[Review] Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard

Book Title:                  Red Queen (Red Queen, #01)
Author:                         Victoria Aveyard
Number of pages:   383

Synopsis:

red queen - victoria aveyard coverThe 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?

(re: Goodreads @ Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard)

Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr spoiler-less review:

— Takes the memorable of other [dystopian] worlds and mashes it all up into a new story
— World building is superficially superb but lacks context to really bring the grit of caste societies full circle and feel urgency toward
— Though it is High Fantasy, it feels as though Romance eclipses all other genres. Fundamentally a love-triangle/V but can be seen as a love-pyramid (there are that many suitors…)
— Blends engaging action sequences with morally ambiguous conflicts seen through characters who stand taller by themselves. Developmental-wise, it’s a solid showing for a first installment
— Rating: 2/5

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Initial Thoughts:

After months of promising that I would read this…you have all been gifted with a stream of vomit under the cut.

Disclaimer: Potential spoilers inherent to this review from here onward.


Afterthoughts:

When everything first started, I really thought I could roll with the happenings. I was all “fuck yeah—pacing! action! shitty governments! friendzone! excitement!” but no, it just seems all too familiar. Is it unfair to say that Red Queen gives off vibes of other franchises? Yeah. But what am I to do when I read x and think of y? (That was rhetorical.) I have no problem with books that reach into the SF-F trope grab bag and loot whatever needs to be used to tell a story—it’s inherently the starting point—however when it comes time to stand on its own…I hope it does just that. (It didn’t.)

This seems to be the issue with how “polarizing” so many reviews have been. It is Hunger Games (a la arena combat). It is Game of Thrones (a la Wedding and family nobility). It is The Selection with the pandering of Disney true-love-Cinderella-bullshit. It is Avatar: The Last Airbender with weaving elemental prowess. It is Divergent with the specialness of The Little Lightning Girl—oh wait—we just stepped back into the other franchise! I have also seen it being credited to Red Rising but I haven’t read that so I can’t say. But I have seen a similar concept of rags-to-riches employment through Sunset Rising, where the MC is sent to work in the work upstairs and becomes involved with the prince etcetera. But I digress.

It is all these things [and more] permeating throughout this first installment that inhibit my reasoning to distinguish this story in a sea of others that are similar.

Let’s break it down.


Premise

Red Queen follows Mare Barrow (distant cousin of House Wheel—get it?), a thieving townie living life by the day in the caste system placed on her Red-blooded community. Follow the rules, contribute to society, and when you’re of age, enter conscription. It is the only life she has known; and her entry into conscription is upon the horizon. When she learns of the cost to escape, Mare ventures into Silver territory and does what she knows best: steal. Only she gets caught by a hooded man—and worse—finds herself called to work in a Silver palace; the home of the king himself.


Setting

The world of Red Queen is visually sound. The barren wasteland of Mare’s home manages to stay provocatively bleak while the lifestyle of Silvers paints a pristine version of claustrophobia. I felt the suffocation in being monitored and the perilous danger in living in a home away from home. The writing evokes a sense of descriptive restraint that I felt gave enough without being overbearing. It is solid from that standpoint.

But then we get into the actual grit of expositive world-building; the meat and potatoes substance separating the contents of one book with another. This is where Red Queen starts to become a bit of a doozy. In many cases, I can be forgiving when there are future books to support the holes in earlier instalments. However, I feel as though there’s this knowledge gap that would have really propped up the story and separated itself from the pack. Why/how are there different [coloured] bloods?  What is the history between both tiers of lifestyle?  What is this war they fought?  What of the exploration of genetics as it influences latent (physiological) ability?

The bottom line is this: Reds continue to suffer the antics of Silvers—but why? Because Reds are pro-life? Because they have families to take care of? I’m sorry but if you know your world is shit, where is the brilliance in raising a family of 5 children? I know it’s rather cynical but there has to be some sort of expectation that the next-gen will lead better lives than what you have experienced as a parent. This isn’t just about info-dumps and history; it’s about building context.  

Creating any culture of fear is fine so long as it is rooted in back story. Readers can blindly assume that there’s a historical divide; an us versus them mentality reinforced using arena battles to showcase power and superiority. But fear mongering for the sake of itself does not paint a story anymore than the values and preconceived biases readers automatically bring into the book. Case in point: we’d believe their situations are terrible without fail, and so there has to be distinguishing features to make Red Queen…”Red Queen”. 

