The most popular YA genre has shifted from paranormal romances to dystopias following the successes of the “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games,” and “Divergent,” et al. With the popularity of the Song of Ice and Fire series, the Game of Thrones television show, and the epic Lord of the Rings movies, “high fantasy” fiction is on the rise. High fantasy refers to a detailed created world in which the protagonist’s choices and actions affect the world at large, and often includes some manner of villain and use of magic. “Red Queen,” the first book in a series by Victoria Aveyard, is a great new entry in this genre.
“Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard was one of the most entertaining and fist-of-rage-shaking books I have read this year. This is the story of two groups of people, the Reds and the Silver Elites. The Silvers, known by this name due to their silver blood, have been blessed with superhuman abilities like telekinesis, coercion and magnetic manipulation. Unfortunately, they have used their powers to enslave and abuse the Reds, normal humans whose red blood is often shed by the Silvers for sport. Reds have two options in life – take an apprenticeship in order to one day get a job, or join the army and almost certainly die.
Mare Barrow, a Red with no foreseeable future, has one great skill. Unfortunately, that skill is pick-pocketing. When her friend Kilorn loses his job and finds out he is destined for the front lines, she seeks out help from the Scarlet Guard, a rebel group intent on taking down the Silver Elites in power. They can secure passage out for both Mare and Kilorn, but it will not come cheaply. Knowing she has to steal something very valuable, she accompanies Gisa, her sister, to the market in hopes of snatching something good from the Silver Elites. When Mare’s plans go wrong, and her sister is accused of being a thief, Gisa receives a punishment that will forever ruin her chances of excelling in her career and supporting their family.
Saddened by the events of the day, Mare goes out to pick-pocket, and is caught by a handsome stranger, who, instead of turning her in, listens to her reasons for stealing, and ultimately changes her life forever. The very next day, she finds herself being taken to the castle, where she is sure she will be imprisoned for her actions. Instead, she is informed that she is now a maid in the castle. Though she is thrilled to have a job and still in shock from the day’s events, she soon realizes that the castle is not the safest place to be. Between the dozens of dangerous princesses who show up to win the heart of the future king, and the terrorist attacks from the Scarlet Guard, Mare is in danger from day one. No spoilers from here on out, but let’s just say that the Reds and Silver Elites might not be so different and distant as Mare once believed, and much to her surprise, Reds with Silver powers exist, and it is time for them to come out of hiding. I was glad that Mare, as the female protagonist of this story, was not whiny or romance-driven. She makes her decisions based on what helps the people she cares about, and to avenge those she has lost. She does not change who she is for a man. The only thing that I would like to have seen in Red Queen was additional background information on the Scarlet Guard, a rebellious organization with a brief introduction that goes on to play a major role in the book.
This is the debut book by Aveyard, who received her BFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California, and wrote “Red Queen” the year after she graduated! The second book in the “Red Queen” series, “Glass Sword,” will be released on February 9, 2016, and takes place immediately where this book left off. If you read “Red Queen” and need something to tide you over until February, Aveyard has released a 100 page novella titled “Queen Song” (available only as a Kindle eBook).
I met Victoria Aveyard last month at YALLfest, a free YA literature festival in Charleston, SC. She was a fun presenter and everyone on her panels who had read her books made comments about how this book would devastate, enrage and aggravate the readers, as well as crush their souls. Of course, I had to read it after hearing that! “Red Queen” has something for everyone - spies, romances, fights, friendships, secret missions, royalty, superhuman powers, and betrayal. I eagerly await “Glass Sword,” the second book in the series.
You can find “Red Queen” -- and other high fantasy books -- in the Media Center.