The lion’s share of the novels I read now come from publishers and/or publicists so it’s rare that I buy a novel, especially a YA dystopian debut novel like Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. There was just something about this novel that really intrigued me so, when Amazon had a daily deal on it, I couldn’t resist. And then I read it all in one sitting…real life just had to take a back seat that day. Sometimes an author taps into the zeitgeist of where a country could go if we’re not careful, and this is one of those times. Now obviously this is fantasy and not reality, but this dystopian near-future tale has a distinct have vs. have not duality at its heart. I liked Red Queen so much that I’ve downloaded the next book in the series, Glass Sword, and am racing through the book I’m currently reading so I can get started on it. Yes, I like this story that much and I’m betting you will too.
In the world where seventeen-year-old Mare lives there are two kinds of people Reds and Silvers. Mare is a Red who lives in the Stilts and, therefore, can only expect certain things in life, all of them hard. Reds are laborers, semi-slaves, whose lives are hard at best and cruel at worst. If a Red doesn’t get apprenticed by a certain age, the only option is to be sent to war as a soldier…and soldiers have an even shorter life span than workers. All three of Mare’s brothers have been sent to war. Her father was a soldier who came back without a leg, an example of a kind of living death since there are no benefits for such survivors. The only member of her family to become an apprentice is her younger sister, Gisa, whose beautiful stitch-work has landed her an apprenticeship in an embroidery business.
“I was thirteen when Bree left. He kissed me on the cheek and gave me a single pair of earrings for my little sister, Gisa, and me to split. They were dangling glass beads, the hazy pink color of sunset. We pierced our ears ourselves that night. Tramy and Shade kept up the tradition when they went [to war]. Now Gisa and I have one ear each set with three tiny stones to remind us of our brothers fighting somewhere…And this fall, they’ll come for me. I’ve already started saving – and stealing – to buy Gisa some earrings when I go.”
Mare knows she won’t become apprenticed so, when she comes of age, she will go to war like her brothers. Until then she helps her family in the only way she can, as a very adept pickpocket. Oh, and did I mention that she’s probably the fastest runner in her village? Too bad there’s no apprenticeship for that. Don’t get me wrong. Mare is really smart, smart enough to know she has no future to look forward to, so why beat her head futilely against a school wall when it won’t get her anywhere better than she’s headed anyway.
So what about the Silvers? Silvers rule the world Mare lives in. It’s a feudal system, with Silvers on top and everyone else on the bottom. Silvers have magical powers that ensure Reds could never beat them even if they tried. If someone can literally fry you with a look, you don’t stand much chance in a fight. Any resistance Reds have attempted in the past has been swiftly and brutally stopped. Everyone remembers the days of the executions. And the Silvers hold arena fights regularly just to reinforce how futile resistance is against their array of powers – a demoralizing but very effective mandatory viewing tool to keep Reds in their place.
When Mare’s best friend, Kilorn, loses his apprenticeship, she knows he’ll never survive becoming a soldier and she’s frantic to help him. So she does what she never would have dreamed of doing before – she goes to the Red resistance known as the Red Guard for help. Little does she know how pivotal her decision made out of desperation will be in both of their lives.
“’What is it? What’s wrong?’ Without thinking I take his [Kilorn’s] hand in mine, feeling the blood beneath my fingers. ‘What happened?’
He takes a moment to respond, working himself up. Now I’m terrified.
‘My master – he fell. He died. I’m not an apprentice anymore.’
I try to hold in a gasp, but it echoes anyway, taunting us. Even though he doesn’t have to, even though I know what he’s trying to say, he continues.
‘I hadn’t even finished training and now – ‘ He trips over his words. ‘I’m eighteen. The other fishermen have apprentices. I’m not working. I can’t get work.’
The next words are like a knife in my heart. Kilorn draws a ragged breath, and somehow I wish I wouldn’t have to hear him.
‘They’re going to send me to war.’”
A chance encounter afterward with an attractive guy coming out of the local Red village pub, and her need to tell someone how awful her life has become, leads to a result she never could have anticipated. Kilorn is somehow miraculously saved from becoming a soldier and she is given a job, and not just any job – a job working as a Red servant at the Silvers summer palace. Now servitude may sound awful but this is the highest position any Red could ever aspire to and it lands in her lap like some gift from the gods. You’d think Mare would be grateful but then you don’t know about Mare’s independent spirit and that she’s smart enough to know that this is just another way of being a slave. She wants freedom and equality, not slavery in any form.
The Silvers have a unique way of picking wives for their princes. While serving at the event, Mare is unceremoniously dumped into the arena when a Silver contestant is demonstrating her deadly power for manipulating metal. The contestant just sees a handy Red target to prove how ruthless she can be while Mare is determined not to become her victim. And that is when circumstances align such that Mare discovers something neither Reds nor Silvers thought was possible. Mare has a power of her own and it’s a really devastating one. Something she thought was a quirk before is actually coming from within her.
Obviously the king and queen can’t allow it to become known that any Red has any kind of power, much less one as devastating as Mare’s. And that begins a massive cover-up, thrusting Mare right into the middle of a snakes’ nest of the highest level of political maneuvering.
What if you were forced to pretend to become the one thing you despised most in life, or die (along with all of your family and friends)? What if everyone around you saw you as a pawn to be used for their own ends – and not just Silvers but the Red Guard as well? What would you do? What could you do? Could you, at age seventeen and inexperienced in politics, figure out who you could trust and who was just pretending to help you?
Mare is one of those characters with great depth of character (no pun intended) who I just love immediately. And she can kick some major butt when she needs to. Her family members and her best friend are also very sympathetic characters, as is at least one member (surprise) of the royal Silver family although I won’t say which one.
Loyalty and betrayal are huge themes running throughout Red Queen, which is only Book #1 in this new series by Victoria Aveyard. Think the 1% vs. the 99% and you’ve got a good sense of the overlying concept of this post-apocalyptic world – there are even techies, who honestly have it even worse than Reds. Red Queen is one hell of a nail-biting rollercoaster read and I loved every minute of it. And Glass Sword, its sequel, is also out now so you don’t even have to wait to read what happens next. There are also a couple of prequel novellas available for those of you who want to know more about how this world came into being and what really happened to a prior Silver Queen whose name features prominently in Red Queen. Bottom Line: I’m recommending this one as a great winter read!
Upcoming Author Events for Glass Sword:
2/12/2016 in Fairfax, VA at 7pm at Barnes & Noble
2/13/2016 in Bensalem, PA at 1pm at Barnes & Noble
2/14/2016 in New York City, NY at 4pm at Books of Wonder
2/16/2016 in Los Angeles, CA at 7pm at Barnes & Noble at The Grove
3/5/2016 at Cebu, Philippines at 1pm at The Gallery, Ayala Center
3/6/2016 at Manila, Philippines at 2pm at National Book Store, Glorietta
Can’t wait to read it? Red Queen is available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller, so pick your favorite format and get it today!
I’d love to get your comments on Red Queen, Victoria Aveyard, and/or this review.