|I don't even need to add a caption about how beautiful that cover is.|
You see it. You know its beauty.
source: galley from HarperCollins
publication: February 10, 2015, HarperTeen
source: galley from HarperCollins
publication: February 10, 2015, HarperTeen
I'm struggling with a solid rating on this one because, while there were elements of the book that I hated and almost couldn't tolerate, I liked it overall. I will read the next one. I will probably buy the book in hardcover because a) my ARC is a bit beat-up, and b) The hardcover is shiny. We all know how I love a shiny cover.
But. Here we go.
I've seen a lot of people on Goodreads talking about how similar the plot synopsis of Red Queen sounds to Red Rising. I haven't read Red Rising yet, so I can't speak to that, but I can speak to a similarity that I did notice that no one else has mentioned:
The bones of this book, a lot of the elements that kept the plot moving forward, are straight from The Hunger Games. At first I thought, "Okay, maybe it just starts out sounding like District 12, and then the main character leaves and it turns into something else." But no. The parallels became so consistent and obvious that I started a list of them in my phone:
We start out with main character Mare, who earns for her family by doing something illegal, much the way Katniss earns for hers by hunting illegally. Mare's method of choice is thievery, and her partner in crime is her best friend Kilorn, who she also seems to kind of hate at first. She thinks he's useless or something. There's even a Greasy Sae character, Will, who buys the things she steals in exchange for things her family actually needs.
Mare is jealous of her sister, Gisa, the less prickly sister, but would also do anything to protect her. There we have our Prim character, who's mostly just in the beginning of the story, of course. There's also a conscription that serves as a kind of Reaping, because it takes teenagers from their families to go fight for the government, and arenas where Silvers (upper class people with silver blood and powers) fight /almost/ to the death, but luckily they have people who can heal them.
Mare gets plucked out of her impoverished life to live with the royal family and, when it's discovered that she has powers even though she's a Red, she is betrothed to the younger prince and forced to pretend that she wants it. Enter, fake romance to please the masses. We've got the rebels who tell Mare that they need her, that she is their only hope, and they even use the words "face of the revolution." They tell her she doesn't understand what she could do with them, much like how Peeta says that Katniss "has no idea, the effect she can have," and they use the metaphor of a drop that breaks the dam instead of a spark that starts the inferno. Change the metaphor all you want, but it's still the same.
Moving along, we have someone telling Mare that she is a pawn in someone else's game, which is a similarity that I probably don't even need to explain. We've got Mare's etiquette coach who doesn't get a lot of screen time but is clearly the Effie Trinket in this scenario, and her trainer, Julian, also known as Haymitch Abernathy. When the royal family leaves court to return home, they gather crowds and force them to listen to speeches, while Peacekeepers—I mean officers—beat anyone who steps out of line or causes a disruption. Victory tour, anyone?
Later, we are tricked into thinking that the rebels brought Mare and Maven to die in a radiation-soaked, abandoned area, only to find out—surprise! It's not dangerous or abandoned at all. It's rebel headquarters, and they've been manipulating the technology to make it look too dangerous to inhabit. This is presumably where the next book, Red Mockingjay, will take place, while the rebels tell Mare what to do and she begins to question their scruples.
And for one last nugget, someone takes a suicide pill on page 320. Because making it a poisonous berry would have been too obvious.
Listen. I didn't go into this book looking to find these parallels. I hadn't seen anyone else compare the book to The Hunger Games and I still haven't. I wish I could have stopped seeing it, but to do that, I would've had to stop reading.
I'm not saying that any of this was done on purpose, but I am saying that it is bad writing. It's bad writing to be unaware that you're ripping off one of the most popular series in the same age bracket as the book you're writing. It's almost worse than being aware that you're doing it, because it shows carelessness.
In fact, the writing is careless all around. It's heavy-handed and full of metaphors that don't work, descriptions that go on too long without managing to paint a vivid picture (because they're so chock full of metaphors that don't work), and hollow emotion. I remember one time specifically when Mare broke down crying for the first time, and I can't even remember what had happened or where in the book it was because I didn't believe the emotion behind it. A lot of Mare's reactions to things seemed to contradict her actual personality and beliefs, so much so that she seemed more indecisive than anything else. It became difficult to keep track of what she actually cares about; one minute she'll do anything to protect Gisa, then she's petty and jealous. One minute she's totally into Cal, then she hates him and Maven's her guy. She wants the Silvers to stop oppressing the Reds, sure, but she hesitates to do anything to make that happen if it means she has to hurt someone—even a Silver, all of whom she claims to despise.
A few examples of this are: Mare decides she's willing to trade the Colonel's life for Cal's; Mare decides she's going to kill Cal herself; Mare doesn't trust Maven at first; Maven shows up at the Scarlet Guard meeting and Mare doesn't think maybe he's there as a spy for his mother?; Mare knows that the tax collector has to die for the cause and she's fine with it, but then she's sad that his hands will never touch hers again? Even though she's never met him before, doesn't know him, and has never touched his hands until now? And so on. She's so inconsistent with her feelings and her strategy that I did not understand what she was doing half the time.
Finally, my other issue with Mare is that she has no skills. Or at least, her skills are never utilized to their full potential. She discovers her lightning power and rather quickly masters it, but this power is not specific to her life the way Katniss's hunting skills are specific to hers. I wish that Mare would have used her thieving skills in combat somehow, tied her backstory up with the person she becomes, but instead she ends up dependent on her lightning and nothing else. Adapting her District 12 survival skills into arena survival skills is part of what makes Katniss such a well-developed character—not doing the same for Mare is a glaring missed opportunity.
Aveyard tries too hard to make her writing pretty, constantly repeating lines like "red as the dawn" and "the shadow to the flame" without realizing that half of them don't make sense. [Flames don't have shadows, they have reflections. They have light. You need something else, something blocking the flame, to create a shadow.] Some of the descriptive, figurative language works, but most of it feels weak and slippery; making sense of it is like trying to hold water in your hands: You think you've got it, but in the end it falls through your fingers. Most of the one-liners that are supposed to leave an impact would be effective if they did not get dragged out or if the author stopped trying to explain them so much. She doesn't leave a whole lot to the reader to figure out.
"The world is Silver, but it is also gray. There is no black-and-white."Okay, fine. But... can I try something?
"The world is Silver, but it is also gray."BAM. You don't need to tell me that the world being gray means there is no black-and-white, because a) Nobody ever said there was black-and-white, and b) I get it. Gray is gray. Gray is not black or white. Just the word "gray" carries with it the moral ambiguity that you're trying to get across. Leave the readers to work with connotations on their own! I picked this example by flipping to a random page, but it is by no means the only one—most of the figurative language, in fact, is written this way.
As for the plot, it was pretty conventional and I saw both of the plot twists coming before I was halfway done with the book, but I have no complaints past that. It's well-paced and I didn't think it was too light or silly to be taken seriously. Curiosity got me through a lot of it.
I'm not pandering when I say that I did like this book. It was entertaining and I liked that the characters had a semblance of moral ambiguity (even though it came across as moral inconsistency), and I'm interested in where it will go. I liked Cal because, what can I say, I'm a sucker for the boys with king potential and a lot of weight on their shoulders. But comparing this book to The Winner's Curse does no one any favors; it does not even come close to that level of complexity and strategy and emotional depth. It takes features from The Hunger Games but, unlike that series, doesn't have anything to say. This is definitely closer to the Selection end of the dystopia/fantasy spectrum, which is fine, but sometimes YA readers expect more. That's all I'm saying.