Saturday, 28 February 2015

Book Review - Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Lower class protagonist rising up to infiltrate the ruling elite... sound familiar? Well it should... it is a well worn trope that has become quite popular again in recent years (Red Rising by Pierce Brown and Hunger Games to an extent) with readers... and it is from this movement that Red Queen originates from. 

Red Queen tells the tale of Mare, a member of the Reds (lower class) whose blood is normal and red in colour. She, like every other normal Red, scrapes out a meagre existence whilst under the subjugation of the Silvers, nobles whose blood is silver in colour and magical in nature. One day she unwittingly crosses paths with some Silvers as a servant at the palace and discovers that she has latent magical abilities. Made a noble, and thrust into a life of power, deception, war and betrayal, Mare must decide where her loyalties lie as talk of a rebellion grows and the Silvers move to crush it. 

I enjoyed many things about Red Queen. Firstly I loved the world Aveyard has built in this first novel. Yes the world is very similar in some ways to other dystopian novels like The Hunger Games and Red Rising, but there was enough originality to keep me enthralled and interested from start to finish. Norta itself is described wonderfully, and I was fascinated by the city of The Stilts (where Mare lives). Aveyard also does a wonderful job in really conveying the gloomy and dystopian nature of the world in Red Queen, and there are little tidbits of information littered throughout the story kept me guessing as to whether or not this was a parallel universe, future dystopia, or a secondary fantasy world. 

Secondly I loved the notion that blood equals power, and I adored how the society was broken into groups based on the colour of their blood, not their skin, race, or gender. Each Silver was also enthralling in that their blood gifted them only one power that was unique to them (manipulation of water for example). It constantly kept me on my toes whilst reading as I tried to guess the nature of the power (very much similar to Brian Stanley's magical well's in his books). I thought Aveyard handled all of this brilliantly, and I got a real sense of fatalistic hopelessness when she wrote about the Reds.

Finally, the plot itself is fast paced, solid (without being amazing) and entertaining. I really got into the political games of the Silvers, and I was glued to the fact that Mare had to hide and lie about her power due to the colour of her blood. What made it even more gripping was the fact that the ruling King and Queen know she is a red, but they have chosen to cover it up and marry her to their son in order to maintain the status quo and protect their interests from other rival Silvers. 

Sadly, what lets this book down is it's characterisation. Mare herself is interesting and funny, and the various Silvers throughout the book are mostly fascinating (except the King, who is about as cliched and boring as you can get in a character), but I found myself wanting more depth as I read. I wanted to delve deeper into who Mare was, who the Silvers are, and all of their motivations, desires, and fears. By the end of the book my first thought was 'god what a cool universe... shame about the lack of greater characterisation'. And therein lies my beef with Red Queen. It is a really cool universe that is basically let down by its lack of character development and attachment. A great example of this lack of development are the romantic subplots for Mare that pretty much go nowhere by the end of the story. If Aveyard can resolve this issue with book 2 then it is my belief that she is onto a real winner here. 

Another lesser issue that may bother some people is Aveyard's use of worn tropes throughout the novel. The one that really stood out for me is the wise old wizard (Julian), who basically becomes Mare's mentor and has her best interests at heart. Yes, this is a classic fantasy trope, and yes it is cliched and unoriginal, but I didn't really mind. Like Robin Hobb has written, tropes are tropes because we love them so much. I really liked Julian's character. 

All in all Red Queen is a solid and entertaining read with some magnificent world building and ideas that is ultimately let down by weak characterisation. If you liked The Hunger Games, Divergent, or Red Rising then you will enjoy Red Queen. 

3 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided. 

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