I originally read this book a few years ago when it first came out, but when I found it was available as an audiobook through my library, I decided to give it another go. I’ll be honest – it’s not a groundbreaking book by any standard of measure. In a sea of fantasy YA books, this one does little to stand out from the crowd. It’s not a bad book, but it just didn’t have enough unique or interesting elements to make it a great book.
This is a world divided by blood – red or silver. The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change. That is until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power. Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime. But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.
The issue with this book is that just when you think it’s going to push the envelope and do something genre defying, it reverts back to boring tropes. It sets up a possibly vibrant setting – a country divided in two: the Silver bloods and the Red bloods. Silvers being gifted individuals who live the high life and Reds being the working class, impoverished citizens with no supernatural talents. While this could be the start of a rich setting – Red Queen takes the easy road and barely develops the world, instead focusing on developing characters and their relationships with each other.
Plot wise, this book was good but nothing to write home about. Don’t get me wrong, I read this book super quickly and felt pretty gripped/compelled to finish the it most of the time. However, it tended to fall into some predictable patterns for the dystopian genre. It also felt like it lacked stakes at times – having high stakes is crucial to building the tension required to drive emotional investment in this type of story (the sort of story hinging around an underground revolution to over throw the government). Far too much of the book is spent focusing on Mare’s complicated love life. There is a literal revolution going on, and most of the plot is spent on the three boys vying for her attention. Also the big ending twist was pretty easy to see coming from a mile away.
Mare is a tough and gritty Red girl who has lived her whole life only trying to survive. She’s watched her brothers go to war and deeply fears that she too will end up on the front lines. When a gig at the palace is thrust upon her, her gift of electricity manipulation is accidentally revealed. I’ll be honest – I didn’t really love Mare. She was framed to be this tough survivor, but honestly she just rolled over and almost quit in a lot of situations. It’s hard to reconcile a character who the book declares to be tough with someone who never fights back when other people dictate her life. Cal and Maven, the two princes and the other two corners of Mare’s love triangle, were also fairly predictable and bland characters. I really wish that they would have been developed more and had their characters and histories explored more.
This book definitely has a target demographic – people who like their star crossed love triangles with a side of dystopian/fantasy. Since much of the book is dedicated to the romance rather than fleshing out the world and the mythology, it’s definitely not going to hold a lot of appeal to hardcore fantasy and dystopian fans. This book would be great for fans of the Shatter Me series or of the X-Men comic books. If you’re looking for a nice and light way to dip your toe into dystopia this summer, Red Queen should be high on your TBR. 4/5