Review: The Red Queen Series

I spent months eyeing the first book. It was the cover that caught my attention. It was so simple yet so intriguing.

Then I got into a conversation about writing with the author, and I realized she is a delightful human being. I went to work and mentioned this to my boss. My boss who then informed me that she was going to be in our store for the release of her new book.

That very day I checked out the first book and started reading.

What series am I talking about? The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard. It is a delightful YA fantasy series set in a world divided by two colors, Red and Silver.

The story

In Red Queen, we are introduced to the world through the eyes of Mare Barrow, a lowly red and a thief, who is best friends with a local fisherman in training named Killorn.

She does a great job of establishing the divide between the powerless reds and the mighty silvers, born with powers beyond imagining. She also shows us the hopeless (and pointless) war between Norta and the neighboring Lakelands that has been eating up countless lives for the past century.

And the best part? It doesn’t feel like she is telling you any of this. You get the information from Mare as she is prompted by outside events to think about it, and the information is limited to stuff she would know. All throughout the series, Victoria does a wonderful job of giving us the information we need in a way that feels organic. It never feels like an information dump.

Even when we are forced to learn a lot of new information during a short period of time, it is because Mare is having to as well. We keep the information that she deems important.  

There were many times I felt myself beginning to feel anxious because it felt like I was right there with Mare. You become so quickly embroiled in the machinations of both the Scarlet Guard and the royal family as Mare is caught between both of them. You come to care for Cal and Maven as she does. You come to trust Julian, as she does.

And you are just as bewildered as she is when things take an interesting turn at the end of book one, leading into book two.

Glass Sword has different pacing to it, as Mare spends most of the time running from her problems. To be fair, her whole life has completely fallen apart in several ways so she isn’t having the best of times. There is a glimmer of hope, though, and she holds onto it with everything she has. Even so, she still feels as if it is her against the world. She feels alone, isolated, and afraid.

It was fascinating to watch the characters grow and evolve as the story went on. The interactions and relationships between the characters all felt so realistic, so organic. You don’t get the angst here that you usually get in YA fantasy books. I mean, there is some angst, but it is realistic angst. I was able to identify with it.

The world is full of so many unknowns and so often things go sideways in terrible ways. She keeps on fighting, though. She holds herself together through sheer fear of what will happen if she falls apart. Heck, she compares herself to being a glass sword on the verge of shattering for a reason.

When a mysterious figure comes along to give her a chance to strike a blow against the king, she leaps at it. This leads to what has to be one of these most stressful fights thus far in the series.

Something happens during the fight that pushes Mare to stop running. It’s like she got a wakeup call or came to a realization of some sort that gives her the courage to do something she said she never would. That twist leaves me speechless even now, it was so well crafted.

And it leads to a tenuous situation in Kings Cage. Here is where we get the second narrator and here is where I started having a really hard time putting the book down. Between the narrator shifts and the time jumps and the constant rising of the political tensions, I could not tear myself away. This is where two new entities enter the stage, changing the power dynamic and leaving you breathless wondering how this is going to change things.

The tension keeps building up until about halfway through the book when the situation simply explodes. From there on it is nonstop moves and countermoves as all of the parties involved adjust to the new power balance. It was honestly one of the most satisfying moments in the entire series, yet I was still on edge. What happens next?

Things really start to get interesting in War Storm. Another country enters the fray and the stage grows to encompass the whole world as we know it.

Sometimes when stories broaden their world it is easy to lose sight of the point. You get so bogged down in all of the moving pieces that you forget why you cared about the story, to begin with. That doesn’t happen here. All of the machinations and twists are driven by the characters who have very organic, very human motivations.

You also see the introduction of several new narrators, all key players on different sides of the conflict. Normally I am not a huge fan of having more than two narrators, because if not done well it can distract from the story. In this case, though, it adds a layer of depth to the story that makes the narrative that much richer.

The way she crafts the narration gives us a unique look into the thoughts, hopes, and dreams of several of the characters we have been getting to know throughout the whole series. It was honestly eye-opening in how it successfully expanded my understanding of the world and the characters themselves.

The build-up to the final conflict was…wow. It’s a ride. There are so many moving pieces from the beginning and it just becomes more and more entangled and complex. Yet, at no point does it become too much. The stakes are high, but it never feels like it is overblown. It is just enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next.

And let me tell you, the ending will throw you for a loop.

The moral

This story focuses a lot on how things are both more complicated and more straight forward than they seem. People are more than they appear to be at first glance. Sometimes people who appear to be in control are just as trapped, if not more, by their circumstances as you are. Everyone is human, no matter how cold they pretend to be. Even those who have great power have weaknesses.

There is power in standing for what you believe in, even when the world seems against you. There is power in staying true to who you are, even as the world around you is changing.

People are stronger together.

In the end, even though the good guys have finally done the thing they set out to accomplish, they have “won”, everything isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Not all of the world’s problems have been fixed. They have made great strides in making the world a better place, but there is still more work to do.

Mare’s part is over, though. Her main struggle is through. She can take some time to take care of herself, time to heal and move past everything that has happened to her. There is hope for the future because she has already helped prove that change is possible.

I love that everything isn’t perfect in the end. I love that there is no riding off into the sunset, at least not yet. It makes everything the characters have been through seem so much more real. It makes them more human.

And, honestly, I find that beautiful.

The rating

If you are looking for a series that will have you on the edge of your seat from page one, this is the series for you. It is a well-crafted masterpiece that does not fall into some of the same tropes that most books in the YA series fall into. I very much appreciate this fact, as I am very tired of alpha males, love triangles, and god complexes.

This is a series that I definitely plan on rereading. There was just so much going on all at once that I know I didn’t catch anything.

Plus, it is a fantastic series that I would not mind reliving a few more times.

Note: I have not yet read Broken Throne (a series of short stories set after book 4) or Cruel Crown (two short stories combined into a novella set outside of the series), but I plan to in the future.

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