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Red Queen Review by Nicole Adrianne

Updated: Apr 10, 2023

If you love dystopian and fantasy books... If you’re wondering what The Hunger Games would have been like if the contestants had superpowers... Or, if you’ve been on #bookTok at any time in the last two years... Then you’re probably curious and excited about Victoria Aveyard’s debut novel Red Queen! This young adult dystopian fantasy book, published in 2015 by HarperTeen, sat on my TBR (To Be Read) list for a long time. So, I’m proud to finally present my Red Queen review.


What Red Queen Is All About


Mare Barrow's world is divided by blood—those with common Red blood serve the Silver-blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.


To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play 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 everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction.


One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal. Amazon description for Red Queen


Red Queen’s protagonist, Mare Barrow, is a thief and hooligan with a heart of gold living in a futuristic version of the northeastern United States. She simultaneously loves her sister and envies her sewing talents. Mare also faces poverty, an oppressive government, a disabled veteran father, and the loss of her three older brothers to military conscription. Her best friend, Kilorn, is her Red partner-in-crime and one of her love interests.


As the book continues, we’re introduced to a pair of princes, Silver half-brothers Maven and Cal. Maven, Cal, and Kilorn form the three corners of a love triangle, with Mare in the middle as she’s pulled into a royal world of political intrigue.


The 416-page story is told from Mare’s first-person present tense perspective. I listened to the audiobook version on Scribd, which is excellently narrated by Amanda Dolan and comes in at a whopping 12 hours and 39 minutes. Red Queen’s audiobook is published by Harper Audio, an imprint of Big 5 publisher HarperCollins.


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Red Queen Review Highlights


Characters. Aveyard developed some incredible minor characters I can’t stop thinking about, including Mare’s tutor Julian, healer Sara, and rebellion captain Farley. Although he’s noticeably absent in this book, Mare’s brother Shade also comes alive vividly in her memories and impressions.


As for major characters, I adore Kilorn and Prince Maven. (Yes, I read the entire book.) Maven is moody, sensitive, and his father’s second-favorite child—which gives him a huge yet endearing inferiority complex. Kilorn, in sharp contrast to Maven’s high intelligence and refined manners, is a street rat and scoundrel who, in my opinion, loves Mare more than anyone. He’s hilarious, bold, and resourceful, the perfect reflection of Mare’s upbringing and original environment.


Entertainment Value. Just like The Selection and Divergent, Red Queen has great entertainment value. The tense atmosphere, detailed worldbuilding, and twisty plot combine into a fun and memorable reading experience. I especially enjoyed when the plot touched on broadcasting media, local Silver law enforcement, and detailed explanations of the world’s families, powers, emblems, and provinces.


Red Queen Review Not-So-Highlights


Characters. Mare is one of the most annoying heroines I’ve read about in a long time. She’s immature, impulsive, haughty, negative, and rude. To be fair, some of that could be explained by the horrible environment she’s grown up in, and she’s definitely a reflection of a bleak, oppressed world. And yet...call me old-fashioned, but I want a hero I can root for, not a hero who’s no better than her enemies.


“But she’s only 17,” you say? “Teenagers are supposed to be immature, impulsive, and rude!” To an extent, yes. Those are teenage stereotypes, and yes, teenagers can be that way—just like the rest of us. But Mare doesn’t remind me of any 17-year-old I know. Her complete lack of objective morality and goodness is the total opposite of most teenage girls I know! She’s not someone I’d want as a friend, and I don’t agree with or appreciate her perspective.


To make matters worse, she falls in love with three boys at the same time. Three? That’s just excessive! I can understand being attracted to all three physically, maybe even emotionally, but to have deeper feelings of loyalty and affection that come with an intense crush or love? That usually appears one at a time. To me, most of the romantic interactions in Red Queen felt stilted because Mare had strong feelings for each boy.


Not to mention, two of the guys are Silvers and sons of the monarchs responsible for enslaving and killing her entire people. Somehow, though, she still falls in love with them almost instantly. Her feelings for them quickly eclipse her attachment to her childhood best friend, who she’s “loved” for years and who hasn’t murdered thousands of innocents.


The whole thing is kind of gross.


And don’t even get me started on Prince Cal, a cardboard cutout of a golden retriever who’s directly responsible for mass murder. Charming. He gets one sweet, fleeting scene with Mare, and she can’t stop thinking about him for weeks after. I have a hard time believing she could get attached to him so quickly—they have nothing in common!


Also, does it bother anyone else that “Cal” and “Kilorn” sound too similar? No, just me?


Writing and Pacing. The writing is painfully repetitive. You’ll find Mare saying the same exact sentences in nearly every chapter. I know Aveyard wants to emphasize her themes, but she could have used a more creative method. She didn’t have to shove the same configurations of words down our collective throats.


Due in part to the repetitive writing, the book suffers from a saggy middle. By that, I mean the book is too long, with not enough going on in between the opening and closing. A ruthless pair of editors would have done this story good—one developmental editor to cut scenes that didn’t move the plot forward or endear us to the characters, and one line editor to reduce wordiness and repetition.


Red Queen Age Rating


According to Common Sense Media, parents say Red Queen is generally suitable for readers 13+. I definitely agree with their rating! PG-13 violence is present, but not gratuitous. There’s no sex and barely any profanity, but the mature themes of terrorism, murder, torture, and oppressive rulers could scare younger children. However, those themes are tackled in an elegant way that I feel is safe and thought-provoking for teens.


Should You Read Red Queen?


Overall, I rated Red Queen 3.5 stars. Irritating characters and slow pacing bogged down its promising concept and inventive plot, but I still appreciated its entertainment value and plan to continue reading the rest of the series. Are you planning to dive into this dystopian debut? If you love books that include...

  • Young adult dystopian books

  • Medieval-inspired fantasy settings

  • Morally grey characters

  • Love triangles

  • Insta-love

  • Thieves with hearts of gold

  • Political intrigue

  • An oppressive government

  • Class differences

  • Rags-to-riches transformations

  • Royal celebrities

  • Themes of justice, inequality, and rebellion

  • Snarky, tough female narrators

...then you might like Red Queen. For a read with similar themes but better romance and narration, try Neal Shusterman’s Scythe! Either way, I recommend giving every book a fair chance—life is too short not to try new stories, and I'd be sad if my Red Queen review turned you away! Any time you crack open a book, you just might find your new favorite read.


Victoria Aveyard


The #1 New York Times bestselling series!


Red Queen, by #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Aveyard, is a sweeping tale of power, intrigue, and betrayal, perfect for fans of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series.


Mare Barrow's world is divided by blood—those with common, Red blood serve the Silver-blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.


To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play 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 everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction.


One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.

 

This article was written by Nicole Adrianne.


Young adult dystopian author Nicole Adrianne is a full-time volunteer, cat lover, and tech enthusiast. She lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with her four cats and not only survives but thrives on the spectrum. When she’s not busy creating lush dystopian worlds, she’s probably cooking an adventurous new recipe, learning a foreign language, reading a thrilling novel, or watching Star Wars.


Check out her work by clicking a book cover below. Her full-length novel, Girl in the Dark, is free!



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