Cover Lust: I usually only award Cover Lust to those with splashes of color and flowing princess dresses, but Red Queen‘s cover dazzles in its simplicity. The shining silver creates a perfect backdrop for the sinister-looking crown, flowing with glistening red blood. The fact that the crown is inverted gives you a clue as to how dark the story will be (as if the blood doesn’t give it away). Even though I love girly covers, this one is actually a breath of fresh air from the vast array of colorful ball gowns that decorate the shelves of YA sections in bookstores. There’s something about it that is hypnotizing; you can’t just walk past it without letting it pull you in.
Back Blurb: Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood–those with red and those with silver. Mare and her family are lowly Reds, destined to serve the Silver elite whose supernatural abilities make them nearly gods. Mare steals what she can to help her family survive, but when her best friend is conscripted into the army she gambles everything to win his freedom. A twist of fate leads her to the royal palace itself, where, in front of the king and all his nobles, she discovers a power of her own–an ability she didn’t know she had. Except…her blood is Red.
To hide this impossibility, the king forces her into the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks her new position to aid the Scarlet Guard–the leaders of a Red rebellion. Her actions put into motion a deadly and violent dance, pitting prince against prince–and Mare against her own heart.
The Book: Anyone can betray anyone. This quote is one of the recurring themes of the book. Betrayal lurks behind every corner of Mare Borrow’s journey from Red peasant to Silver rebel princess. Mare’s home kingdom of Norta is divided into two peoples: the elite Silvers and the weak and powerless Reds. The only difference between the two classes is their blood–Reds bleed natural human red while Silver blood glistens with godlike powers. The Silvers possess special abilities that allow them to take control and govern the Reds, forcing them into live in destitution and slavery.
Red Mare is quickly approaching eighteen, the age of conscription. The Silvers enforce mandatory enrollment into the army of all Reds who are not apprenticed or employed as they come of age. With employment so scarce, Mare knows she will soon join her three older brothers in the pointless war against the Lakelanders that has waged for a hundred years. When her only friend Kilorn suddenly loses his job, she desperately seeks help from an underground rebel, Farley, to save him from conscription. Before she can save him, she finds herself drafted by the heir to the king to work in the royal palace.
When a horrific act by a Silver almost kills Mare, she suddenly unleashes a power she never knew she had: the power to create and control electricity, a Silver power. Mare discovers that she is both Red and Silver, but stronger than both. King Tiberias and Queen Elara are horrified at the discovery that a Red might be more powerful than them. They force Mare into marrying their younger son Maven, who is second in line to the throne behind his brother Cal. The king and queen protect Mare’s Red identity and force her to submit to their will. They know she can destroy them, and having her join their forces will make them more powerful. Despite Mare’s hatred for the Silvers and what they have done to her people, she cannot escape. She does not yet understand her powers and they have ways of controlling her.
Soon Mare realizes she is not alone. Farley shows up in the palace and has secretly allied with members of the royal family. Farley is the leader of the Scarlet Guard, the Red rebel legion that is attempting to overthrow the Silver government and gain equality and freedom for the Reds. Mare soon become a pawn in both sides of the game; in the attempt by the royals to stop the Scarlet Guard and Farley’s rebellion that has been planned since long before she was born. While Mare is strong and determined, the shocking betrayals by the ones she trusts prove that her enemies are more powerful than she ever imagined.
When I first heard of Red Queen, I was thinking it might be another Alice in Wonderland retelling. Although I would have loved that, I was excited to learn that its Dystopian setting is fantastical and much like Alice’s “Wonderland.” The capital inhabited by the Silvers is breathtaking and imaginative, but is a nightmare for any Red who dares enter it.
People on Goodreads keep comparing Red Queen to Red Rising, which I haven’t read yet, so I would say that Red Queen is The Selection meets The Jewel, with elements of The Hunger Games thrown in. All four stories have dazzling capitals filled with excessive wealth and luxury, while the masses struggle to simply put bread on their tables. The elite grow richer as the masses are oppressed, and a single girl (Mare, America, Violet, and Katniss) finds herself a symbol of a rebellion planned long before she ever existed. Each girl is similar in the fact that she refuses to accept her fate as one of the oppressed, she is selfless and puts others before herself, and unfortunately she has someone at home who has suffered as a result of her poor choices. My heart goes out to these girls, especially Mare, when her beloved sister Gisa falls victim to the Silvers’ cruelty when trying to help Mare. Mare loves her sister dearly, but cannot deal with the shame of having sentenced promising young Gisa to such a sad fate. Determined to rise and avenge the Silvers’ brutality against her family, Mare bravely stands up against the most evil of evils. Mare is a perfectly imperfect heroine; she is anything but what a queen should be but everything a queen should come from.
My only complaint about this novel is that while the plot is exceptional, the writing is a bit choppy. There seem to be a few holes, like when Mare describes someone as dead and then they’re alive a few pages later. At times the scenery changes so quickly you have to go back and reread a few pages to remember where you are. Sometimes the surroundings are described vividly, others they are rushed and non-descriptive. But overall, this story is amazing. It has everything I love in a Dystopian Fantasy–princesses, magic powers, handsome princes, and much, much more. The love triangle (square?) also adds the perfect touch to the story. It’s obvious that Mare loves Kilorn, although she only alludes to this fact once or twice. Is it a romantic love, or a love built from friendship and security? She develops feelings for Maven, but has an undeniable attraction towards Cal that she knows is wrong. After the shocking twist at the ending, I’m eager to see if Mare will end up with someone or choose independence.
Sadly, we will have to wait until 2016 to learn Mare’s fate. As usual, HarperTeen teases us with endlessly long waits between publications. There will be a novella coming out on September 1, 2015, but the name and release date of the second book in the trilogy are yet to be announced. After this stunning debut, I’m sure the next books will be well worth the wait.
What did you think of Red Queen? Sound off in the comments below!