red Queen overall, or have you yet to pick it up? Leave us a comment below, or find us on all kinds of social media, where we - as usual - plot to take over the world. We're silver like that.


11 comments:

  1. This is honestly the best description of the book I've read to date. I highly disliked it but couldn't find words to describe why it's so lacking. Thank you.

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    1. I'll admit I was quite nervous about this review, mostly because I fell into neither the BURN THE BOOK nor the FRAME THE BOOK camp - and those were the only two I've seen so far where Red Queen is concerned. I couldn't be happier I have like-minded cohorts like yourself after all. :)

      The dislike for me really just boiled down to the excess of trope (the Red Rising similarities are kind of startling, right down to the protagonist's name), the lack of depth to the world and to the characters. When you get 3 love interests and you aren't sold on the romance, and when you get 5-6 relevant characters and you don't really care about them... there's a problem.

      Also, did the world really need motorcycles? Did it really? Really?

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  3. I completely agree with this 110%, and I second Teena's comment in that this is one of the most spot-on descriptions of the book I've read. I felt that this was a really entertaining book, but it didn't really have much originality or umph to it. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ♥

    ~ Zoe @ Stories on Stage

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    1. Zoe! *faints daintily* (Because text is the only place where I can be dainty.) I casually stalk your blog. And by "casually" I mean "all the time, but only since a month ago when I found it".

      I keep holding out hope that the next book in this series will diverge from The Trope a bit and do its own thing. After all, the ending was kind of the best part, so it isn't an unreasonable hope. But as far as the rest of it... the Flashback Factor was so, so very present. And constant. I just went and dug up your review and - yes - we feel the exact same way. I have found my people!

      Thank you very much for stopping by! ♥

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  4. Your Currently Reading is I'll Give You The Sun, 172 Hours On The Moon and The Anatomy of Curiosity? Respect for reading 3 completely different books at the same time, wow.

    This review is so perfect because you're exactly right on every single point. RQ doesn't suck but it's so unoriginal it hurts. Barrow-Darrow... what was the author thinking? And I agree, I remember I also stopped and stared at the motorcycle scene, because how are there motorcycles in that world? I guess it's the Hunger Games and Darkest Minds influence.

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    1. If the world had just settled on one thing, it would have been so much more immersive. If the characters had been less borrowed (and more blue), it would have been so much easier to tell them apart from other characters (being blue will do that to a person). The constant I'LL JUST BORROW THIS, THANK YOU VERY MUCH that the book was doing throughout was ultimately its downfall for me.

      (And re: those books... it's really me putting one down and picking a new one up, and less of an impressive unicycling juggle stunt.) Thank you for the comment!

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  5. It was like a pretty much OMG STAHP read for me. *sigh* I mean, I gave it 3 too, because you're so spot on: entertaining! but unoriginal! It's also like The Hunger Games meets The Selection meets Red Rising. I felt like EVERYTHING was 100% borrowed from somewhere else. Grrrrr. And maybe it was just coincidence? But I feel like authors should be more careful to avoid sounding too much like famous books. *sigh*
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

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    1. Caitttt! ♥

      I was promised a shocking ending to make up for the overall lack of originality of the rest of the book. But said ending was done before in a popular YA series not that long ago. (Not sure I should say which, because MOTHER OF SPOILERS, but y'know.) So it really is as you said - every single thing seemed to have been borrowed from elsewhere. Having said that, were the things the author chose to borrow interesting? Absolutely.

      This really ties into your recent post about SHOULD WE AVOID THE BEEN-THERE-DONE-THAT? And, whatever the answer, this level of Been-There-Done-That is quite overwhelming, even to a patient reader.

      Thank you very much for stopping by! (I am a loyal fangirl.) ♥

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  6. I saw the hardcover for 40% off at Walmart and I debated buying it - and strangely enough, I am more inclined to buy it now. I do like to be entertained and sometimes I enjoy the tropes :) That said, it helps bringing down a bit of the hype

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    1. That's EXACTLY what I hoped people would get out of this review, Stefanie. :) You can expect to be entertained if you don't mind tropes and cliches too much. As long as you go into it with reasonable expectations, it could go over well. I imagine this is a good book to break up a streak of a few EPIC reads. You know - down time. (Not that it doesn't try to be dramatic, it's just that... I've seen it all before. So I was quite relaxed reading this.) I hope you have a similar experience. Or, hopefully, a BETTER one.

      - Lexie

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