I’ve read a lot of young adult fantasy novels. Granted, not as many as some other readers, but I also read enough, in general, to feel like I know when people can’t come up with anything “new under the sun.” In the past decade or so, as there has been such a surge of young adult literature, I’ve begun to feel as though I know all the stories, that nothing will surprise or impress me. Well, authors keep proving me wrong, and Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen did just that.
Aveyard’s Red Queen—the sequel to which is out just next month, on the 9th of February, tells the story of Mare Barrow, a young Red girl in a world dominated by Silvers. The Reds and Silvers are divided not only by the color of their blood, but also by their status—Silvers are “gods” come to earth—and the fact that Silvers possess supernatural abilities. The “wow” factor of the book, for me, was the rich world and history Aveyard created, as well as the depth and breadth of the skills the Silvers possess. Some manipulate physical aspects of nature and can do anything from prompt flowers to flourish or create whirlpools of water, to manipulate metal into deadly tools or shatter someone’s very person. Others possess more sinister abilities: they can read minds, erase memories or create false ones, and even take complete control over a person’s mind and body.
Mare knows her place in this world dominated by the “gods” that she says are no longer kind. And in fact, as she is to find out, most of them are anything but kind. She attends the required, routine shows of Silver strength, in which two Silver opponents fight each other as a show of domination and power, then are put back to rights by Silver healers. She helps to support her injured and jobless father the only way she can—using her skills at stealth and sleight of hand. Her favorite brother, Shade (she has two others), has gone off to fulfill his mandatory conscription as all Reds must, and her younger sister, Gisa, is a talented apprentice to a seamstress.
When an unfortunate series of events robs Gisa of her apprenticeship—and therefore the family of their steadiest source of income—and Mare learns that her best friend, Kilorn, has also lost his apprenticeship and faces conscription, she becomes desperate for a solution. After a night of picking pockets to find some money for her family, Silver soldiers come and summon her to the royal household, on orders from the crown prince himself.
What comes next is nothing anyone expects, especially Mare. She finds herself at the center of a world—and a plot to destroy it—bigger than she ever imagined.
As soon as I finished reading, I wanted the next one, Glass Sword. I settled for reading Cruel Crown, a book of two novellas that provide backstory on two of the women integral to Mare’s story. “Steel Scars” tells the story of Farley (whose first name we finally learn!) before she became a symbol of and captain in the rebellion. “Queen Song” introduces readers to Queen Coriane, the tragic queen who came before the nefarious Elara, and mother of Prince Tiberias the Seventh. The stories are told in such different styles and with different tones that readers can feel the difference between the two women; “Steel Scars” even includes backstory on Shade.
All of the stories weave together, and Aveyard creates a vivid world—and characters—for her readers. While I haven’t read either series the book is compared to (Graceling, The Selection), I can say that fans of strong, snarky female characters, political intrigue and scandal, and fantasy will love Red Queen.
Graceling meets The Selection in debut novelist Victoria Aveyard’s sweeping tale of seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose once-latent magical power draws her into the dangerous intrigue of the king’s palace. Will her power save her or condemn her?
Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood–those with common, Red blood serve the Silver- blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.
To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard–a growing Red rebellion–even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.