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“You make us work, you make us bleed, you make us die for your wars and factories and the little comforts you don’t even notice, all because we are different,” Mare. —Red Queen
Red Queen #1
by Victoria Aveyard
In the Kingdom of Norta, the silver blood nobility rule over the red blood commoners. While the Silver enjoy luxury, life without strife, and supernatural powers, the Reds live in poor villages, forced into a war they don’t want, and powerless against their Silver rulers. Mare Barrow is a young, Red girl simply trying to get by. After her brothers are shipped off to war, Mare steals money and food to survive, helping her parents and younger sister when she can. When she meets the mysterious Cal, her whole world is flipped upside down. He helps assign Mare to the royal Silver court, where she discovers Cal is the crown prince.
After an accident where Mare falls onto a dome of magical lightning, she discovers she has a power just like the Silvers (a supposed impossibility). To cover up her newfound power, the King forces Mare into the role of a lost Silver princess, betrothing her to his youngest son, Maven.
As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she begins to fall in love with Maven’s older brother, Cal. A budding love won’t stop Mare from supporting her family and fellow Reds. In order to fight the Silvers from inside the palace, Mare secretly joins the Red freedom group. With every step she takes, danger closes in around her. If she steps the wrong way, Mare and everyone she loves will certainly die.
Red Queen focuses on the struggle surrounding the Silver and Red caste systems. For anyone born with Silver blood, life is incredibly easy and much of that luxury is created through the hard work of the lower caste of the Reds. Reds are basically soldiers for the Silvers, as the Silvers send Reds to fight in a war with a neighboring nation, the Lakelands. This gap in the social hierarchy and the ways in which the Silvers flaunt their status create a suspenseful, dangerous situation for any Red, like Mare, that interacts with a Silver because the Silvers can punish the Reds for any reason.
The story unfolds from Mare’s point of view, which allows the reader to see Mare’s inner thoughts, anxieties, and frustrations. However, Mare isn’t the most likable main character. Mare is the typical YA heroine, who is poor, but not particularly perceptive. Despite being described as knowing how to read people, she falls into numerous traps. Even though Mare is clearly on the side of the Reds, she manages to depict both sides in equal light, showing how both the Silvers and Reds can be kind or cruel.
The novel’s main theme is betrayal, which allows Mare to learn not to trust others. This theme of betrayal makes the plot predictable and a bit slow-paced. However, both the politics of the Norta Silver court and the action scenes, which include some spectacular fights, help make up for the slow pace. The Silvers aren’t entirely unified, which leads to some interesting scenes that pit the Silver caste against its own. Mare’s growing love for Cal, the crown prince, also helps to balance out the story. Red Queen leaves readers with a cliffhanger that will leave them dying to know what happens in the next book, Glass Sword.
- Gisa, Mare’s younger sister, has a crush on Mare’s friend. After Mare mentions him, Gisa’s “skin flushes bright red at the mention of him. She even giggles, something she never does. But I don’t have time for her schoolgirl crush, not now.”
- Cal, the elder prince, is regularly tasked with dealing with suitors. Mare watches as a noble girl’s “gaze lands on Cal—I mean the prince—trying to entice him with her doe eyes or the occasional flip of her honey-blond hair.”
- When Mare and Maven go to see Cal, they see him removing his armor. Mare thinks, “He doesn’t notice me at first; he’s focused on removing more of his armor. It makes me gulp.” Later, she’s close to Cal and thinks, “Unable to meet his gaze, I focus on what’s right in front of me. Unfortunately, that happens to be his chest and a much-too-thin shirt.”
- Mare realizes she’s beginning to fall for Cal. While visiting her home, she thinks, “What can I say? That he’s kind? That I’m beginning to like him?” Later on, she kisses him. “His lips are on mine, hard and warm and pressing. The touch is electrifying, but not like I’m used to. This isn’t a spark of destruction but a spark of life.”
- Mare also kisses Maven. She notes, “His kiss is not at all like his brother’ Maven is more desperate, surprising himself as much as me.”
- At the beginning of the novel, two Silvers, Samson and Cantos, fight each other. Before Samson “can hope to stand, Cantos is over him, heaving him skyward. He hits the sand in a heap of what can only be broken bones but somehow rises to his feet again.” Immediately after, “Samson spits, sending a sunburst of silver blood across the arena.” Samson takes control of Cantos’s mind, causing Cantos to kill himself. “Another twist of Samson’s hand and silver blood splashes across the sand as Cantos plunges his sword straight through his armor, into the flesh of his own stomach.”
