A girl like no other thrown into a world she knows nothing about determined to change the world. This sounds like almost every YA dystopian novel I have ever read — and Red Queen is no different.
Victoria Aveyard’s breakout novel Red Queen is set in a dystopian world where there is a harsh division between the red-blooded and the silver-blooded. Those that have silver-blood are blessed with abilities that allow them to manipulate the elements around them. For some that means being able to grow massive trees from tiny seeds, and for others that means being able to start blazing fires from a tiny spark. While the silver-blooded live lives of luxury, the red-blooded are forced to live in squalor and often are conscripted into service for the army if they have no outstanding trade skills.
The main character of this story, Mare Barrow, has accepted that she will have to join the army when she turns eighteen just like her three older brothers. Except she won’t. One day she is whisked away to the castle to serve the royal family. It is here that she discovers she is unlike any other red-blood she has ever met — she has an ability. When that ability is revealed to the greater public, the royal family decides to disguise Mare as a lost princess, and she is forced to play the part of a dutiful daughter-in-law to-be as she is betrothed to one of the heirs of the crown.
Like most YA heroines, Mare has no interest in playing the part, so she joins the rebel group that is dedicated to overthrowing the crown. She is going to work from the inside to bring down the Silvers.
Mare has to deal with a sinister bully (actually a couple of bullies), conflicting love interests, and homesickness. She’s a heroine written to inspire young readers into believing in themselves and working to enact change in their communities.
But haven’t I seen this all before? Haven’t I seen strong heroines who don’t fit in learn to embrace their differences to change the world? Haven’t I seen a heroine with a strong male friendship finally learn that her best friend is actually in love with her? Haven’t I seen the heroine unlike anyone else she knows come to lead an army of people to change the world as they know it? I feel like I’ve seen this before in a lot of YA books, and while I appreciate the lessons it teaches young readers, I can’t help but feel like it’s overdone. I love the lessons — I’m not crazy about the execution.
Specifically, Red Queen reminds me a lot of the Divergent series — which admittedly is one of my favorite YA series that I have read recently (and by recently, I mean about three years ago). It also reminded me of The Hunger Games and An Ember in the Ashes. If I read more YA fantasy/dystopia, I would probably have a longer list of books to reference as examples, but I’ve tried to incorporate more adult fiction into my life as I’ve gotten older. Personally, I think The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (read my full review) teaches similar lessons of bravery, spirit, and strength and features strong female protagonists who change their world in their own way, all while utilizing unique plot devices.
I don’t think Red Queen was a bad book. Don’t mistake my attitude toward an overdone plot as a dislike of the book. I think books like Red Queen are important for young readers, especially females, to read to learn that it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to feel like you don’t fit in. You’ve got a power that is yours and yours alone, and you are going to change the world with it someday. That’s an incredibly important lesson — one that deserves to be shared — I just don’t think it needs to be written 75 different times following the same predictable storyline with the same predictable twists (No spoilers, but seriously, who didn’t see that betrayal coming?).
I hold out hope that Aveyard can take this foundational novel and make the series something completely unique and different. I know there’s a reason so many people love it, and I hope I can join that group. Red Queen is not on the top of my list. But I hope the series can be.