Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard Reviewed by Colleen Graves, Kerri Harris, and Donalyn Miller
Graceling meets The Selection in debut novelist Victoria Aveyard’s sweeping tale of seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose once-latent magical power draws her into the dangerous intrigue of the king’s palace. Will her power save her or condemn her?
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.
Author’s Website: http://victoriaaveyard.com
It all started in Austin…
Colleen: The week of the Texas Library Association Conference (TLA), I realized that now that I’m going to be a high school teacher librarian, and I can read the super good YA. So I excitedly started Red Queen because I’d seen multiple 8th graders reading it and it seemed to keep popping up.
Once at TLA, I was ready to see my tweeps. I hadn’t seen Kerri or Donalyn in a few years, but we used to travel to the National Writing Project conferences together almost yearly. (I still remember sitting in our hotel room in New York when Donalyn’s book, The Book Whisperer, had just been picked up and she was invited to go to dinner with Janet Allen.) So when I found out we were all at TLA together, I knew we had to meet and have lunch. After an epic author run in with Tom Angleberger, Chris Barton, and John Rocco on the patio of Moonshine—Donalyn, Kerri, and I were able to snag a table at the crowded Austin restaurant.
Of course the first question from our book nerdian mouths was, “What book(s) are you reading?” Only to find out we were all reading Red Queen! Thus a collaborative blog post was born. Upon returning home, it seemed every teenager in my library was also reading Red Queen. My library aide, the kid who comes in every lunch, every female in Mrs. Hatcher’s English class….
Kerri: This is my second year to be a middle school librarian, which means it’s my second year to go to TLA. Since I am typically the only middle school librarian from my district to attend TLA, I usually spend it by myself. Author stalking and attending the sessions that are relevant to my school make for a productive, if not lonely, way to spend four days. So, when Donalyn told me she was also going to TLA this year, I was thrilled. I hadn’t really spent any quality time with my long lost friend and kindred book spirit in the last year, and I couldn’t wait to see her!
Donalyn and I always laugh that we make the perfect roommates because we both believe in a little DEAR time at the end of the day. Imagine my surprise to see her unpack her book bag, hold up a copy of Red Queen and ask, “Have you read this one yet?” In response, I just pointed to my stack of books with Red Queen sitting on top and smiled. When we saw our old NWP friend, Colleen, a couple of days later and discovered she was also reading this book, it just seemed that a collaborative book review was the only way this story could end.
Donalyn: I am not a librarian, so I have never attended TLA. Texas librarians are keeping a big secret—this conference is one of the best. I met so many enthusiastic, savvy librarians, and the authors in attendance are top notch. I saw Red Queen online somewhere and bought it because of the cover. Forget the cliché’, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We all do it. When I discovered that Colleen, Kerri, and I were all reading Red Queen, I took it as a sign that the book was going to be a great read. I also took it as a sign that I have good taste in friends.
Colleen: I even started booktalking it to all the authors we’ve been chatting with online at my school library—telling them to read it, and let me know their thoughts! A couple of days before fantasy author Lindsay Cummings came to our library, she re-posted this pic of her book alongside THE RED QUEEN! This book is everywhere right now.
Yes, we are going to talk about the book…
Colleen: When I started Red Queen, I instantly compared it to Legend by Marie Lu, then during the training it felt like Hunger Games and The Testing, and eventually the battle over the throne reminded me of a PG version of Game of Thrones. (Speaking of, anyone read Allies and Assassins? It really is like a YA version of Game of Thrones.)
Kerri: The world has changed. There are now only people who have red blood and people who have silver blood. The red bloods are regular people who live outside of the kingdom of silver-blooded royalty and lords. The red bloods live to serve and fight wars for the silver bloods. What keeps this system from toppling? The silver bloods have strange powers that are just scary enough to make the red bloods stay in their place. Except for Mare. She has the ability to harness electricity. And once the silver bloods find THAT out, they have to spin a web of lies to make sure no one ever finds out. But Mare doesn’t feel like cooperating with that plan.
Donalyn: While The Red Queen sounds like a hundred other dystopian romances, the writing stood out to me. Victoria Aveyard may be a debut novelist, but she has background as a screenwriter—and it shows. The dialogue crackles and the fight scenes read like an action movie. I liked that there were lots of battles! What’s the point of writing characters with cool abilities if they never use them? I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, and as a general rule, I prefer heroines who kick butt over lovesick moaners any day (I am looking at you, Bella).
Plot twists and cliffhangers…
Colleen: So Kerri told me when I was about halfway in, be ready to be shocked around Chapter 28. “I’m not going to say what happened, but give yourself an hour when you get near that chapter.” So I expected a massive level of violence or shocking twist. I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone, but I wasn’t actually shocked after Chapter 28. Just make sure you give yourself room in your head for the repeating motif “Anyone can betray anyone.”
