Title: Red Queen
By Victoria Aveyard
Bloomsbury Books 388pp. $19.99 NZD
Red Queen is a young adult fantasy novel set in a futuristic dystopia, in a region called Norta -where the colour of one’s blood defines who they are. People with red blood live in poverty. They are slaves and the ones shoved onto the front lines of a never-ending war between a neighbouring region called Lakelands. In comparison, those born of silver blood are the elite, the lords and ladies of the land who possess god-like superpowers and never cease to flaunt this fact in front of the reds.
The book follows one red girl, Mare Barrow, who finds herself working in the silver palace, surrounded by the very people she hates the most. She soon discovers that despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own, one that threatens to destroy the balance of power and put her in a position where one wrong move can get her killed.
There is a lot packed into the novel. It contains issues of blood status, coupled with semi-graphic torture scenes, terrorist strikes and to top it off, a sprinkling of socio-political commentary. This all takes root in a polluted world that is in the throes of a long and bloody war. Red Queen is similar to The Hunger Games in many of the issues it explores – they both take place in a futuristic time where the strong female leads rise up from a poverty-stricken district/town and must fight for their freedom, overcoming a cruel dictator and the struggles of finding love in a war zone.
The book falls under the fantasy genre, but its issues are very true to real life. Poverty is one of the biggest issues facing our society and Victoria Aveyard has a lot to say about it in her novel, especially about how the rich work hard to keep themselves rich and the poor, poor.
Another of the issues covered is one that every young teen faces and that is the struggle with identity and finding your place in the world. Aveyard expresses this beautifully. She reiterates that it is ok to not be like everyone else – to be different. It is one of the reasons it is so easy to identify with her main character Mare, a girl born with red blood but in possession of silver powers – she is neither one nor the other and as Mare grows through the novel so does her confidence and her voice, telling every young teen that it is ok to not conform.
The first-person account from Mare’s perspective gets us up close and personal with her thoughts, her fears, her love and loss – we see it all.
Mare is the definition of a typical teenage girl’s protagonist, with what feels like the weight of the world resting on her shoulders. The characters are so well written that even when some of them do horrible things it is easy to understand their motives and fall in love with these frankly unlikable characters. That takes a special kind of writing skill.
Red Queen has thrown together everything I want in a young adult novel. It is action packed and makes me care, even when I really don’t want to. In the beginning, I was sceptical about the plot and characters. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the slow pace but by the middle of the novel I was on the edge of my seat and by the end I was entrapped, ready to pull my hair out and unable to put the book down until the very last word.