- After a mass panic, Mare is attacked by a Silver. A “frothing blue wave knocks me sideways, into churning water. It’s not deep, no more than two feet to the bottom, but the water feels like lead.” Mare watches as her sister is attacked, Gisa’s “eyes are on mine as he brings the butt of his gun down, shattering the bones in her sewing hand.”
- At a Silver fighting arena, Mare watches as “birds dive headfirst into the lightning shield, bursting in little clouds of blood, feathers, and deadly electricity, my awe turns to disgust. The shield sparks again, burning up what’s left of the birds until it shines like new.”
- Mare falls onto the lightning shield. Mare’s “head bangs against the shield, and I see stars. No, not stars. Sparks. The shield does its job, lighting me up with bolts of electricity. My uniform burns, scorched and smoking, and I expect to see my skin do the same.” After Mare gets back on her feet, she tries to run from angry Silvers who shoot at her. As she runs, “a blast of gunfire explodes over my head, forcing me to drop to the floor.”
- Mare’s kingdom, the Kingdom of Norta, is at war with the Lakelanders, another nation. Maven tells Mare, “I spent three years in the barracks, following Cal and officers and generals, watching soldiers fight and die for a war no one believed in. Where Cal saw honor and loyalty, I saw foolishness. I saw waste. Blood on both sides of the dividing line, and your people gave so much more.”
- A group of Reds plan to assassinate prominent Silvers. In the aftermath of the assassination, Mare witnesses as “Sonya screams nearby, bent over the body of Reynald. The spry old Ara wrestles her off the corpse, pulling her away from the chaos. Reynald’s eyes stare glassily up at the ceiling, reflecting the red light.”
- After the assassination, Mare trips and “lands face-to-face with a corpse, staring at Colonel Macanthos’s scar. Silver blood trickles down her face, from her forehead to the floor. The bullet hole is strange, surrounded by gray, rocky flesh.”
- After the assassinations, the group of Reds responsible are found and tortured. Mare sees that the torturer “is not gentle, wrenching out Farley’s wounded arm. Farley yelps in pain but still says nothing.”
- In order to free the Reds, Mare attacks two Silvers and gets hurt. “The bullet hits me in the stomach, but my lightning blazes up the metal rail, through his skin, and into the healer’s brain. Pig-Eyes shouts, firing his own gun. The bullet digs into the wall, missing me by inches.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Cal likes to visit Red bars. When Cal tells Mare the palace is stuffy, she says, “And crowded bars, Red bars, aren’t?”
- Oliver, one of the boys that Mare trains with, clutched a “sloshing drink.” He grabs onto Cal, but “Cal shifts out of Oliver’s grip. The drunk windweaver doesn’t seem to notice and keeps babbling.”
- When going through her mentor’s room, Mare notices “the bottle of brown liquor on the table, occupying a spot usually reserved for tea.”
- Lucas, Mare’s personal guard, doesn’t like his cousin, Evangeline. He tells Mare, “Evangeline is a bitch.” Mare echoes this sentiment later on, saying, “Evangeline Samos is a bloodthirsty jerk.”
- After the royal ball is bombed, Maven says, “Bastards.”
- After the bombing, the Queen says the Reds “are a disease.”
- Silvers use magic to help them rule over the Reds. They are sometimes seen as gods. As Mare states, “The gods rule us still. They have come down from the stars. And they are no longer kind.”
- Whispers are Silvers with the rare ability to enter someone’s head, read someone’s thoughts, and control someone’s mind.
- When Mare and her sister try to enter a Silver city illegally, Mare’s ID is scrutinized by a Silver guard. Mare thinks, “I wonder if he’s a whisper too and can read my mind. That would put an end to this little excursion very quickly and probably earn me a cable noose around my neck.”
- Swifts are Silvers that can enhance their speed. After Samson kills Cantos, Swifts rush in to help. “A few are swifts, rushing to and fro in a blur as they herd us out.”
- A nymph is a Silver that can manipulate water.
- Telkies are Silvers that can levitate objects.
- A greeny is a manipulator of plants and earth. Mare watches as a “florist runs his hands through a pot of white flowers and they explode into growth, curling around his elbows.”
- Strongarms are Silvers that have superhuman strength. Mare notices “A Silver next to me clenches his fist and pounds on the bar, sending spider cracks through the solid rock top.”
- A cloner is a Silver that can clone themselves. When Mare is caught stealing by a cloner, she thinks, “And then there are three of them, four, five, six, surrounding us in the crowd.”
- The King is a burner who can control fire. Mare watches as fire “seems to burn against his inky black hair flecked with gray.”
by Jonathan Planman