I should note that I had quite a few students reading it and many of them were just absolutely devastated when they finished Red Queen. A few kids I tried to suggest the book to said they weren’t going to read it because the end made their friend sad for days. To which I replied, “Doesn’t that make you want to read it more? Since a book could have such an impact?”
Kerri: Once I got started reading this book, I got lost in the world of these strange people. I was afraid it was going to be too much fantasy for me. I don’t like it when fantasy books are full of strange names and weird places – so much so that I can no longer picture what is happening in my mind. I know. I know. That’s what makes fantasies what they are. But I never was able to read those kinds of books. I need there to be enough reality in them so that I can relate to the characters and the plot. This book had just enough realism to keep me reading.
Donalyn: I love fantasy and science fiction, but that doesn’t mean that I instantly fell into Red Queen. It’s hard not to compare this book to every other book in its genre, but it was interesting to see how Victoria Aveyard took familiar tropes and made them her own. The court intrigue and political game playing were the best part, and reminded me of Jennifer Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy. With more blood.
Colleen: I was worried about the fantasy aspect at first too, Kerri. I just can’t read high fantasy. (I have to sadly admit right now that I did not finish Throne of Glass…) I too can’t handle too much world building or too much king, princes, trolls, etc. Plus, I was worried that it was going to be like all the other dystopian books I’ve read the last few years. BUT IT ISN’T! It’s so different and so good! I felt like Mare was a very relatable character even if she does carry the epithet, “little lightning girl.”
Kerri: I also liked that it really ramped up the action towards the end. Some books tend to slow down in the middle to get the readers ready for a big ending. This book tended to speed up. Do not plan on doing anything in your life after Chapter 26! From that point, it is a constant action scene with plenty of revelations to keep your from putting down the book!
Colleen: Ramp up? I felt like the whole book was action packed! Although I felt like the beginning tricked me a little into thinking it would be a different type of book. It’s hard to tell what the time period and setting is supposed to be at first. However, as soon as I finished, I tossed the book to my husband and said, “Get reading #superlibrarianhubs! This is the next big thing!”
Donalyn: I stayed up until 1 am on a weeknight to finish Red Queen. Kerri’s right. You hit a certain point in the book and you can’t stop reading it. Knowing that there’s a sequel can trick readers into thinking that the main Silvers and Reds survive for another book, but don’t be so sure…
Series Commitment Issues
Kerri: I consider myself a bit of a series snob. There are so many books in my TBR stack that I don’t like to spend too much time on one set of characters in one book series. I’m pretty sure that rule won’t apply when the sequel to Red Queen comes out next year. My only complaint about this book is that I will have to wait too long to find out what plans Mare has to make sure the silver bloods don’t get away with murd. . . oh, dear. Almost gave that away, didn’t I?
Colleen: You are not a snob, Kerri. I think that’s a normal librarian thing to do. We have to read so much to stay caught up with what our readers are reading, that many times we can’t read the second, third, fourth, book etc. (Although there are some series I carve out a few weeks for every summer – like Higson’s The Enemy series.)
Donalyn: I will admit that I have series commitment issues. When you like to read fantasy and science fiction, you are setting yourself up for endless series, and I sometimes long for a great stand alone (Thank you for The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater.) Trying to match students with books they might like and stay current on new books, I can’t spend months bogged down in a series. I often read the first book in a series, and move on to something else. Sometimes, a storyline grabs me and I know I am along for the ride no matter how many books it takes. Red Queen definitely hooks you.
Colleen and Kerri, it was great to see you at TLA and bond over our shared love for young readers and their books. Thanks for agreeing to write this group post. I hear there’s a Red Queen movie in the works. We should definitely make a date to see it together!
Colleen Graves is a middle school librarian at Lamar Middle School (soon to be high school librarian!), obsessed with Learning Commons transformations, Makerspaces, technology education and making stuff. Always a maker, Colleen brings a passionate artistic energy to the school library world. She loves all things Google, and is a Certified Google Educator, as well as a Google Education Trainer.This year Colleen was awarded the School Library Journal (SLJ) School Librarian of the Year Co-finalist Award and named by Scholastic as one of the Top Ten School Librarians to follow on Twitter. See her programming in action on a daily basis by following @gravescolleen.
Kerri Harris is a middle school librarian at Hillwood Middle School in Keller, TX. She’s a wicked softball player and amazing mom to two boys. You can find her library on Twitter at @harriskerri.
Donalyn Miller has taught fourth, fifth, and sixth graders in Northeast Texas. She is the author of two books about encouraging students to read, The Book Whisperer (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and Reading in the Wild (Jossey-Bass, 2013). Donalyn co-hosts the monthly Twitter chat, #titletalk (with Nerdy co-founder, Colby Sharp) and the Best Practices Roots (#bproots) chat with Teri Lesesne. Donalyn launched the Twitter summer and holiday reading initiative, #bookaday. You can find her on Twitter at @donalynbooks or under a pile of books somewhere, happily reading.