What am I? A bit of dust embodied by an organism. What am I supposed to be doing on this earth? I have a choice. To suffer or to enjoy myself. Where will suffering get me? Nowhere. But I will have suffered. Where will enjoying myself get me? Nowhere. But I will have enjoyed myself.—Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
The genre: Fantasy, dystopian, YA
The gist: A teen girl copes with her unexpected role in a world where people are divided into classes by the color of their blood, red or silver.
The background: I saw this pop up on Goodreads about a year ago and was taken in by the bold, minimal cover, high rating, and dystopian/fantasy setting. I love detailed worldbuilding, and the premise of this one—where people have either red or silver blood and the Silvers have supernatural powers—sounded cool. I was ready to jump into this four-book series.
The tea: This book read like an extremely watered-down Hunger Games. It’s Diet Hunger Games. Or, as one Goodreads reviewer put it, the Walmart version of Hunger Games. I know tropes and formulas in genre fiction exist for a reason—because they’re tried and true and they work—but I couldn’t help but roll my eyes every time I came across yet another structural element or plot point of HG in Red Queen, without Aveyard having done the work of infusing the heart and soul.
Like HG, Red Queen is set in a dystopian-like (albeit fantasy, which HG is not) world with a tyrannical government, and each opens with a fear-mongering, government-held event meant to scare the masses into submission (the Reaping in HG, First Friday in Red Queen). Also like HG, Red Queen is narrated by a sixteen-year-old heroine with a special skill that makes her resourceful and scrappy (Katniss’ in HG is archery/hunting, Mare’s in RQ is pickpocketing), has a gentler and younger sister she worries about, lives an impoverished life in an impoverished region, becomes an unwilling mascot for the revolution, and gets a catchy nickname (Katniss is the Girl on Fire, Mare is “the little lightning girl”). Finally, RQ features a love triangle in which the heroine struggles to choose between a sweet boy and more headstrong boy (coughcough Peeta and Gale…).
I think I’m accidentally making this book sound better than it is.
Because the fact is, the best elements of The Hunger Games—a fleshed-out world, a flawed but strong heroine who has solid motives you can empathize with—weren’t there. Maybe I’m being unfair; HG is exceptionally good. But even without comparing the two, Red Queen falls flat. It’s light and inconsequential. I didn’t feel anything when reading it. I couldn’t buy into it.
That said, I do give Aveyard some credit for the somewhat unique world she created with the Silver superpowers and blood color determining one’s station in life. But it’s almost like she didn’t know her own creation enough to dig deeper and, disappointingly, barely scratched the surface.
The wrap-up: Don’t waste your time. The YA, fantasy, and dystopia genres have so many better books to offer.
The rating: 1.5/5
Where There’s a Wall
by Joy Kogawa
Where there’s a wall
there’s a way through a
gate or door. There’s even
a ladder perhaps and a
sentinel who sometimes sleeps.
There are secret passwords you
can overhear. There are methods
of torture for extracting clues
to maps of underground passages.
There are zeppelins, helicopters,
rockets, bombs, battering rams,
armies with trumpets whose
all at once blast shatters
Where there’s a wall there are
words to whisper by loose bricks,
wailing prayers to utter, birds
to carry messages taped to their feet.
There are letters to be written —
Faint as in a dream
is the voice that calls
from the belly
of the wall.
“No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of Xs between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those Xs . . .”
“No damn cat, and no damn cradle.”—Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
Wishbone was nine-year-old me’s jam.
Happy Halloween!!! 🎃