An overrated slog of a book that’s as disappointing as it is predictable
Young Adult fiction gets a hard time. Having written a dissertation on the crossover nature of the category, I will happily defend the brilliance of it and why it shouldn’t be deemed as some sort of ‘lesser’ literature. It’s an exciting, still relatively new field, which is home to some of the best novels I’ve read in recent years. However, it’s books like Red Queen that give it a bad name.
It’s been a long time since I could say I hated a book, but sadly Victoria Aveyard’s debut novel is worthy of the title. In fact, the best part of this book was the end – not least because it was finally over. Brace yourselves for the harshest review I’ve possibly ever written, but a book as overhyped as Red Queen needs it.
Aveyard has admitted herself that she wanted to write “the next big YA novel” and how did she do this? By using the stale, stereotypical formula we’ve seen time and time again. Now, I’ve read some incredible Young Adult books that challenge conventions and break the mound with no love triangles or heroines in need of rescuing. Take Tasha Kavanagh’s Things We Have In Common or Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda or Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours, to name but a few. Young Adult books don’t have to be what everyone thinks they are! They can be groundbreaking, they can be fun, they can stay with you long after the last word… I’ve already forgotten most of Red Queen.
Let’s get started with our narrator, the unbearably whiney Mare Barrow. The key to any book, YA or not, is a protagonist you feel something for. Whether they are likeable or not, trustworthy or deceitful, you need to care about them in some way to compel you to keep reading. I can wholeheartedly say I didn’t care about Mare at all. Did she triumph? Did she fail? Did she fall in love? Did I care? No. Why? Because she is essentially a woman-hating, naive brat.
Of course, Aveyard chose to write this book in first person, so we’re stuck inside Mare’s head, suffering every thought that meanders through her head. And when I say every, I mean every single thought. Once such recurring thought is that every woman she meets doesn’t like her. Because women naturally hate each other on site, right? Especially ones that are as extraordinary as Mare Barrow with her revolutionary superpower, quick wit and badass attitude… Or so she thinks.
Onto another aspect of this book I loathed – the overuse of italics. You’d be hard pushed to find a single page that didn’t have something in italics because this is the only way you can empathise something, don’t you know? This is the only way to show this is one of Mare’s thoughts, even though the whole story is told from her perspective. It’s patronising and unnecessary.
In fact, it’s fair to say Aveyard’s ripped off one of the biggest YA series in recent years, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. First, we have our heroine who comes from the slums of society and looks after her family, including a younger sister who might as well be called Prim. Speaking of society, the world is divided into Reds and Silvers, much like the Capitol and the districts. The Silvers are in control and essentially use the Reds as slaves, which leads to a rebel alliance forming – ring a bell, anyone? Needless to say, Mare is a core part of this alliance. Much like Katniss is used as a distraction by the Capitol, Mare is paraded in front of cameras and crowds for the same means – she even issues a Panem-like speech to the Reds. Not to mention, there’s arenas that Silvers fight in for entertainment – I mean, come on!
Now, for the worst crime of all clichéd Young Adult novels – the dreaded love triangle. Only Mare is so special, she gets a love square. First, we have Gale – I mean Killorn – who is the boy that’s always been secretly in love with Mare growing up but it can never happen, of course. So, he joins the rebellion when Mare is taken away because he’s Gale and has to watch her fall for another guy because yup, he’s Gale. Well, technically another two guys who are brothers because it’s not true jealousy unless there’s blood involved.
Cal and Maven are Silver princes, raised in the lap of luxury, which Mare has never experienced. Cal is the eldest, which makes him the strongest and dullest one of the pair, destined to be King. Maven is the forgotten sibling in the shadow cast by his brother and resents every minute of it. Mare is betrothed to Maven, even though she fancies Cal, because we need this obstacle. But, she starts to fall for Maven and convinces herself she feels nothing for Cal. It’s embarrassingly predictable and let’s face it, unrealistic, because having one guy lusting after someone as annoying as Mare would be a miracle, let alone three.
There’s so much more I could say about this grating novel, but my
rant review needs to end sometime! The fact there is a sequel baffles me and I just don’t care enough to read it. If you did like this book, then of course you’re entitled to your opinion, but the only redeeming part I can find is the twist at the end, which I would have saw coming if I had paid enough attention to the words I was reading.