Published by Orion on Feb 10, 2015
Genres: Dystopia, YA
Find the book: Amazon, Goodreads
The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.
To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.
Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of
those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.
But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?
I picked up this book because I thought it would be a light, entertaining read that would be engaging, but wouldn’t leave me an emotion wreck or anything. Unfortunately, it just made me mad by how light this thing really was.
Red Queen is a mashup of all the YA books that have come before it, without adding any interesting twists. The beginning is very similar to The Hunger Games. The main character is in the middle of doing an illegal activity that she’s been forced to do because Oppressive Society (In Hunger Games Katniss is hunting, in this book Mare is pickpocketing) when she’s surprised by her male best friend/potential love interest.
For there, there’s shades of Shadow and Bone, The Selection, and a million and one other YA books. What I didn’t get any of was what I think this book was modeled after: Red Rising. This book is not brutal, it’s not emotionally engaging, and it certainly doesn’t bother with character development.
The setup is pretty simple: There’s the Silvers, who have superpowers (for some reason, it’s not explained) and Reds, who don’t. The Silvers oppress the Reds, the Reds try to rebel, and Mare turns out to be the Super Special key to the revolution, because guess what? She’s got super powers too!
The Silvers make really tame villains. Yes, they have oppressed Reds and that’s bad, but it’s not enough to make them compelling villains in a novel. We don’t get to see them do anything really despicable, and they don’t seem competent, either. They’re basically just mustache-twisting and laughing in the background. There was never much tension or worry about what would happen to the main characters. It made all the parts that were supposed to be really moving and dramatic fall really flat. I rolled my eyes every time the main character said the motto of the rebel group: rise, red as dawn. Agh.
Mare Barrow (I kept hearing Marlboro whenever I read her full name) was not my type of protagonist. She’s angry, judgmental, and kind of a brat to everybody she meets. I think we’re supposed to think she’s spunky and sassy and tough because she mouths off to people and steals for a living. I’ve seen this a million times, and I’m sick of it. You know what a really clever person would do? Be nice to the people who are trying to kill you, and who you are trying to spy on. She’s supposed to be “infiltrating” the Silver class. It would have been really interesting to see her try to become friends with the people at court and gain their trust, all the while planning to bring them down.
Instead, all the people who needed to like Mare (all the GUYS) just liked her immediately, and all the people who we’re supposed to see as enemies (all the GIRLS) hated her and Mare makes no attempt to become friends with them.
Basically, Mare doesn’t have to do anything in this book. People either instantly like her for no reason, or instantly hate her. And that’s it. Nothing changes. None of the characters develop beyond this point of I hate Mare because reasons, or I like Mare because reasons. And Mare doesn’t change her mind about anybody, either.
There’s a real lack of well-developed female characters in this book. The girls who are supposed to be “good guys” don’t have much page time, and so they’re very one dimensional. Gisa, Mare’s little sister, is basically Prim from the Hunger Games. She’s the perfect younger girl that everyone loves and who the older sister wishes she could be. The rest of the women are pretty forgettable. Two of the main “rebels” are women, but they have so little to do in the book they might as well not even be there.
Mare’s mentor and trusted teacher is a man, she has THREE love interests, and a personal guard who’s also a man. Her maids, who remain nameless, are all women. She actually says she doesn’t learn the names of her maids, so that pretty much sums up their importance. Her arch nemesis, Evangeline, is a woman. And the Big Bad, the queen, is a woman. If these characters were more well-developed I wouldn’t care as much about gender, but they’re not, so I do.
I think the most insulting thing is the “rivalry” between Mare and Evangeline. It’s the old mean girl thing. Evangeline is the popular, pretty, rich girl who’s a stuck up jerk. But looking at it objectively, she really doesn’t do anything bad and she actually has reasons to dislike Mare. Evangeline is from a prominent family and its expected that she’ll be engaged to the future king. She’s a powerful girl in her own right and she’s in the middle of demonstrating her own skill set when Mare drops into the middle of her show and basically ruins it. And Mare is clearly making eyes at Evangeline’s fiancé, the older prince. And all Evangeline really does is make one or two snide comments about Mare. That’s a really weak rivalry.
And while all the women hate Mare for no reason (and she hates them for no real reason) all the men love her. Two princes, her childhood best friend, even her guard. But there’s no chemistry between her and any of these men. She doesn’t seem to have anything in common with her love interests, and even the physical attraction seems pretty weak. It’s a throughly boring romance.
I’d looked through some reviews for this book, and most of them mentioned that the ending was exciting, so I was looking forward to that. Unfortunately, it didn’t do anything for me. Mare and her allies come up with a plan that really didn’t make any sense to me. As in, as no point did I think it would work. There were a few final twists, but the characters were so weak I really didn’t care what happened to any of them.