The contextual world building just isn’t up to snuff to really drive the urgency of the state. Otherwise, we ought to have learned about the Reds raising the middle finger and hollering a big fuck you to these Silvers for their livelihood. (By that logic, the Silvers would have to turn to their own lesser individuals to do their bidding after all the Reds are eradicated.) We would have felt their empty deaths linger, seen the oppression as more than just a farce, and walked a careful warpath toward a better future. Only we don’t get any of that. There is nothing but a giant hole filled by this young-adult’s conquest for [selfish] survival. And instalust-y romance.

This is the problem that trickles down to every other developmental arc in Red Queen.


Narration

When the MC is in the dark, so are the readers. There is so much room from politics to magic systems to history to be explored. It had the opportunity but Mare is so self-absorbed in her own teenage drama that she doesn’t ask questions. Dude, what? You’re in a new environment with deathtraps left-right-and-centre and you’re barely skeptical to consider asking “why XYZ?” for your own safety? This isn’t a concern about the character not acting the way “I would” but rather the idea that if your life teeters on the blade of a sword, I would hope that you’d be more involved in staying afloat.

Also, does no one ever wear their skeptical hats when reading? The “plot twist” I’ve seen claimed as shocking is pretty meh. I was simply not surprised. Not only that, the entire concept and repetitive notion of “anyone can betray anyone” only puts a fucking timestamp that shit will implode—meaning, the “twist” is NOT out of left field. All the clues were presented before the halfway mark: the nuanced shift in characterization, the ambition and skill-sets of those around Mare, the fact that Game of Thrones teaches you that unless you see death on the page…it does not exist. So no, I’m not sorry that this twist didn’t punch me in the face like it did with so many others because you could see it happen.

Of all the questionable content I can lay waste to this book, the narrative is actually well-paced for my tastes and if not for the holes in world-building or the fact that romance basically hijacked most of the plot, this could have been okay experience. In terms of the beauty and style of writing itself, it’s not bad by any means. I think I have more of a problem with the choice of plotting and leaving certain things open.

If I’m being honest, the romance is like another The Giving Tree situation. In TGT, the kid keeps taking and taking and we’re supposed to be like “awe, shucks, unconditional love and shit” and there are people like this, so I don’t necessarily fault this behaviour. The kid doesn’t necessarily “realize” his demands are taxing until the tree becomes a fucking stump; he just continues, on and on. But unlike the kid, Mare has changed her actions on numerous accounts based on her situation and continues to act in favour of the “utilitarian” good for those around her; which is her way of saying that it has to suit her needs.

What does this amount to? Mare teaching a Master class on achieving a love-pyramid. Seriously: a love fucking pyramid. I thought having two candidates of interest would be a blessing, but no, there were glimpses of possible relationships that I’m sure she isn’t even aware of.

And you know the worst part of this instalust-y romance? It’s the fact that Mare—who comes from literal rags—has the audacity to be like “oh, look, I’m fucking cute and shit stealing glances from someone else” WHEN YOU HAVE SOMETHING/SOMEONE LEGIT NEXT TO YOU TO BEGIN WITH. This is why I loathe step-brother influenced romance—because the heroine either tries to balance both or wants what she doesn’t have. I’d [like to] think most people [realistically] would be satisfied with either option. Is Cal kind and nice and does everything for Mare? Absolutely. Does Maven act in the same way? Absolutely. But this Little Lightning Girl doesn’t truly give either the time of day unless she has something to gain from it; which is where all of her wishy-washy antics come into fruition.

Because honestly, at this point, I’m hoping she doesn’t end up with anyone. What is the teaching lesson in all of this when the choice has already been made [by the heart]? Why pander to any alternatives if you’ve basically made your mind. It’s selfish to string along other parties like that. Relationship goals aren’t founded solely on one-sided compromise; that everyone will cater to your needs. This falsehood just reopens that Disney door of unparalleled faux realism, and we have enough of that. If I’m being honest: I think the story would have been much more interesting had she taken the other path.

This is what I struggle with time and time again: fantasy books can be so much more than their romance but this book is another example that “love” has eclipsed the hope of a baseline commentary regarding the construct of caste societies; especially when you have the most migraine-inducing indecisiveness that fucks everyone over.


Characters

Know that Mare is fairly self-aware in her actions. There was a phrase in the book, “Cal will not let me die, and neither will Maven. They are my shields.” This not only reiterates the forever question of why this palace of Silvers decided to continue living under propaganda (considering the ultimate fates of all the other “specials”) but it suggests that Mare willingly toys with feelings to get what she thinks she wants. (I’m unsure if I enjoy this kind of commentary.) Not only that, there’s also shit like: “Cal is a cliff, and I throw myself over the edge, not bothering to think of what it could do to us both.” I know she means well…but please value your life.

Moreover, her internal struggles surrounding decision-making aren’t always the easiest to digest. Yeah she’s learning how to keep up with the beasts in the palace but her righteousness is the most tedious parts to read. It’s as though Mare doesn’t want her choices to reflect negatively on her. The struggles of rationalizing any action in the air of conflict humanize and forces characters to feel pliable; to be real. It’s like Mare takes two steps forward and one step back; resulting to a protagonist whom is difficult to root for because her conviction feels half-baked. At this point, I feel as though she hopes for radical change while everyone holds hands.

But I don’t want to keep harking on Mare for all of her poor judgments.

Let’s talk about the Princes; the brothers, the ones vying for sweet, special Mare. Why is it that love interests are mostly written to suddenly bend the rules of their world without consequence or care so that they can be with the one their hearts desire?

Maven…oh Maven! I just feel so bad for him because there’s this girl, I don’t know if you’ve heard of her before. Her name’s Mare Barrow. Set to wed him and she only sees your brother. How shitty, right? I think he’s a lot more nuanced than I can give credit for because he too remains in Mare’s shadows throughout the narrative.

Cal exhibits more hope in this book for me than Mare has in nearly 400-pages. His character is surprisingly aware but it isn’t necessarily seen because readers are following Mare. Let me explain: Cal has his Prince-hood down to a T and wears the invisible burden on his sleeve. He has visions—an optimistic one at that—but it becomes so easily shrouded in the frilly drama that is instalove. He acts on a calculated logic best fit for the situation before him. He isn’t the guns-blazin’-will-ponder-repercussions-afterwards kind of guy. Simply put: Cal is [probably] the most realistic character in Red Queen (aside from Julian who exudes old people feels because old people either want to steal your eternal youth or they’re genuine enough to want to help you).

Evangeline: the one character owning her mean girl cameos for the sole purpose of reminding readers that “Mare is of a lower class”. I think I would have appreciated her development as more-than-just her archetype if the story looked deeper at the Queenstrial (the competition to seek a wifey for Prince Calzone). But no, she’s there to be mean, and laugh, and be the opposing side of the tug-o-war. C’mon now…

The most striking thing is that these characters, on their own, might be able to hold weight for being complex individuals. It’s when you mash them together that the story feels flimsy and reverts back to leaning on the romance to carry the conflict along. Like all those times that Mare acted and grew on her own accord–superb. Obviously since it is in her POV, I can’t claim the same thing to the others but surely the same merits could apply.

Can I also just say that I actually wanted Mare to be with Lucas—the only kid who didn’t annoy the shit out of me? That is all. I will go wallow in my kiddy pool of tears.


Overall

But like I said: I did not hate this book initially. There were moments of genuine intrigue. The storytelling just didn’t capitalize on distinguishing itself from the wealth of other dystopian-romances out there. There’s as much need for go-go-go pacing as there is time required to slather concrete on the building blocks of the story. I don’t even know what to say. The only thing truly stopping Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen from flourishing is in the nuances; the finesse that could encourage greater depth.

Will I continue with Glass Sword? Hype will probably force my hand to do so but I will be extremely wary the next time around.


The worst part is that I insta-bought this book when it was released and waited about half a year to read this…only to be disappointed. There’s surely more to vomit but I think I’ve discussed everything I needed to mention.

I will just leave you with some ridiculous quotes from the narrative:

“Words can lie, see beyond them.” Mare, I see you flailing. Stop it.

“What I need and what I want are two very different things.” Yes, you should supersize your fries.

“There is nothing but our beating hearts to fill the silence” I too let out a breathe I knew I was holding.

Cheers,
Joey

connect: afterthoughtAn // twitter  |  anotherafterthought // goodreads

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37 thoughts on “[Review] Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard”

  1. I adore this review. I was sure you were done and I was getting ready to comment but then you starting in on ranting about the characters and I settled down for a few more entertaining minutes of your fab review. I was half expecting you to type *drops mic* like you do at the end of your discussion posts and was a little disappointed when you didn’t.
    I do agree that the twist was unsurprising. And I definitely agree with you on the love pyramid thing. I went back to my review to figure out what I though (and was promptly scarred dear lord my review was so badly written xD) and I saw that I also wanted her to end up single because I found it so ridiculous.

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    1. LOL I DON’T THINK I NEED TO DROP THE MIC FOR NON-DISCUSSIONS BUT WHO KNOWS MAYBE IN THE FUTURE…

      Haha I apologize for it being super long! I would love to filter/edit what I say but I still feel like most/all of these talking points are relevant to talk about! That being said, there was definitely ~500 words that were edited out or merged into other ideas…

      Yeah, Wheelbarrow over here needs to just fly solo in the second book. Hopefully…but we know that isn’t going to happen.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! So many good points to take into consideration. As I’ve probably not read as many dystopian books as you have, it never felt like I was thinking about another book while reading. Another thing that probably slipped my mind by the end of the book was the big twist reveal. It took my almost 2 months to actually finish this book. So in between reading other books I must have missed all the clues that were dropped. I too would like more background information on past events. I’m expecting a lot more from the next book, so I hope it lives up to it!

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    1. It’s a blessing and a curse to know that “hey, this feels familiar to…” when you’re reading anything. It’s hard to say which one is better though; they have their merits.

      Yeah I hope Glass Sword doesn’t fall into Second Book Syndrome. I’ll read it [reluctantly] since I need answers ugh LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Can I just say I give FIVE FREAKING STARS TO THIS REVIEW ALONE?! DAMN, JOEY. DAMN.
    It was the perfect mix of brilliance, snark without crossing the line to cruelty, and just intelligence. YES. THIS WHAT I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR, AND NOW I SHALL RAVE.
    I loved the crossouts you included with the quotes at the conclusion.
    House Wheel, yes! What you said earlier about her not asking any questions…YESSS.
    I was born with a curiosity I have not yet been able to shake, and so when things like that happen, it’s just: “You’re killing meee…”
    I don’t know if you ABSOLUTELY HATE long comments, or if you’re alright with them so I’ll try to keep it brief.
    Overall, your perspective was not a way I had thought before so that was interesting, and there were so many points (LOL, every single one) where I was just like, “YO. Accept my high five, please?”
    LUCAS! YES! I personally liked Maven’s personality simply because I love villains, but LUCAS is honestly the best for her.
    AHHH. I could go on forever, but I said I’d be concise so just…I REALLY REALLY LOVED THIS REVIEW. IT WAS EXACTLY WHAT I WAS EXCITED FOR, SO THANK YOU FOR WRITING IT! (Sorry, I’ve had a bit too much sugar recently, so I’m real hyper & CAPSLOCK-Y, but I ALSO JUST LOVED IT. Why am I apologizing?! I don’t mean it!)

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    1. When MCs don’t ask questions, it’s basically like “how are you still alive?” oh, right, love-interest and shit.

      The reason why I prefered Lucas was because he actually felt like the best mix of Maven and Cal (who are, on paper, legit on polar opposites). And I wouldn’t have even cared if Lucas + Mare continued to carry on thier friendship because slow burning is the most realistic shit ever.

      I’m glad you enjoyed this review despite it’s gargantuan nature :)!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t think I have a comment worthy for this review haha. But it made for very entertaining lunch time reading.

    This book is so polarising- I’m in the half that largely enjoyed it 😉 but I can agree with a lot of your points and frustration. My favourite was Lucas as well. Mare was hopelessly short sighted and naive. Cal was …ok. I didn’t find him interesting. I think of the main three I liked Maven best.

    The similarity to THG bugged me so much. Then I read RED RISING and totally understood why people thought this was a copy. RED RISING is the superior book in every sense- hope you’ll give it a go sometimes!

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    1. Lunch time reading? I’d call this review a success then!

      I’m hoping Glass Sword is solid enough to change my mind about this series (it’s basically a fresh start…don’t fail me againnnn). But seriously though, Maven is like a brick wall; Cal is like wet paint drying on a brick wall (he’s still wishy washy trying to find himself), and Lucas is like a painting that has dried on the wall (knows what he is and just gets shit done). LOL, I SHOULD HAVE INCLUDED THIS ANALOGY IN MY REVIEW OMG WHY NOW.

      I NEED TO READ RED RISINGGGGG. Soon, perhaps, because Morningstar is early next year…ack.

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  5. I agree with a lot of what you said here. Because of the all too familiar premise of Red Queen, it was a struggle to consistently enjoy it without comparing it with other dystopian novels. It seems as if Aveyard used this premade template and tweaked it to her liking.

    That said, the characters were very interesting. I’m tempted to say they’re all unreliable because of the way they don’t seem the way they are. So yeaaahhhh. I’ll probably reading the sequel too.

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    1. There will always be comparisons (unfortunately) but she could have actually done a lot with what she had imo but it just didn’t come into fruition. So here’s to hoping Glass Sword builds a more nuanced and fuller body of work than RQ because I’mma destroy someone if it falls into the pits of Second Book Syndrome…

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  6. YOUFINALLYREADITYOUFINALLYREADIT! Kudos to you for tackling one more title on the TBR shelf. (After your blogger meet up, I’m sure it’s grown.)

