Ossus Library Index
Fantasy Index


A novel by Victoria Aveyard
(2016, HarperTeen)

Red Queen, book 1

When a lower-class red-blood discovers a hidden power, she finds herself in the middle of a court intrigue where silver-bloods are conspiring against each other and the Red rebellion.


+ -- First reading (paperback)
November 27th to December 8th, 2021


I liked the emotional tone of this book, as Mare tried to navigate her way through the chaos that is court politics. The definition of the world was terrific, as we get very little history, but we know that it is derived from ours after an apocalyptic war, just from the references. The book is fantasy in many ways, such as the magical powers of the silvers, the medieval world most people live in, and the royalty that rules. But it’s also science fiction, in that it has electricity, motorcycles, subway cars, aircars, and even a place called Naercey that sounds a lot like New York City if you were to slur it. As much as I liked a lot of the characterization and setting, I still had some difficulty getting into the story. I’m not sure if it was the writing style, and I can’t quite figure it out, but it didn’t hold me the way the others of its genre did –it’s too easy to compare this with The Hunger Games or Divergent. I wonder if there was too much hate, and I didn’t fully buy into Mare’s conflicted loyalties. I saw the twist coming almost right from the start, and I’m not sure what gave it away for me, but nevertheless it was well-planned and well executed, especially with the final battle. 

Spoiler review:

Mare is a character similar to Katniss (Hunger Games) and Tris (Divergent) –a conflicted young woman who gets tossed into a situation where she has to figure out the rules, showing strength and determination, while trying to figure out who she loves. The world is not as she was brought up to believe, and there is rebellion in the air. All three of these series follow the same path, though so far Hunger Games does it best.

In this case, the world, which has devolved from ours, is made up of two types of people –silvers and reds, based on the color of their blood. Silvers have special abilities, like x-men, while reds are treated as slaves. Mare, being red, has become a pickpocket, aspiring to nothing, as she’s watched her brothers go off to war and expects to do the same soon. When her best friend Kilorn comes to her with news that he’ll be sent off to the front soon, she panics, and goes to a smuggler, who puts her in touch with the Scarlet Guard to get him away. To pay the exorbitant fee, she gets her sister (a wonderful seamstress) to gain her access to the royal summer palace, where she could pickpocket something of great value. But the Guard strikes, and there is a silver riot, and not only are they forced to leave, but her sister tries to pickpocket somebody and gets caught, and her fingers are broken as payment.

The first part was a necessary introduction to the world, but it passes rather slow. Troubled and ashamed, Mare leaves her village to try and steal money from a nearby pub. But she is caught, by none other than the Prince in disguise. He gets her a job at the palace, because he really is kind-hearted, even if he can’t see his way through hardships to change the world. But all goes wrong when Mare is put in danger at a display of potential Princesses as they show off their powers. Mare, about to die, finds electricity streaming from her hands. A red with powers would upset the balance, so she’s passed off as the long-lost child of a dead silver commander, and her red blood is hidden behind makeup and silks.

To keep an eye on her, she’s betrothed to Maven, the second son of the king. I liked the display of powers the silvers had, from mind-reading and mind control, to magnetism, fire, water, stone skin, and more. Unfortunately, not many of these powers were so unique that they made me applaud the author. With so many x-men movies showing a wide variety of talents, it’s hard to come up with something very new.

The more she sees the silvers in their own environment, the more she hates them. But both Cal and Maven are very nice to her, and she and Cal had a special connection from the moment she tried to pick his pocket. She went through training to control her powers, and to better learn how to harness them. When she asks to go back to her village, Cal sneaks her out, and she secretly joins the Scarlett Guard. Immediately, she’s put to use, planning an attack while a ball is being held. The Guard has such easy access to the palace that it’s a wonder they didn’t just take out all the royals. They could move about unseen, even after the attacks, and even when their faces are generally known.

I wonder, though, if that was made possible by the Queen and Maven. Maven joins the Guard at the same time as Mare, but I wonder how he convinced the red servants that he was trustworthy. Right from the start, I was suspicious, and with Julian’s warning at one of her sessions to trust no one, because anybody can betray anybody. In his case, he was really good at it, showing how much he hated his half-brother Cal, and pretending to want equality between the reds and silvers. I never truly believed he wanted that equality, though, so I guess the Guard was just too desperate for inside allies.

The attack at the ball is exaggerated, as is its death count, and Cal catches the four infiltrators, including Kilorn. After Cal tortures them with silver abilities, Mare uses the abilities of her teacher Julian, who hates the queen, to help them escape. The palace then goes into panic mode, and they pack up for their return trip to the capital. There, the Guard stages a daring attack. I wondered why they brought Mare and Maven from the theatre to a subway and all the way to a forbidden city. Shouldn’t that have taken longer than the play? Did nobody notice they were missing at intermission? This serves to show Maven that the Guard has a ready-made hideout, hidden behind radiation detectors that have been tampered with, so silvers won’t approach.

The attack is foiled because Cal won’t protect Mare when she exposes herself as part of the Guard. He takes her to the king, where the Queen takes control of Cal's body and forces him physically to kill his father. Cal is arrested and Maven ascends to the throne.

This part was definitely the weakest, as Maven’s deceit is revealed. I found the setup to be fine, but the execution, where Arven removes Mare's powers and the queen takes control of Cal, to be questionable. But I suppose they have their own kind of power, in that they can remove anybody who doesn’t believe their story. Why did they need a video of Cal stabbing the king, then? Anybody with a brain would ask why he did it in front of the queen, or any witnesses, if he planned to get away with it. He surely would have had plenty of opportunity to do it in private.

Cal and Mare are forced to fight in the arena, against Cal’s ex-Princess (who was only after the throne), and others. Mare’s powers are taken away until she tricks another mutant to kill Arven, which was too easy to guess. In all, though, the fight was well-described, and I quite enjoyed it. Just as they win (though Evangeline escapes), they are surrounded by soldiers, but the ground opens up below them and she and Cal are rescued by the Guard, who survived the assault earlier.

I wasn’t as engaged as I’d hoped to be, but once the story got started, I liked the characters and learning about the silver abilities. It could have been too much like an x-men story, but I think the author did a good job of avoiding that, as much as possible.


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