Top Shelf: Victoria Aveyard’s ‘Red Queen’ series is a refreshing take on the dystopian genre

The series is more or less a combination of “The Hunger Games” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” (Victoriaaveyard.com)

Since the release of “The Hunger Games” in 2008, dystopian novels have been a dime a dozen. From Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” to James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner,” it seems like a new dystopian series is being targeted towards young adult readers every week. So when I heard about Victoria Aveyard’s “Red Queen” series, I was a little skeptical. There are only so many ways you can write about an unlikely hero who somehow gets put in charge of a rebellion to overthrow a corrupt government.

The series is more or less a combination of “The Hunger Games” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

The books take place in a society divided by blood status. The lower class is made up of people with Red blood, who are normal, underpaid citizens just barely living above poverty. And then there are Silver-blooded people, whose blood gives them special abilities, such as the power to control fire or water. They make up the ruling class, and are similar to the people who live in the Capitol in “The Hunger Games.”

The story follows Mare, a Red girl who finds out she can control lightning, an impossibility that shouldn’t exist. Her ability accidentally gets broadcasted on live TV, and the Queen, afraid that the realization that Reds can have abilities will undermine their entire society, takes Mare in. She forces her to act as a long-lost Silver princess to hide the fact that she really is Red. Mare has no choice but to take on this facade, but uses her position to join an underground revolution to overthrow the Silver rule in the country.

For a long time, “Red Queen” follows every young adult fiction trope I was tired of reading: the stubborn main character who doesn’t want the role she’s been forced into, the awkward love triangle, the best friend who is blatantly in love with the main character… all of it has been done before, and I almost stopped reading the book because I was so bored with it.

But then something interesting happened. In a remarkable plot twist, “Red Queen” single-handedly destroyed every trope it had created and took its own path down the dystopian genre. I was shocked, to say the least, and intrigued enough to immediately go out and grab the next book in the series.

The series has four books: “Red Queen,” “Glass Sword,” “King’s Cage” and “War Storm.”

“King’s Cage” switches up the series because the book is written in split perspective. This is always an iffy choice in Young Adult (YA) fiction. It’s usually poorly executed, as the characters’ voices are often too similar and the main character typically ends up dying. But I was actually impressed with Aveyard’s use of the split perspective. Not only did all her narrators survive, but their voices are distinctly different. You also gain a lot from each perspective; you’re given the story of characters from each side of the war, so it breaks through the bias formed by the previous two books being narrated solely in Mare’s point of view.

The series blurs the line between good and evil and shows politics for what they really are: nothing is black and white. It’s all grey area.

To be completely honest, I think the “Red Queen” series blows “The Hunger Games” out of the water. “The Hunger Games” was rushed and the last book of the series ended in a really unsatisfactory way. But I was constantly surprised with “Red Queen” and its ability to constantly outshine the works similar to it. Really, it looked at a lot of the dystopian books of our generation, figured out what was wrong with them, and improved upon them.

I was impressed with the people of color (POC) and LGBT+ main characters, the running commentary on corrupt governments and the representation of anxiety and PTSD. Obviously the series is fantasy, but the characterization felt true to the way teens really act. You can’t expect teens to try and overthrow a government without constantly being annoyed that it’s their responsibility in the first place, nor can you expect a bunch of teenage girls running a revolution to always get along. The subplots about the little dramas happening were always enjoyable and fun, even when the novels often took on darker themes.

All and all, “Red Queen” is definitely a must-read if you’re a fantasy or dystopian lover. Once you get through the first book, the series is dramatic page-turner that will leave you falling in love with every character in it.

Rating: 4/5


Courtney Gavitt is a Staff Writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at courtney.gavitt@uconn.edu.