Life as a Red in Norta is not easy. Reds are normal in every way–forced into poverty and manual labor while Silvers, the silver-blooded elite with nearly inconceivable abilities, rule the land. Mare Barrow doesn’t like anything about the Silvers but she understands that they are unstoppable; impossible to fight.
But Mare is also almost eighteen and with no job prospects beyond petty theft in her future, she knows that she will be drafted into the military soon to fight in the decades long war against the Lakelanders. The same thing happened to all of her brothers before her.
Mare is resigned to her fate until one false step reveals that Mare, like the Silvers, has a shocking ability never before seen in a Red. Suddenly Mare is drawn into the middle of Norta’s class warfare disguised as a long-lost Silver princess. While rebellion brews and the Silver king tries to keep the unhappy masses in check, Mare will have to balance the dazzling luxury of the Silver world with everything she holds dear and everything she is willing to sacrifice for freedom for herself and her people in Red Queen (2015) by Victoria Aveyard.
Red Queen is Aveyard’s debut novel. It is also the first book in her Red Queen trilogy.
Red Queen is being marketed as Graceling meets The Selection which in many ways is very true as this book includes special abilities and romance at court. It is, however, much darker in tone than The Selection with a much stronger focus on rebellion and revolution. For that reason The Hunger Games is a comparison that makes a bit more sense.
Obviously, Red Queen has quite a few similarities to other fantasy titles. It also, however, has a very unique world as conceived by Aveyard. The dichotomy between Reds and Silvers is explained well and takes the story in interesting directions as Mare walks the line between Red and Silver throughout the story. Unfortunately the division between Reds and Silvers remains very one dimensional for most of the novel as Silvers are generally seen as ruthless and calculating while Reds are oppressed and exploited. Both are true but it felt heavy-handed to say that every Silver would follow these same ideals and ways of thinking despite class divisions among the elite.
Mare is a frank narrator but she is also often reckless to the point of harming herself and those she cares about. Her motivations throughout the story–when she chooses to join the Red rebellion or during her rather fuzzy love triangle–are murky at best. Readers learn early on why Mare wants to fight the Silvers, why she is drawn to the person who holds her affections, but it never feels quite sincere enough or believable enough to justify the risks Mare takes.
The pacing in Red Queen is not perfect either. Scenes of lavish court balls and machinations alternate with high action fights or training sequences that make the middle part of the novel choppy. The narrative loses all sense of urgency as Mare moves between learning basics of Silver protocol and planning acts of rebellion in an often aimless manner.
Red Queen is a strong debut both for Aveyard and for this trilogy. While not ideal for readers who like their fantasies to have a lot of nuance, Red Queen is ideal for anyone seeking the next big action-packed series that is sure to have everyone talking.
Possible Pairings: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Legend by Marie Lu, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace