First in a series
By Victoria Aveyard
Available now from HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
RED QUEEN is not a good book, if I'm going to tell the truth. It's also true that I thought it was insanely fun to read and I want the sequel right now. The plot basically runs on convenient things happening and the world isn't explored half as much as it could be, but the characters sell it.
The setup of RED QUEEN is fairly simple and familiar. Mare Barrow is a Red, who are basically normal humans. When they turn eighteen, if they don't have jobs, they're conscripted to join the army. Mare steals to survive because she wants her family as well off as they can be before she has to join the army in a few months. It's fairly believable. Plenty of countries have mandatory conscription, and the exception for people with jobs offers the populace just enough hope.
The Silvers, implied to be a different species who invaded (but this is never explored), are on top and each has a superpower of a specific type. It's also believable that an equal population of people with superpowers could rule over a population of normal people. It's also believable that the people who are on the bottom still wouldn't be happy about this and would seize chances to rebel. There's not much depth there, but it's plausible enough that you can go with it. RED QUEEN is silly, but not stupid.
Mare's life changes when she turns out to have a power despite being a Red. She finds herself proclaimed a lost princess and engaged to the younger prince, Maven. Enter the surprisingly tolerable love triangle. Mare has a best friend back home she'll do anything to save (who is equally loyal to her), but there's no indication that it's romantic. Hooray for platonic male-female friendships! Mare is attracted to Cal, the perfect older prince. She also finds herself falling for Maven as he becomes her ally in the palace - and further.
Mare does not forget where she came from, or that her people will always be in danger if things stay the way they are. She sets out to act, to blend in so that she doesn't die needlessly but to still help the rebellion. She doesn't spend her time swooning over boys' attractiveness, although she might notice them in the moment. And she romantically favors one option over the other because he seems more sympathetic to her cause, and that's the way to her heart.
RED QUEEN ponders terrorism and propaganda at times, although it generally remains shallow instead of really digging into the ideological costs. But Mare's voice is appealing and the story moves along at a good pace. I cared about what happened next to these characters. It's cliche YA fantasy, but debut author Victoria Aveyard does it well. I hope that in the sequels she continues to play to her strengths and gather the courage to depart from form more. I'll definitely read them, especially after that ending.