Hello, fellow YA Book Clubbers! Looking forward to reading your reviews, and a big thanks to Tracey Neithercott for hosting!
A FRIENDLY WORD OF WARNING: While my review doesn’t give away specific spoilers, certain plot points can probably be inferred from what I’ve written here, so if you haven’t read the book, you might want to skip my review.
Let me start by saying, I really, really wanted to love RED QUEEN. The description sounded awesome—red against silver blood, an mc with powers she shouldn’t have, a rebellion, a forced betrothal to a prince—but ultimately the book fell short for me. The following is just my opinion, and I hope I’ve offered criticism respectfully. I don’t want to be negative, but I’m going to give an honest review. Also, sorry about the length, but I wanted to back up my POV.
Mare’s world had the potential to be fascinating but never felt fully realized to me. By the description, I though the book was fantasy, so I initially pictured something with a more historic influence. When things like electricity, TV screens, and other sci-fi details showed up, I was a bit confused. While I certainly think speculative fiction can be a blend of fantasy and sci-fi (obviously), the technical details in RQ didn’t seem to mesh with the Roman influence, which was never really developed a lot either.
I also didn’t get a sense of things like landscape, architecture, or how rooms looked. Characters seemed to be floating in a generic space much of the time, but more specific details would’ve helped me imagine the setting better. Similarly, I wanted a more thorough idea of the culture on both sides of the conflict beyond the fact that Reds were poor and downtrodden, and Silvers were mostly cruel, had powers, and were born into houses identified by particular colors.
I thought the conflict between the Reds and Silvers was a good basis for the story, but I would’ve liked more background on how this evolutionary divide was originally discovered. Along with that, I would’ve appreciated more information on the apocalyptic event that changed the world. We see the remnants of what I assume is our current world in the City of Ruins (that revelation felt very District 13 to me & the Bowl of Bones was reminiscent of the HG arena), but this setting and its occupants was never developed. Perhaps in book two?
More information on the war would also have been helpful. I wasn’t sure what they were fighting about exactly. If the author mentioned it, I don’t remember. The war itself seemed used as a way to oppress the Reds, but in and of itself didn’t serve much purpose in the plot. The Lakelanders were the enemy, but nothing was ever explained about them. A map in the front of the book would’ve helped sort out some of the places mentioned as well.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel a strong connection to the characters. When the story began, I liked that Mare was on the prickly side—a rough around the edges thief trying to help her family survive—but once she got to the palace, that toughness faded. Even with her ability to create/control electricity, her survival instinct often took a back seat to relying on the princes for protection or being told what to do by the Scarlet Guard. I liked that she cared about her family and Kilorn and was willing to sacrifice herself to help them, but overall I didn’t feel there was much to know about her personally.
To me, the princes were all over the map. I wanted to love Cal. His character started off well, with the insinuation that he might sympathize with the Reds, but he was inconsistent—noble and compassionate one minute and cruel the next. It was never really shown why he supposedly loved Mare either, problematic considering how much the rebels staked on his feelings for her in their big plan. This made the romance unconvincing for me.
While it’s understandable why Maven might come across as inconsistent, I think his personality waffled too extremely. At times he seemed cowardly, expressed in his physical demeanor, only to turn around and appear brave and unleash his temper. We were also never told anything specific about Maven personally, for example, what his likes/interests were. Cal was portrayed as a warrior with a passion for motorbikes, but we weren't given any such details about Maven. That was a tip off to me early on.
As I said above, I thought the dynamic of Reds versus Silvers was an interesting concept, especially that the group with supernatural abilities was in power rather than being oppressed. This seemed to flip other similar stories around (X-Men, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi). However, the conflict never really went beyond the basics of Silvers keeping Reds under their thumb.
I liked what the Scarlet Guard brought to the story and also the revelations about red blood with silver abilities, but the big plot twist in the end didn’t come as a surprise. From the moment the royal family was introduced, I had my suspicions because of the dynamic there: Older son is king’s favourite and will inherit the throne, while younger son by a different (evil) mother lives in his shadow. What I don’t understand, especially considering Elara’s abilities as a whisper and Cal’s previous loyalty and dedication as a general, is why anyone actually believed the lie about how things went down. And why didn’t Cal point that out or defend himself?
One thing I thought was written particularly well is the way Mare questioned the actions of the Scarlet Guard and her own participation in their violence. It was realistic that Mare, sucked into all of this, would feel that way, especially once she began to realize not all Silvers were terrible people. This moral dilemma was a good addition to Mare’s character.
And while the romantic in me wanted Mare to end up with someone (and I’m sure she will yet in the series), it was refreshing and realistic that she didn’t make a choice about a love interest at the end of book one. There was no miraculous forgiveness for the sake of romance, rather an admission that there was too much betrayal for her to give her heart to anyone.
I know I’ve listed a lot of criticisms here, and I feel bad about that, but overall I wanted more from RED QUEEN because I think it had a ton of potential. Had certain aspects of the world-building and plot been fleshed out more or had the characters been portrayed on a deeper more personal level, I think it could have been phenomenal. Instead, and I cringe when I say this, it seemed like another Hunger Games clone. Those are my thoughts, and I hope they come across as more disappointed than belittling.
So what did you think?