This is a world divided by blood – red or silver. The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.
That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.
Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.
But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated Red Queen as 4.08 out of 5
Red Queen is book one in a quadrilogy. Had I known it was a quadrilogy before I purchased it, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up – not because I am anti reading book series – but because I have I sworn off buying trilogies or series until all remaining books are published. I’m looking at you George R.R. Martin. You are the reason.
Unfortunately, I thought I was buying a single book so here we are.
I wanted to like this book so badly. My love for young adult and fantasy seemed to combine in this book plus I have a fondness of books which contain female heroines. Contrary to some vocal opinions out there, strong female characters in fiction (and YA fiction) is not an overwhelming statistic.
NB: If you want me to compile statistics on female protagonists versus male protagonists in fiction then so help me, I will.
For me, the fundamental issue with this book hinges on one main component – the protagonist. The protagonist is important. You follow their journey, either because you need to experience their triumph over adversity or – if they happen to be an evil or morally grey) protagonist – you need to experience their downfall.
The problem I have is that I found Mare, our main character and someone who we should want to triumph, completely unlikeable.
As the books are written in first person narrative and we can only see events unfold through the eyes of Mare, I would say it is quite important that the reader cares about and empathises with the main character. Whilst protagonists can be unlikeable or have deep characters flaws I found Mare to be so selfish and self-indulgent that I genuinely struggled to follow her journey.
I hate to compare Mare against what I think is one of the ultimate YA fictional characters because I don’t think direct comparisons are fair but in this case, I will aim to justify it. Shout out goes to Katniss from The Hunger Games.
So why do I feel that comparisons between Red Queen against The Hunger Games is fair? It goes beyond the main characters and into copy-paste territory. For me, Red Queen pretty much feels like a lighter version of The Hunger Games and many other YA works that have come before it. Here is my mini-checklist, apply it to whatever is appropriate: –
- Young adult heroine fighting against a totalitarian society with a ‘them vs. us’ set up
- Unique trait or ability that makes her special amongst her peers
- Has greatness suddenly thrust upon them whether they like it or not (spoiler: they never like it)
- Usually acts as the voice or figurehead of a rebellion (again, this must be done reluctantly)
- There is a sibling, possibly a younger sister who is filled with the purest of pureness and who is very much loved by the protagonist
- A wise mentor who tries to aid the protagonist in her quest will make an appearance
- One male childhood best friend – whatever happens she can’t have strong, supportive friendships with other females
- There is a kind and emotionally capable love interest who the protagonist tries to convince herself isn’t a love interest
- There is a love triangle (that solitary male childhood best friend is usually included)
- There will be a popular nickname that is used instead of her real name
- Is there an arena? Or arena like location? A maze will also do.
My thoughts are that Red Queen is adhering to a tried and tested formula, a ‘paint by number’s’ approach to writing, borrowing from what has previously been successful without bothering with any originality. Ouch. That’s a harsh statement. But it’s pretty much how I feel.
One of my most particular concerns (especially as this is a book aimed at the female young adult audience) is how Mare still pines towards one of the potential love interests all the way through to the end of book two. Yes, I
skimmed read book two. This is also one of the reasons that I grew to dislike the main character and especially during the sequel that I briefly glanced through while rolling my eyes thoroughly read. The character she pines for is the one that betrays her during book one (spoilers, sorry!) and who begins to commit mass genocide.
Whereas that particular plot point could have been written with an element of complexity – an individual with a history of being controlled by a loving but ultimately emotionally manipulative parent and in a new position of power struggling to find their way (after death of said parent) and believing that what they are doing is the ‘right’ thing for their country – it wasn’t. Instead it is treated as though Mare is yearning over a regular teenage ‘bad boy’ instead of one responsible for horrific incidents of torture and the deaths of babies.
You can’t tell me that young adult fiction can’t deal with complex elements such as the above. They have, they do and many future books will continue to do so and will do it superbly. The teenage audience is not an unintelligent one so I get irritated when something that may be ‘difficult’ for the writer is watered down and it’s excused as being due to the young adult audience.
Ahem. Moving on.
My main gripe as you can probably tell is with the protagonist. Once that has been turned off for me it is very hard for me to get on board with the book. The other characters are forgettable, the setting is forgettable and the story follows the paint by numbers approach with nothing new added.
That said, the writing is not the worst and there isn’t anything resembling overwrought purple prose. They weren’t hard to read books and I feel that there were some glimmers of hope – I managed to finish(!) it which is always a plus, but as I’ve written above I feel let down by both the protagonist and the formulaic approach to YA Fantasy.
If I’m being honest I’m going say that these books have been written to secure a movie deal which will probably do well as a movie because you should never ever underestimate the power of the teenage girl demographic and movie studios desire to make more money.
PS. As mentioned I did read the second book in the series but I would say it was like boiled rice. Plain and forgettable. I had actually forgotten I had read it until editing this review.
PPS. I won’t be bothering with books three and four. Four was only written to string out the series as it was originally a trilogy. Turns out the story couldn’t be told in three books. Apparently.
When I first reviewed this I gave it a two as I didn’t think it was all that bad. On reflection I have removed a star because I actually didn’t like it all that much.