Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

©HarperTeen

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 reviewer put it on Goodreads, 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 has a sixteen-year-old heroine who has 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 at all. If anything, Red Queen is a cheap version of this. 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

Literary cat shout-out: Buttercup

Literary cat shout-out: Buttercup

©Lionsgate Entertainment

This scrappy fuzzball from The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins belongs to heroine Katniss Everdeen’ sister Prim. He appears in all three novels (and four films) as a comforting companion to Prim and an annoyance to Katniss, with whom he’s not on the friendliest of terms due to her (expositional) attempt to drown him in a bucket—bad Katniss! Eventually, though, she accepts Prim’s attachment to him.

Buttercup is said to be a good mouser and even catches the occasional rat. He’s described in the novels as looking a little worse-for-wear with a mashed-in nose and half of one ear missing—which tracks, considering his rough life in the impoverished District 12. His name comes from Prim insisting that his muddy yellow coat matches the bright buttercup flower.

In fact, the makers of the Hunger Games films tried to pull a fast one by casting a black-and-white cat as Buttercup in the first movie. Collins and fans (rightfully) demanded he be changed to a yellow-haired cat for the rest of the films to stay true to the novels and his namesake.

©Lionsgate Entertainment

When the Everdeen family moves into a new, much larger house in Catching Fire, Buttercup and Katniss slowly bond over their shared dislike of their new home. Katniss even starts sharing scraps from her hunting kills with him and deigns to give him the occasional behind-the-ear rub.

In Mockingjay, when the resistance moves into what’s essentially a massive underground bunker in District 13, Katniss finds Buttercup while on a venture to the now-destroyed District 12 and brings him back for her sister, even though pets aren’t allowed.

At one point when 13 is on lockdown during a bombing from the Capitol, Buttercup helps ease the tension by entertaining the troops, so to speak, chasing a flashlight beam and giving Katniss an epiphany about how her enemy is taunting her. And making everyone LOL. (Even in wartime, people can still laugh at cat antics—call it a testament to the human spirit.)

©Lionsgate Entertainment

We don’t get to see a ton of Buttercup, since he lives in District 12 (and eventually 13) and our POV character Katniss is usually off fighting for her life somewhere else, but he makes his few appearances count.

Case in point: this passage from Mockingjay, which I’ll let close. Now that I’ve typed it out, I need to go find whoever’s chopping onions around here…

©Lionsgate Entertainment

*SPOILER*

My head snaps around at the hiss, but it takes awhile to believe he’s real. How could he have gotten here? I take in the claw marks from some wild animal, the back paw he holds slightly above the ground, the prominent bones in his face. He’s come on foot, then, all the way from 13. Maybe they kicked him out, or maybe he couldn’t stand it there without her, so he came looking.

“It was a waste of a trip. She’s not here,” I tell him. Buttercup hisses again. “She’s not here. You can hiss all you want. You won’t find Prim.” At her name, he perks up. Raises his flattened ears. Begins to meow hopefully. “Get out!” He dodges the pillow I throw at him. “Go away! There’s nothing left for you here!” I start to shake, furious with him. “She’s never ever coming back here again!” Out of nowhere, the tears begin to pour down my cheeks. I clutch my middle to dull the pain. “She’s dead, you stupid cat. She’s dead.” A new sound, part crying, part singing, comes out of my body, giving new voice to my despair. Buttercup begins to wail as well. No matter what I do, he won’t go. He circles me, just out of reach, as wave after wave of sobs racks my body, until eventually I fall unconscious.

But he must understand. Because hours later, when I come to in my bed, he’s there in the moonlight. Crouched beside me, yellow eyes alert, guarding me from the night.

—Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay
Video

“We will not be categoried!”

This fake trailer for YA phenomenon The Group Hopper from SNL drags some of my favorite (Hunger Games) and least favorite (Maze Runner) dystopian YA novels/films, and I am. Here. For. It.

Also, Bill Hader’s in it.

From the director of Maze Runner, the producer of Divergent, and a casual fan of The Giver, adapted from a YA novel written entirely in the comments section of a Hunger Games trailer, meet: The Group Hopper. Put him in a group, and he’ll hop his ass right out.