Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen #1)

I’m a sucker for book covers. So when I saw Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, with its pearly-white background and upturned silver crown with blood spilling down it, I was intrigued. And when I found out it was part of a YA fantasy series, I was even more intrigued.

I originally read and listened to the books (yes, at the same time) earlier this year using the Libby app. If you’re not familiar with it, Libby is a library app where you connect your public library card information, and then browse and place holds on audiobooks and ebooks. For free. I can’t recommend it enough. And to my knowledge, the app is available to people outside the US, too. Give it a go!

In short, the Red Queen series was absolutely fantastic. So much so I ended up buying a gorgeous hardcover collection to come back to.

If you’re not familiar with the series, here’s a list of the other books, which I’ll review in the coming weeks.

Red Queen novellas and short stories

I should also mention that Aveyard wrote a series of novellas and short stories to go along with the main books. These novellas are available in two different collections, and they’re written from various characters’ perspectives. Some are prequels to the Red Queen story while the new additions in Broken Throne are meant to give closure to the series.

  • Cruel Crown (prequels published in 2016)
    • Queen Song
    • Steel Scars
  • Broken Throne (published in 2019)
    • Queen Song
    • Steel Scars
    • World Behind
    • Iron Heart
    • Fire Light
    • Fare Well

I personally haven’t read the novellas or short stories yet, but when I do, I plan to review them here. But let’s jump into book one.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard summary

What I love about the Red Queen series is how built-out the world is. It isn’t just about a teenage girl who finds out she has never-before-seen power, or about the complicated love triangle (love diamond?) between her and other major characters. It’s about the politics—the conflicts among expansive Silver kingdoms—and the social injustices against the Reds, humans who have been pulverized beneath the boots of all-powerful Silvers.

This especially resonates with the state of the world today. Given the horrible events that have taken place here recently in the United States with the murder of George Floyd and countless other black Americans, I believe any fictional story that calls out discrimination and inequity—whether it be race, gender, sexual orientation, ageism—is worthy and necessary to remedy the generational misthinking that has propagated since the earliest civilizations.

We are all human. And we are all deserving of human decency and equal rights.

Until you recognize us as human, as equal, the fight will be at your door. Not on a battlefield but in your cities. In your streets. In your homes. You don’t see us, and so we are everywhere. And we will rise up, Red as the dawn.

Red Queen

In Red Queen, Victoria Aveyard seamlessly weaves in the history and bloodshed of the Red versus Silver conflict. These terms represent the physical distinction between the two groups: red is the color of human blood and silver is the color for those with superhuman abilities.

Types of silverbloods

Beyond Red versus Silver, there’s a vast collection of powers manifested even among silverbloods.

  • Strongarms exhibit superhuman strength
  • Telkies move things with their mind
  • Eyes see the future
  • Swifts move incredibly fast
  • Nymphs manipulate water
  • Burners manipulate fire
  • Greenys (greenwardens) manipulate plant matter
  • Animosi control animals and living organisms
  • Stoneskins have impenetrable skin like a shield
  • Oblivions explode anything living or inanimate
  • Silents negate other powers
  • Shadows bend light, appearing invisible
  • Whispers infect the mind and take control of people. These are bad mother f*ckers.

And this isn’t an exhaustive list. There are different kinds of healers, silvers who can control or kill using their voices, magnetrons who manipulate metals, mimics, storms, and several other types of elementals.

Silverbloods are like X-Men, but inhabiting a more fantastical world than our own. It’s pretty rad.

Characters in Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Redbloods aside, with so many different types of silverbloods, it goes without saying that Aveyard’s cast of characters runs just as deep. It reminds me of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones where there are countless house names and their respective families and conflicts who all have some part to play in the greater plot.

The same goes for Red Queen. Different families—or houses—inherit different abilities, and depending on those abilities, there’s a clear hierarchy for which families boast the most prestige.

Where this series really gets interesting is when the red-blooded main character, Mare Barrow, accidentally discovers she can control lightning, or electricity. It’s an enormously powerful ability and one that’s quite rare.

Let’s touch on the key players. Spoilers ahead.

Who is Mare Barrow?

Mare Barrow is the series protagonist and heroine. When the story begins, she is about to turn eighteen. Upon which, she will be conscripted into the Silver army of Norta to help wage war against enemy Silver kingdoms. She is a gifted pickpocket, even for a Red, able to steal from Reds and Silvers alike. Though she has to be careful about which Silvers she targets.

She lives in a place called the Stilts and has 3 older brothers who’ve already been conscripted into the army: Bree, Tramy, and Shade, and a younger sister named Gisa who works as a silk embroiderer for silverbloods.

Even for being so young, Mare defends her prudent outlook of the world, recognizing the injustices and tyranny that dictate the way of life for Reds. She experiences poverty, discrimination, and the impact of war in everyday life, and these experiences make her susceptible to the avant-garde shifts that guide the main plot forward.

Who is Kilorn Warren?

