Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Friday, January 23, 2015
Title: Red Queen
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Genre: fantasy 
Series: Red Queen #1
Pages: 400
Published: expected February 10 2015
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

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.

Another target of the hype machine and a good cover, Red Queen is nowhere near as awesome we hoped, but it's also not as bad as I feared. I can see (if I squint) the comparisons to Graceling (ps PLEASE STOP COMPARING EVERY YA FANTASY WITH A FEMALE CHARACTER TO GRACELING) but this is far more in the vein of The Selection than anything else it's been compared to in the epic marketing campaign behind this book. And while there is action to be found, on the whole Red Queen is more concerned with romance and labeling people into groups (Like.. Red Rising does. Like Divergent. Like The Hunger Games. See a pattern?) than it is in creating a viable fictional world, or even fully-rounded characters. It's a mixed bag of elements carried off to varied degrees of success.

The problem with Red Queen is that it tries so much to be so many things, to do so much - fantasy! dystopia! romance!, supernatural powers! fomenting a rebellion!-- the execution could never match the premise. It's an ambitious novel and while some of it worked for me, a lot left me scratching my head in confusion or rolling my eyes. For a book that tries so so hard to be original, it can all read and feel mind numbingly familiar to anyone who reads YA on a semi-regular basis. The division of people into groups, the ill-fated romance, the love triangle that posses zero chemistry... it just all left me so cold. When I liked Red Queen, it was when most of these factors were not involved. Mare/Mareena herself was intriguing but she was hampered by her surroundings and the plot half the time.

Getting back to Mare, she was a... decent character. For such a long book, though, I can't help but feel that I never really knew her, or totally understood her. I liked that she was proactive and involved in saving herself but she is distant from the reader in a way that made it hard to empathize or sympathize. All the useless girl-on-girl hate (though admittedly not limited to just coming from Mare) is problematic. If the only way to craft a "strong" character is to limit or stigmatize all other female characters....well... that's not really an empowered female character, is it? I have no problem with Mare being unlikeable at times, but having nearly all women hate her makes it even harder to connect with her.

Red Queen is also pretty slow, though in fantasy I don't mind that so much. Stories take time to build into more, but Red Queen almost seemed stalled several times. I would've appreciated it more if that slowness was due to expanding worldbuilding or establishing secondary characters to an identifiable degree. The worldbuilding is so slight it would topple from a swift exhalation from a mouse, really. The premise of Silvers (nobility/supernatural abilites) and Reds (low class, nongifted) is established early, but it's like Divergent in that it's a pretty silly system. If the book had focused more on creating and developing the tension between the two classes (beyond BECAUSE REASONS), both the worldbuilding and the novel itself would have been much stronger. Less romance, more foundation, please.

For all my issues listed above, I did enjoy Red Queen enough to rate it a 3/5 and mark the sequel to-read on Goodreads. If you can turn off your brain it makes for an interesting read. It just definitely feels (and reads) like a debut novel -- so many small missteps that add up over the course of the 400 pages and take away from what does work. I would say borrow not buy this series opener -- or at least wait for the cheaper paperback in a few months.


  1. Your review is what makes me hesitant to read this book. I've seen a lot of good reviews but this one nails some elements in the book I know I'd find problematic.

    Good job!

  2. I feel like this too about Red Queen. It reminded me of so many other books. I'm so sad because I had high hopes. It seems like most are liking it but Bleh--I'm with you. Not all the impressed.

  3. This looks like a pig pile of mush. The way you're describing it makes it sound like the statements that it's similar to Red Rising and Divergent even more true. This just...well I can't say much since I haven't read it yet, but DAMN.

  4. I've read a lot of mixed reviews so I think I'll go in with lower expectations than I might have had...but I do want to read it. It sounds fun and I guess I'll have to see how much the similar to other books elements bother me. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. But your review is very fair and good food for thought.

  5. No no no...I wanted this one to be AWESOME!!! ARG. Well, I am here to lower my expectations and will buy it when it comes out.


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