It is against my better judgement that I should like this book. A big part of me is telling me that this book is trash, that I shouldn’t even like this book. I know its flaws, there are some inherently problematic issues (and I will acknowledge them), and it is not perfect — far from perfect. But then I think: if I give this book a low rating because of objective measures and criticisms but I enjoyed it, wouldn’t it be a betrayal to who I am as a reader? By no means are my criticisms any less valid, but similarly, how I feel about this book is no less valid too. So, here is my proclamation: I loved this book.
Woo-wow. I just want to lay on the floor a little bit.
Red Queen has a very shaky and uncertain start, and I certainly understand why many readers gave up on it early in the book. Ten percent into the book, I wasn’t sure as to how it could improve, but I gave Aveyard a chance to prove me wrong (and she did). The world-building was my biggest concern. Perhaps it was due to my own preconceptions of what this book would be like, but I was confused with the feudal-like setting mixed with the presence of security cameras and advanced technology. Though this is eventually mitigated with Aveyard’s development of the setting, it was very strange and difficult for me to envision.
Red Queen falls into the trap of making many, many mistakes that are ubiquitous in YA books – I will not deny that. The portrayal of female characters (and male characters too, for that matter) irked me, and unnecessarily played into stereotypical representations of women. The main character cannot dance because there must be some palpable flaw. Some of the male characters in the book were nice to her for no good reason, or she was mentored because she was a curiosity rather than a sentient being. The list goes on.
But my God, there is something about this book that I love. Something that just slowly pulled me in. Now I have fallen headfirst into this book and its world. You win Aveyard; I lose.
Further to my first sentence, I would also like to consider myself quite critical when it comes to reading and books. I enjoy being critical; I enjoy reading books that invite me to critique and to engage with its messages and themes. However, I resign to the fact that, on the rare occasion, there will be a book that I will love despite its flaws. There will be a book where I will overlook those flaws and allow myself to enjoy the plot, should the plot be good enough.
For Red Queen, it was. I enjoyed its plot immensely; it made my heart pound, and it kept me up until the little hours of the morning because I could not, for the life of me, put it down. It exhilarated me. I was so enthralled by the narrative, the developments, and its characters. Though my initial impression of Mare, the main character, was less than positive – I believed her to be forgettable, boring, stereotypical – as Mare is pulled further into the conflict and workings of the war and conspiracy, she grew on me. I began to like her; I liked her resolve, how she was proud but insecure, and showed hues of strength and weakness in the face of adversity. Mare, I believe, is a worthy heroine who is trying to find what is right and what is good in a game that is much bigger than she is – and she is willing to acknowledge this very fact.
Contrary to what some readers may think, I loved the idea of the Scarlet Guard – Rise, red as the dawn. Aveyard must have known that I am a sucker for revolution motifs. The imagery the Scarlet Guard, their cause, and their symbols painted a beautiful and glorious picture in my mind. I appreciated Aveyard’s portrayal of conflict, war and rebellion – that it is never simple, it is deeply complex because it comes with centuries of conflict and oppression. There are some truly dark, brutal moments in Red Queen, but Aveyard never shies away from the cruel, realistic portrayal of a nation at war – the inevitable sacrifices, and the needless and senseless sanctioned deaths. Aveyard never tries to simplify the war, but showed the depth and breadth of it by layering it with various narratives, perspectives, and idea.
I don’t see Red Queen as a romance; there are certainly romance elements, but the romance or relationships are just a small part of the web of lies, the power struggle, and manipulation in the game. Aside from that – and dare I say it – but I was fooled. The romance got me. I was smitten by one of the characters, and I liked him — a lot. (I’m an idiot.) But, with so many characters with cracked facades and hidden motives, I’m now very interested in how the story will develop on this front.
I enjoyed the Red Queen. I see myself re-reading this book, and I don’t say that often – the only books I’ve ever re-read, or am willing to re-read, are the fourth Harry Potter book and the Bloodlines series. In fact, I would endeavour to say that Red Queen is one of my favourite reads of 2015 so far, and depending on how the series goes, maybe one of my new favourite books. And I think that’s what it comes down to sometimes: I see great potential in this series; I think it has the potential to be fantastic and important, given its themes. I am conscious of the fact that it could go completely the other way and end up being terrible, but I am optimist. I think Aveyard can deliver.
So, to sum up my probably-confusing-and-conflicting thoughts about Red Queen: I still don’t really know why I love you, but I do, and I’m going to love you anyway.
Rating: 3/5 (2017 rating adjusted)
Book Name: Red Queen
Author: Victoria Aveyard