Published: February 10th 2015 by HachetteAU
Format: ARC, 320 pages
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The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.
To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.
Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of
those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.
But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?
An admirable début novel that combines a rags-to-riches story with a dystopian world and the powers of the X-Men, Red Queen will please a varied audience. I enjoyed reading it but have to concede that there is almost nothing original about it, and that it ultimately failed to wow me in the way that it could have.
This story-world is set in a future version of our world with two marked differences. The first is that the countries we are familiar with no longer exist and technological advancement has regressed for unknown reasons. The second is that a series of genetic mutations have caused humanity to split into two groups: the Silvers – who have silver blood and abilities that are literally out of this world – and the Reds, who lost out in the genetic lottery and are as plain and lacking in powers as you and me. The Silvers are warm and protected in their castles, eating food that Reds have farmed for them, wearing fine clothes and jewellery Reds have created for them, and enjoying the peace and prosperity that comes from the sacrifice of Red soldiers at the front-lines of a horrendous war with a rival empire. The Reds are kept in check through a series of oppressive laws and customs, poverty, and forced conscription.
It is an interesting world that I enjoyed exploring, but I don’t feel like I got enough information about its history. I wanted to know how the empire came about, how the war began, how the Silvers began oppressing the Reds in the first place. I hope this is covered in the next books! I also liked that the Reds were rebelling against the Silvers, and the role that the rebels played. I’m looking forward to the sequel to see what happens on this front as well.
Red Queen not only introduces us to this world, but also acquaints us with Mare Barrow, a Red who steals for a living to give her family a slightly brighter future. Mare is plucky and courageous, intelligent and passionate in her beliefs. Her three older brothers are already fighting on the front lines and she will be joining them soon. Mare is saved from this horrible fate by a stranger who gets her a job at the royal palace, but this turns out to be a curse instead of a blessing when everyone discovers that Mare isn’t all she seems.
Mare has red blood but also has an ability. This makes her dangerous because she breaks all the known rules of our story-world. Predictably, the truth comes out in front of every single Silverblood in the land, so the King and Queen have to hide Mare’s secret by claiming she’s a Silver, the long-lost daughter of a family who died out a generation ago. Everyone gobbles up this lie without thinking how silly it is: it implies that no one, including Mare, had ever seen her blood in seventeen years. Once we get over this tiny hurdle, we can appreciate Mare’s slow assimilation into Silver life, complete with montage of her learning the histories and customs of the Silvers. Oh and dancing, because no YA book about pretending to be royalty is complete without learning how to ballroom dance with a prince. To keep Mare close to them, the King and Queen arrange for her to be betrothed to their second son, Maven. Unfortunately for Mare, crown prince Cal is much hunkier than Maven. Before long she’s embroiled in a dangerous political game where she doesn’t know the players or understand the rules.
I was disappointed in Mare’s myopic views about how evil the Silvers were. She was grateful to the stranger who got her a job at the palace until she found out they were a Silver, whereupon her thankfulness turned into hate and a feeling of having been tricked. Later, Mare can’t bring herself to feel sorry for one of her ‘rivals’ when her brother is about to die – this from a girl with three brothers that she’s constantly worrying about! Mare hated this girl on sight (the feeling was mutual), and didn’t meet a girl her own age that she got along with. All the girls in this book are weirdly catty and jealous. It’s always disappointing when teen girls are represented like this. Even the girls in The Selection made some friendships. All of this made Mare seem shallow, perhaps unintentionally.
Why can’t the boys in YA books find other girls to like? I recently read an article that postulated (among many other things) that the ratio of women to men in YA must be something like 30:70 to explain the number of boys who fall for the same girl and compete for her affections. Alongside the two Silver princes, there is also Mare’s best friend from home – he basically has no chance and is only used by the author to remind Mare that she’s left people behind (just like Gale, who only hung around to remind Katniss of everything she’d lost).
There’s no doubt that this novel almost entirely a re-hashing of well worn tropes in the genre, but it’s brought to life well. The setting is vivid and the contrast between the lives of Reds and Silvers admirably conveyed. It lacked subtlety (for example, I’ll never forget the scene where Katniss and Peeta find out people in the Capitol forcibly vomit so they can keep eating), but made up for it in richness. I only wish that the characters had some of this brilliance!
The downside to reading a lot in a particular genre is that almost everything feels like it’s been done before. What impresses me is what’s been done differently: how tropes have been subverted or made unique and Red Queen unfortunately lacks all of that. It has nothing in its execution that makes it stand apart from other stories that are like it. It’s an entertaining story – one that I liked and will follow in the future – but it lacks a certain magic that would have made it memorable.