    And I haven’t read Red Queen yet… but I wasn’t planning to anyway so I read your review. And oh no! This impulse buy was supposed to be so good-but hey, at least you picked it up before It started appearing on sale in bargain sections!

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  7. Oh, my! I’m afraid I insta-bought this one, too because of so many 5 star reviews and still haven’t read it. I’m wondering if I’ll ever get to it, but maybe I should keep it on the back burner for a while?

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  8. Haha I totally loved this book BUT I still love your review!

    As for the twist, I was definitely one of those people it punched in the face (no offence taken :P). I had a social media blackout about this book so I went in blind and had no idea about this “big twist” at the end. Usually I can see twists coming a mile away but this one just didn’t register for me until it happened. I think it’s because of the characters it involves and how I really, really liked them so I was upset that things went down the way they did. Blinded by character affection I suppose.

    One thing I’m really glad you brought up: “Readers can blindly assume that there’s a historical divide”. While I loved The Winner’s Curse, I struggled with that book because the back story for the divide was never really explained. I feel like it was a little more obvious in this book (the haves vs the have nots) but I agree, it could have been elaborated on more and I think that is something that applies to many high fantasy novels with a more dystopian feel to them.

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    1. Yeah I can see how it builds up the characters to be individuals you can appreciate–to the extent of shipping with Mare that made it shocking for it to unravel. I think it was the first scene when Mare is presented to the Royal Family (when they’re all sitting at their thrones, so to speak) where the trigger went off for me and the particular dynamics between Cal + Maven were questionable for me. That being said, while I can sing praises for Cal, I actually did prefer Maven more…so…

      I’ve seen polarizing views with Winner’s Crime too! Haven’t read it though.

      But yeah, with so many dystopians it’s like “we get it–there’s “us vs them” but why/how is there this divide–it isn’t always explored to it’s potential. I’m not saying that I want the entire backstory; that would defeat the purpose of trilogies. With this story being heavily linked to others, I felt like it could have separated itself a bit more.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I agree with your thoughts on Red Queen. It was promising, but lacked what it needed to succeed as its own novel. It could have well avoided being a mashup of different fantasies and dystopian novels, but sadly it didn’t avoid it.
    I agree that the romance took a front seat to the story which I was not very impressed with. I feel that if there was a bigger focus on other parts of the plot, of the world building and the conflict between the silvers and reds rather than the focus on Mare being out of place and such, I would have enjoyed it further. I personally was really shocked by the plot twist, I don’t know why but I was and I was shocked for quite some time, haha.
    I also believe Cal was the most promising of all the characters. Reading the story from Mare’s perspective annoyingly twisted my thoughts of Cal. I kept switching between him being a good character, to him being the untrustworthy one, thanks to Mare’s bi polar thoughts. But I am hoping that Glass Sword will reveal to us a better plot that focusses so much less on romance. Please, please let it be.
    Great review, as always.

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    1. Yeah, I would have enjoyed it a lot more if it stood own its own and not in a shadow. It has a promising premise: different colour bloods. Yes, Mare is basically blind to knowledge and doesn’t really “seek” this information out but she had the resources to learn–she just didn’t. So when she’s blind, we’re blind. What a voice to follow…

      I’m just going to shoot this into the dark but I feel like this whole Cal vs Maven dynamic would have been a lot more powerful as a cliffhanger if this happened in the second book after you truly got to grow with Maven. I feel like I’d be immensely shocked then. But maybe that’s just me.

      Let’s hope for the best in Glass Sword!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I love your quotes and crossed out comments at the end. Cracking up right now. I’m sorry it took me an extra day to read this (work on Friday kicked my butt, and totally interrupted my blog post reading time!).

    Epic review! I am really glad I didn’t keep reading this book (I read a few chapters of it months ago), because it started to grate on my nerves early, and I think the love pyramid (seriously, wtf why so many?!?!) would have set me over the edge.

    What sucks is that you paid money for this. Makes you wish you’d spent that money on a CoHo book instead, right? HA!

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  11. LOL loved this review!! XD Sorry that the book was a disappointment though. I’ve heard so much about this one and it seemed really promising! I probably will be giving it a try anyway though, to see what it’s like.

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  12. Okay, I know we see differently on Red Queen overall, but I have to admit this rage-filled review was not only highly entertaining, but relatively on-point. You make quite a few good arguments, which I think I was able to overlook in the context of the story itself – but all the same, you’ve nailed a few of the books’ flaws, and I was chuckling to myself while reading the review too.

    Your reviews are always entertaining as much as they are informative! 😉

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