by Victoria Aveyard
I picked this up on audio because (a) it was on audio, and (b) I adore that cover.
I wasn't sure what to expect; I think I predicted a retelling of Snow White in the vein of Cinder. Instead, Red Queen felt more like a combination of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Hunger Games, with extra infusions of Basic YA Princess Plot. Weirdly, I think it works.
I don't have a great track record with this genre, but while I found this book a bit hit and miss, I definitely enjoyed the ride.
The story is told in first person present (damn you, Hunger Games, for popularizing this utterly unnatural manner of storytelling) from the perspective of Mare, a Red who seeks to escape conscription and loves the word "smirk" not wisely but too well. Due to a fortuitous meeting, she finds herself trying to navigate a "sea of Silvers," all while trying to determine her allegiance to a newly-formed group of Red freedom fighters.
As is standard in this genre, the romance is a major component of the plot. In this case, it's not just a love triangle, it's a love quadrilateral. And it shows every sign of mutating into a pentagon in the future.
(Sidenote: I've never understood the whole shape thing, as the sides of the shape seem to imply rather more interesting plots.)
I find romance plots a drag, but one of the more interesting aspects here is that while there's an obvious final winner, the characters are all enjoyably imperfect and problematic.
My biggest complaint is, of course, the worldbuilding. I don't think Aveyard really thought things through. Mare's world is a dystopia that takes place far in the future after some sort of catastrophic meltdown that led to a lot of human mutations. "Silvers"--named for the color of their blood-- have magical abilities that give them control over the elements and the power to rule and control the un-mutated red-blooded "Reds."
Yet despite the far-future setting, Mare's comparisons usually reference our world and our constructs, including things (e.g. pageants) that she has no business being familiar with. There's not really any new technology, and the old technologies in use are an incoherent mess: video cameras are common and DNA sequencing is apparently easy, but no one in the entire story ever touches a computer. Yeah, not sure how that works. But the anachronisms go deeper than that. We're told that the Silvers are evil slavemasters who live decadent lives and keep the Reds in a state of terrible oppression, poverty, and misery, but I don't think Aveyard's imagination really stretched far enough to shake off her own comparatively privileged life. (I'm betting it was privileged because of the book's unrealistic portrayal of the "downtrodden."). Red children can go to (free) school until the age of 18, at which point, if they haven't managed to find a job, they are conscripted into the army. To me, a society that provides free education and allows children freedom up to the age of 18 is pretty impressively un-oppressed.
The plot has just as many issues.
Despite the problematic plot and worldbuilding, I found the book quite fun. Aveyard is a skilled writer, and she has the rare talent of not telegraphing her twists. Even if you guess what's going to happen at some point, you may end up being pulled along by the story until the sudden twist comes as a shock. The narrator is fantastic, and I thoroughly enjoyed the book's ending.