There seem to be trends in fiction – a while ago it was vampires, and right now, dystopian young adult fiction sells.
That’s not to say that it’s bad – The Hunger Games was excellent, and many other books have been more than good – but it means that to stand out in the YA fiction section of the book store, your dystopian novel better be good.
I’ve had a while to ruminate over The Red Queen now, and honestly, I can’t decide if it’s good, at least in comparison to the vast amount of dystopian young adult fiction (or as I’ll be calling it, DYAF) out there. It has all the hallmarks of a typical DYAF novel – there’s a hierarchical society with an ultra-rich, ultra-powerful ruling class (often with Roman-ish names) and second-class citizens that are poverty-stricken and abused, there’s a girl (with a little sister) about to come of age in this messed-up world, there are two boys (actually, in this case, three) who are earmarked as potential love interests, there is a shadowy revolutionary group, and of course, the girl finds out she is special.
It sounds very formulaic, but to be fair, a lot of fiction is if you break it down into its core elements. So let’s take a closer look.
In this case, the world is split into Silvers (the ruling class who have silver blood and special abilities – think X-Men, but if they were fascists that beat the humans) and Reds (humans). Mare Barrow is a Red, at the age where she will be conscripted into the military if she can’t find work. She steals, she has a trouble-prone, male best friend, and she’s desperate. Through a chance encounter with a prince in disguise, she gets a job in the palace, where she soon finds out she is different. She has red blood like a Red, but she has special abilities like a Silver, making her something different and new. She gets embroiled in court politics, promised to a prince, discovers a conspiracy and eventually goes on the run.
Victoria Aveyard’s writing style is flowery and at times overly descriptive. DYAF seems to favour first person point of view, so it’s possible to chalk it down to a 17-year-old’s thoughts, but often it’s like being hit over the head with description. The Red Queen certainly isn’t a heavy read – it’s light and quite easy to power through, even if the middle drags somewhat. It does redeem itself somewhat with a great twist, and I did find myself wanting to find out what happens in the next book, but mostly that’s because I’m a sucker for good cliffhangers.
So where do we stand on the ‘is The Red Queen a stand-out DYAF novel’ issue?
Let’s put it this way. If you like the formula of DYAF, you’ll probably enjoy this book. It’s reasonably written, with the requisite action, romance and simple societal metaphors you’d expect. If you’re on the lookout for a book that does something new and unexpected, this probably isn’t it.