Kilorn Warren is another teenage resident of the Stilts and is Mare’s best friend. He is a fisherman’s apprentice and excels at swimming and working on the ocean and rivers. Because of the apprenticeship, he won’t be conscripted into the Nortan Silver army (which is good because his father died while serving). The loss still affects him deeply.

However, unfortunate events take place, and Kilorn’s luck eventually runs out. This is when he and Mare make a pivotal decision that will change both their lives for good.

It’s worth mentioning that because of Kilorn’s history with Mare, there is a romantic element to their friendship. The love he has for Mare definitely influences some of the decisions he makes. Even to his own detriment. And it does create challenges in the story.

Who is Cal (Tiberias Calore)?

Cal is a Silver crown prince. So as the eldest son to the sitting king, he will inherit the Nortan throne. He is an elemental silverblood with the power to manipulate heat and fire—a burner.

He meets Mare one day while disguising his identity. During a scene where she tries to pickpocket him, he catches her and takes sympathy, deciding to give her a job at the palace.

We learn Cal is kind and just, having compassion for both Reds and Silvers, but he is conflicted with major themes of duty and loyalty to his kingdom. Though a romance sparks between him and Mare, this stubborn sense of duty creates a rift in their relationship later when he draws up battle plans that will endanger the lives of innocent Reds.

Who is Maven Calore?

Maven Calore is the younger half-brother to Crown Prince Tiberias Calore. They share the same father and so both have burner abilities. His mother is the second wife of King Tiberias, Queen Elara of House Merandus. She is a silverblood with formidable whisper powers. As the only son to a woman who embodies evil in its purest form, Maven is a tragic villain in the Red Queen series.

He further complicates things with Mare Barrow as he is another one of her romantic interests, though it is revealed that he is bisexual. Maven’s upbringing in the shadows of his older brother’s accomplishments and influence attracts Mare since she can relate to his feelings of inferiority when it comes to her younger sister, Gisa.

If I’m being completely honest, Maven might be my favorite character in the series. His history is brutal and heartbreaking. I couldn’t help but want somebody to get through to him and steer him toward a path of goodness and light and redemption.

Who is Diana Farley?

I would be remiss without including Diana Farley. She’s a badass female character and one of the key players in the Red Queen series. As a general in the Scarlet Army, Farley serves under her father Colonel Willis Farley. The Scarlet Army is an underground guerilla organization aimed to fight back against Silver oppression.

Mare and Kilorn begin their destinies after striking a deal with Farley in their attempt to save Kilorn from being conscripted into the Nortan army.

Later in the series, Farley falls in love with Mare’s brother Shade. Like Mare, we discover he also possesses abilities more powerful than his silver-blooded counterparts. Unfortunately for Farley (spoiler alert), her time with Shade is cut short.

And it’s one of the most sad and shocking moments in the series.

Red Queen on Story Darling

Book review: book one of the Red Queen series

Rating: 5 out of 5.

At 126,000 words, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard isn’t a long read. But it isn’t short, either. This amounts to over 450 pages, which is perfect for the level of world-building, political intrigue, and character development Aveyard masterfully creates. It sets an elaborate stage, introducing readers to an immersive world and its social nuances and conflicts.

Red Queen lays the groundwork for the overarching plotline: all-out extermination of every Red who possesses silverlike abilities—newbloods. Book one follows Mare as she uncovers a conspiracy in which its masterminds resolve to commit genocide against people like her. Equally important is how this discovery changes her. She is tortured and deceived to such degrees that her values and beliefs radically evolve. Ultimately, she becomes who is necessary to do what needs to be done.

In the end, I gave Red Queen by Victoria Aveyward 5 stars. It has everything I desire in a fantasy series. Difficult relationships and romance. Layers and layers of complex themes. A villain you’re expected to hate yet can’t bring yourself to give up on.

And the writing was beautiful. There were many quotes that struck me and got me thinking. Here are some of my favorites (along with the one I highlighted earlier in this post):

Red Queen quotes

  • Silvers stand tall. Our backs are bent by work and unanswered hope and the inevitable disappointment with our lot in life.
  • In school, we learned about the world before ours, about the angels and gods that lived in the sky, ruling the earth with kind and loving hands. Some say those are just stories, but I don’t believe that. The gods rule us still. They have come down from the stars. And they are no longer kind.
  • Their Silver war is being paid for in Red blood.
  • With my newly pale skin and darkened eyes and lips, I look cold, cruel, a living razor. I look Silver. I look beautiful. And I hate it.
  • Red girls do not marry Silver princes.
  • Red in the head, Silver in the heart
  • People don’t like to talk about dead queens.
  • This world is Silver, but it is also gray. There is no black-and-white.
  • Never have I smiled so brightly and still felt so sad.

If you haven’t read this one yet, I strongly urge you to. And if you have, comment below on what you thought!

Check out the next review in the series, book two: Glass Sword.

Looking for another series to get into? The After series by Anna Todd is a good one, though it’s a completely different genre than Red Queen. It’s chock-full of sultry romance and drama.

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