There is a tipping point with books that combine many different elements. While I lean toward a book that has one genre and does it well, there are exceptions and The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard is one of them.
I didn’t even pick this book up thinking of it for this blog as I didn’t think it was a dystopian or apocalyptic novel, so I just going to read it for myself. Considering how hard I am finding it to read and review one book a week, it didn’t seem like that was a wise choice. However, a book I thought was faintly fantasy or sci fi, turned out to be something very different.
So how would I characterize this book? That’s the sticky part as it defies characterization with its elements of fantasy, dystopian, sci fi, apocalyptic and something more. I did find some similar elements to Red Rising, a book I previously reviewed and esteem. No, not just because they both have ‘Red’ in the title! Although they do share the concept of class warfare, with the Reds oppressed by a stronger, wealthier race, in The Red Queen that’s the Silvers and in Red Rising, that’s the Golds funnily enough. Both protagonists are living a lie, pretending to be one of the upper caste, for reasons of both survival and ultimately revenge. However, both Mare and Darrow quickly realize that the class they both hate is full of exceptions, people whom they come to care for that don’t fit the stereotype, and within those exceptions also comes the possibility of soul destroying betrayal.
As my review of Red Rising and Golden Son is already on this blog, I will focus the rest of this review on The Red Queen. Mare Barrow doesn’t amount to much on paper, she isn’t heroic like her father damaged in the long war, she isn’t big and strong like her three brothers, and she is not talented like her little sister Gisa whose embroidery skills keep the family from starvation. Reds have a hard life in the kingdom of Norte which is ruled by the Silvers, who conscript teens to fight their never ending war against other Silver kingdoms, it’s this thread that develops the dystopian story. Mare’s three brothers are off fighting and she dreads the idea that they will die as so many have. She herself may soon join them as anyone with a trade apprenticeship or job is conscripted when they turn seventeen and it would kill her mother to lose another. In the meantime, she risks her families’ disapproval by stealing to supplement the family’s income, accompanied by her best friend since childhood, Kilorn who is fortunate to be an apprentice. However, when Kilorn loses his apprenticeship Mare risks all to find a way to smuggle him somewhere safe before the military can come for him. It is this task that puts her in the path of both freedom fighters and a prince of her ruling family.
Mare Barrow who didn’t amount to much on paper may be the most special of all as a harrowing circumstance reveals she belongs to neither the Red or Silver Society; she is something different. Hiding in plain sight, her time with the Silvers also has some elements of stories like The Selection and the Chemical Garden series. However, the powers of the Silvers bring in a fantasy element as the have otherworldly abilities. I didn’t even realize that this book would actually fit my blog until deep into the book, when talks of maps of the ‘old world’ and tunnels with a train, which is really a subway, hinted that maybe this world of Reds and Silvers is actually our own and this book takes place well into our future. I even wonder if the abilities of the Silvers came from chemical warfare or something as there is mention in the story of a Dead Zone where no one goes, and nothing grows. Well, I will have to wait a bit to see if I am right as the sequel is not out yet.