Take the cutthroat competition between high houses of Game of Thrones, add the supernatural elements of Avatar the Last Airbender, and in this setting, play out the plot of the Hunger Games, and you’ll have an idea where this story begins. It doesn’t stay there for long, however.
Is this book for me?
- Like dystopian fiction but wish there were more tiaras?
- Read books like The Selection as guilty pleasures but want something more mature?
- Really just want to be entertained and don’t mind re-treading some familiar YA tropes?
—-Give it a try!
- Hate stories where the protagonist is a ~Special~?
- Need some actual adults in your story and not just teenagers inexplicably running the country?
- Tired of the Hunger Games-style class uprising in dystopian fiction?
—-Might not be your thing.
In this world, there are two kinds of people. Mare is neither of those kinds. Chaos ensues.
What I appreciate
Aveyard puts more thought into her characters than many authors of similar stories. Even characters like Mare’s family and minor royals, often neglected in YA, feel real to me. More importantly, the major characters resist a moral simplicity. The bad guys are pretty bad, don’t get me wrong, but the good guys are allowed to be selfish, confused, and frustrated. Aveyard isn’t afraid of showing us that Mare is doing things for the wrong reasons, which makes it possible for her to legitimately grow and change. YA heroines in this kind of story often flirt with the morally gray, but Mare is allowed to go pretty far into darkness in a way that follows logically from her experiences. If you need the heroine to be someone you can 100% root for, this isn’t going to work for you, because Mare is going to really bother you at times.
While the book’s premise contains many recognizable tropes of the YA-distopia genre, the story developed in some ways that I actually wasn’t expecting. Aveyard keeps the story engaging and suspenseful, even when it veers into the outlandish and convoluted. Slowly-developing character arcs are punctuated by splashy, cinematic set pieces that kept me excited. Plenty of fights, balls, and escapes accompany Mare’s tense inner monologue.
Mare has multiple potential romantic interests, but it never feels like the story is being derailed by an “oh no, so many men want me” issue. Like Mare, the love interests (and the relationships) are allowed to be selfish and problematic at times. By the second book, some lovely romances among secondary characters start to emerge. By the third, things get a little steamy. Romance is certainly a secondary concern for Mare who, like a good YA heroine, is more worried about overthrowing the government and not dying, but her feelings are an important part of her character and do influence her choices.
Mare and her family are people of color, as are a number of other major (and minor) characters. Because of the fantasy setting, real-world racial dynamics do not play a part, but there are, at times, strong racial overtones to the division between Reds and Silvers. Ethnicity is only described in detail as part of a character’s appearance (skin/hair color and eye shape are described rather than race) and race doesn’t seem to play a part in the characters’ lives.
By the third book, some queer characters have emerged (or, rather, been revealed by Aveyard as having been queer the entire time).
Content warnings and age appropriateness (some spoilers ahead):
-This section applies to the Red Queen series as a whole-
Generally speaking, I’d consider this book for high schoolers, but not younger. The story and characters are complex enough that it should still be interesting to older readers as well.
Mare sees some death, injury, and a lot of red (and silver) blood. Nothing beyond what you typically expect from YA with action.
There are some non-graphic schmexy scenes in the third book.
Mare experiences violence and terror from a male character that has a deep psychological effect on her. The violence is not explicitly sexual, but there are sexual overtones to that relationship and Mare’s trauma feels, in many ways, analogous to that of a rape survivor. Because the series is written in first person, the reader is immersed her complicated feelings about the character and his actions. This element of the story is very well-written and nuanced, but potentially distressing.