Sunday, June 7, 2015

Book Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

The best place to spend a Saturday is in a bookstore. A few months ago, my cousin and I were doing just that, wandering the young adult section and rolling our eyes at various summaries. Then we spotted Red Queen. Both of us expected it to be another over-hyped, uninspiring release, but we were still curious enough to crack it open.

I was halfway through the summary when I looked over at my cousin. "This actually sounds interesting," I admitted. "I want to read it."

"I was about to say the same thing," she agreed.

Rather than buying the book on the spot, though (self-control. It's a true test in bookstores), I saved the title and moved on. After that trip, the book seemed to be everywhere. Was there no other title book tubers and Instagram users could share? A few weeks later, my cousin bought her own copy... And proceeded to send me a series of fangirl texts about the emotional distress it was causing her. She passed the book onto me after it finished breaking her heart, and I started in on it. I had figured out a couple of spoilers, but I was still determined to read it with an open mind. I finished it earlier this week, and here are some of my thoughts. If you've already read the book, I'd love to hear how you agree and disagree on some of these points! If you haven't, don't worry- this post is guaranteed spoiler-free.

Here's a grammatically incorrect yet adorable cat to prove it.

Now, onto the review! First up, a little introduction to the world of Red Queen. 

Mare Barrow doesn't stand out in a crowd. From an impoverished family, thieving is her only talent and option. When she comes of age, she'll be conscripted into the army, doomed to die alongside countless others born with red blood. The Reds, as they are called, are ruled by the silver-blooded elites, known simply as Silvers. With their boundless privileges and unparalleled strength, the Silvers seem godlike and untouchable. Considered inferior, there is no chance for the Reds to be free of their Silver oppression. That is, until Mare finds herself entangled in the forbidden Silver world. With the lines blurring between her Red blood and Silver connections, she's drawn into a dangerous dance. Used to hiding among a crowd, Mare is now watched by a nation. As she blends into the Silver world, trying to hide in the public eye, Mare searches for a way to free the Reds. One wrong step could prove her last. With so much at stake, how can Mare stay true to her origins? Whom can she trust, and where does she truly belong? Can she save her people, or will her efforts only spill more blood- both Red and Silver? 

My Thoughts: 

Initially, I wasn't overly fond of anyone. Mare didn't seem to have a great deal of personality at first, or maybe I just needed to get to know her better. It's probably the latter, because as the story progressed, I found myself empathizing more and cheering her on. Even when she made me groan, and I wanted to yell at her, "WHY DID YOU DO THAT? IT IS GOING TO END SO BADLY!" I cared about her and what was going to happen to her. She deals with a lot, and even when she doesn't handle situations well, she does the best she can.  I will admit, she's something of the stereotypical "strong" female protagonist, and reminds me a lot of Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games. However, that Katniss-element suited the story and Mare's journey. She needed to be tough to survive, and she has plenty of emotional moments to prove that even the strongest girls fall apart sometimes. Besides, snarky characters can be quite lovable in their own way. For all Mare's prickles, she proves deeply loyal and noble. The sequel to Red Queen is set to release sometime in 2016, and I'll be glad to come alongside Mare again.  
I'm also really looking forward to reuniting with certain secondary characters! There was a handful I found particularly well done. Unfortunately, there were others who fell flat. Several seemed to display only one trait, or lack proper motivation. At times, I found myself inventing my own backstories to explain certain characters, because I couldn't accept that there was only one dimension to them. More often, though, the other characters carry the plot so well, the flat ones don't need much notice.

As can be the case with books involving politics and large-scale governments, the plot wasn't always easy to keep track of. (Or maybe that was the result of too many late nights reading.) That's part of the fun, though. Mare spends a lot of time trying to determine the best course of action, and we get to sort it out alongside her. There are constant ups and downs. Mare never gets to fully relax, and neither do we. Reading this book left me breathless at times, and the action is impossible to pull away from. Nearly every time I thought I had something figured out, the plot would ricochet in the other direction. There are some elements in Red Queen that felt a little cliche; there were a few characters I was convinced I had met in other stories. However, Victoria Aveyard takes those elements and weaves them together to produce a book that is still unique overall. Even the love triangle has enough of a new spin to be interesting. (For the record, the choice is still almost impossible.) My emotions were constantly conflicting, and even after the last page, I feel torn. Looking back over the chapters, I can see the foreshadowing and some great quotes, but during my first read through I couldn't be bothered to stop for those. No, I had to know what was coming. (Technically, I already had an idea, thanks to spoilers and such. Yet even with that knowledge, I had to keep reading.) 

Setting is an important part of Red Queen, especially as it highlights the difference between the Red and Silver worlds. The contrast is like night and day, and Victoria Aveyard does an excellent job building both sides of this tumultuous nation. The details are insightful but not overpowering; I could easily visualize both the palace and the slums, without being given a full tour of either. I wouldn't want to personally visit the world of Red Queen, but for the purpose of the story, I feel I already have. 

There's a lot of hype surrounding Red Queen right now, which made this review a little bit harder to write. While I don't consider it to be a revolutionary work of Young Adult fiction (although there is a revolution of sorts in it,) it was definitely worth the read. The story gets better as it builds, and although the end wasn't a total cliff hanger, 2016 seems too long to wait for a sequel. Red Queen was one of the most fun books I've read this year. It keep me engaged the entire time, and I found it really easy to get lost in. I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open for news of a sequel. In the meantime, I suggest you read the first book if you haven't done so. I'll need someone else to anticipate book two with me. ;)

Have you experienced Red Queen yet? If you have, what did you think? If not, are you planning to read it? 


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