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.
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
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.