Red Queen

by Victoria Aveyard
First sentence: “I hate First Friday.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy brought back from the ABA Winter Institute for me by a co-worker.
Content: There’s a lot — a LOT — of violence, some of it gruesome. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, and I’m going to leave it there, but I wouldn’t be adverse to giving it to a kid who could stomach Maze Runner or The Hunger Games.

This one is getting All the Buzz (at least in the bookselling circles). It’s got a great cover (seriously), and it’s another one of those vaguely apocalyptic books and so I think publishers are expecting it to do Great Things. I don’t know if that raised my expectations — it is a debut novel, so I don’t know how high they could have been — but this fell flat for me.

Mare Barrow is a Red. Which means, in this world (it was never clear if it’s Earth or a different world entirely), that she’s considered low. Base. A slave. Because her blood bleeds red. See, in this world, the people who have all the power are the ones whose blood is Silver (perhaps because they were aliens that invaded the planet hundreds of years ago? It was never clear.) and because they have powers that give them an advantage over those low Reds. Mare figures she’s going to spend her short life stealing to get by until she gets conscripted into the war that’s been going on for a hundred years, in which she will die.

And then her life changes: she meets Cal, a Silver, who gets her a job in the palace, and then during the Queenstrial (in which Silvers from the noble houses compete to become the prince’s bride), she discovers (quite by accident) that she has powers, like a Silver.

All this sets in motion political intrigue, betrayal, and a lot of fighting that will ultimately be Mare’s downfall. Maybe.

The plot doesn’t sound half bad: there’s a bit of a forced love triangle, and a twist at the end that wasn’t entirely unexpected. But the thing that kept pulling me out of the book was two simple words: smirk and sneer. EVERYONE smirked. EVERYONE sneered. And after the first 15 times, I noticed every time someone did. Then after the next 30, I lost patience with the book and skipped to the end. I did go back and fill in the middle, just to see how we got to the end, but I ended up loathing the book for two simple words. I couldn’t get past it. That’s just lazy writing and lazy editing (and the book would have been 20 pages shorter if they were all deleted). Sure, there were some interesting ideas about class and race and bias, but I couldn’t rise above the writing level to appreciate them.

Definitely for someone less picky than me.

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