Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Red Queen - Victoria Aveyard

The Red Queen is a fascinating story, at least partially defined by its setting. The world it posits is one in which normal people, given the nickname ‘Reds’ act as servants to an aristocracy of ‘Silvers’ , individuals with what are effectively super powers – the ability to throw fire, read minds, cause rapid plant growth, control water, and many others. The division into Reds and Silvers is denoted by the colour of their blood – the Silvers, of course, have silver blood. This gives the world an aristocracy where superiority really is genetically determined, and where no Red can become a Silver. Into this feudalised structure falls the protagonist, a young Red girl called Mare – who discovers that she, somehow, has access to powers of her own. 

What Aveyard does well is balance various threads of the protagonists personal dilemma’s against each other. Mare quickly becomes involved with the ruling clique of Silvers, forming close relationships with the two adolescent sons of the king; whilst both are interested in her, her own feelings for them are more ambiguous, and Aveyard gives the reader a very nuanced picture of her emotional landscape. This personal layer sits over the top of layers of politics, which are alluded to in dialogue, and partially explained in the narrative. Where there are gaps in knowledge, the readers matches the protagonists, which is an interesting device – and learning along with the protagonist was, in this case, very enjoyable, as the world and the relationships that Aveyard created are gradually teased together.

This layer of politics, underneath the more personal relationships, itself is layered over a broader world, one in which the Silvers are at war with other nation-states, and where a growing resentment amongst the Reds is approaching the boiling point of revolution. The latter of these is covered in more detail than the former – Mare, as a Red-turned-Silver is a rallying point for both Reds, who see her as a figurehead, and the Silvers, who see her as a means to placate the Red masses. Where it comes up, the discussion of the revolution, and the place of Reds in society, is carefully played – the social situation is mirrored in Mare’s experiences, and so the reader is given a personal stake in the political situation. It’s also worth noting that there is a historical dimension to this – a few references to ‘the world before’ and ‘bunkers’ suggest that this is a post-cataclysm world, of some sort – these delicate hints are nicely done, and I’d be delighted to ear more about the history and context of this world. 

The core cast of characters – Mare, her family, the princes, the Silver Queen – are all well drawn. Mare obviously gets the most depth, but the motivations of the two princes, in particular, are drawn out, examined, and given time to grow over the course of the text; the scenes between all three of them are a pleasure to read. The family interactions work well, and serve to remind the reader of the situation outside the Silver bubble at the same time as they remind Mare – it’s just a shame that we didn’t see more of them. The family dynamic is a good one, and it’s nice to read an opening story about a close knit family, rather than the typical orphan-boy-against-the-world; more please!

That said, there are some issues here – some of the supporting characters, particularly the more antagonistic Silvers, could have stood to have a bit more character exploration; some of the enmity can be put down to the social context, but it would have been nice to put a bit more depth into some of Mare’s detractors. Still, they work well as they are – it would be nice to see some more of their potential realised in any following books though. 

To summarise – the setting is carefully, beautifully drawn, and a joy to investigate – I want to know more about how the world got to where it is, and want to see more of it. The characters are believable, and the main players are given enough depth and nuance to make for easy reading, and to make their actions understandable; it would be easy to draw up cardboard cutouts of “Red good, Silver bad”, but the text avoids this, and it gets serious credit for doing so, and going with a more nuanced approach. The story rattles along at a good pace, drawing in the reader; it gives time to breathe where appropriate, interspersed with hectic action that kept me turning pages. Well worth reading, and I’d encourage it – already looking forward to the next book!

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