Review: The Red Queen

Friday, July 15, 2016

Mare Barrow is a Red, the downtrodden class of society forced to serve the elite Silvers as slaves and fodder in a never-ending war.  As a thief, Mare  avoids conscription, whilst taking what she needs in a world where she will be given nothing. But when she slips her hand into the pocket of a palace servant her life seems to change for the better. However, during the very public Queenstrial Mare displays abilities that should be reserved only for the Silvers. She is immediately given a new Silver identity by the Queen and promised in marriage to her son Maven. Prince Maven and Prince Cal take Mare under their wing, helping her to navigate Silver society and to understand her powers.  Mare decides to use her new Silver identity to help the plight of the Reds, to disastrous results. 

I must admit, I must have picked up this book  a zillion times because of the cover alone. The summary sounded promising but I had heard a few negative reviews, calling the book a copy of the Hunger Games. When I read somewhere that the story was based on Roman history I just had to read it. As a classicist I have an extensive knowledge of Greek and Roman history and I was excited to discover how Victoria Aveyard would treat the subject. The Red Queen reflects the socially stratified ancient Rome, her Reds and Silvers acting as Slaves and their Masters. It became evident early on what period in history Aveyard would draw from the moment the royal family was introduced. A distant king with a son from a previous marriage and a new wife who's own son was terribly overlooked, screams the last of the Julio-Claudian line. King Tiberius is the emperor Claudius, Cal is Britanicus, his son by his earlier marriage to Messalina, and Queen Elara is Agrippina the Younger, his last wife, who connives for the future of her son Maven, aka Nero. With this realization I could see all too easily where the storyline was going. Despite anticipating what would happen I still really enjoyed the book.  

The descriptions of the arena no doubt remind readers of the Hunger Games but that series is also heavily influenced by Roman history and culture, the very name of its society Panem is Latin for bread, and alludes to the famous line of Juvenal who says that emperors give the people bread and circuses, panem et circenses, to keep the people satisfied and politically ignorant. So, while the influence of Roman history connects the two series we should try and look at the series individually. I admit that after reading the negative reviews I was looking out for comparisons to the Hunger Games myself. The dystopian setting in a new America is another similarity. The beginning of the book’s emphasis on the relationship between Mare and her sister Gisa seemed the most like the Hunger Games to me. I had the suspicion that Mare’s love for Gisa would drive her as Katniss’ for Prim. But I was mistaken. The relationship between Mare and Gisa acts as a foundation for the later relationship between Mare and Maven. Mare’s relationship with her sister is one of jealousy and envy. Mare is jealous of Gisa’s work embroidering silks for the Silvers. Not just because her job protects her from conscription, but also because their parents depend on and are proud of Gisa while they are embarrassed by Mare’s thievery and often refuse to use the items she procures for them. Mare has trouble trusting and understanding Maven to begin with, only once she sees how he is overshadowed by his brother does she begin to trust him. 

I really enjoyed this book. It was fast paced adventure with a rich world and interesting characters. I will definitely be reading Glass Sword in the near future! 

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