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Getting Back Together with ‘Red Queen’

by Olivia Yayla

We all have those books we buy, read half of, then abandon the moment we buy another. This phenomenon can best be described as the book break-up. And Lord knows I have an insane amount of exes. They lounge on our bookshelves, silently judging us while collecting dust, waiting for the next spurt of spontaneity that drives us to dust it off and finish it. I dated “Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard two years ago, and this weekend we finally rekindled our relationship.

In my quest to end all unfinished business with my literary exes, ‘Red Queen’ is definitely the best one to start with, as the only problem I had with it was the pure frustration and anxiety that strangled me with each turn of a page.

“Red Queen” follows protagonist Mare Barrow, who lives in a world separated by blood. In the Kingdom of Norta, citizens are either part of the Ruling Silver Elite, aristocrats who possess special abilities due to their silver blood, or the powerless Red commoners who are seen as beneath them. Mare lives in the Lakelands, an impoverished country of Reds under Silver rule, where Red-blooded children must study a skill and obtain an apprenticeship before the age of 18 or else they will be sent to the frontlines of the Silver’s war.

The story begins with Mare and her childhood friend Kilorn pickpocketing unknowing Silvers during the excitement of a Silver fighting tournament. Here, we learn about the most common Silver abilities which outrank the normalcy of the Redbloods. Silvers are gifted with and can defeat their opponents through telekinesis, superhuman strength, healing and/or manipulation of earthly elements, minds and metals. We discover that Mare’s 18th birthday is near, and she has yet to obtain an apprenticeship. By chance, she managed to find a job working as a server at the Silver Palace where she discovers, quite publicly, that she is a Red blood with the powers of a Silver.

Fearful of Mare’s rare powers and the possible derailment of the Silver patriarchy, the royal family forces Mare to both pretend to be a long-lost Silver and marry their younger son, all so that they may surveil her as a threat and keep her right under their noses. But Mare’s conflicts don’t end there, as she develops confusing feelings for both her soon-to-be husband, Maven, and his king-to-be brother, Cal. While navigating the foreign and dangerous ways of Silver life, Mare has been given an impossible choice– join the Red rebellion and overthrow the Silvers, or keep her family safe from those who wish to continue the Red prejudice and keep others from uncovering the truth.

Fantasy character names can either be extremely creative, or cringeworthy to the point of no return. The audacity of the names can even be enough to act as the sole reason for the book breakup, one which I believe shouldn’t be judged in the book community. But I personally want to pick the brain of Aveyard just to find out how these names came to be, and if there’s a baby name book for badass characters that I don’t know about. As an aspiring author, I can only hope to find a main character name as striking as Mare Barrow. But we all can’t be that lucky, because if we were, we wouldn’t have to mispronounce the well-known embarrassment such as Chaol Westfall. (*cough cough* Sarah J. Maas.)

But I must admit that my favorite part of this book has to be those tiny details Aveyard wrote into the plot. For example, Mare’s character goes through drastic changes throughout the story, yet her earrings stay the same. As they represent that no matter how Silver she pretends to be, she’s Red at her core. Not to reveal too much of the story, but her four, later five, earrings represent a person close to her heart. They ground her as a character while reminding the reader that it’s pointless to try to be anyone but yourself.

If you’re interested in viewing genocide and slavery in a different light, or feeling stress and worry for a world with deathly real characters that don’t physically exist, “Red Queen” wants your number.

Lastly, in my defense, I think readers will understand what I mean when I say that sometimes a book can be too good to finish. And I definitely sort “Red Queen” into that category. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I truly regret ghosting “Red Queen” all those years ago, especially after learning that there are 10 books and novellas in the series already. My bad, Aveyard, hope you feel the same way!

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