From what I’d heard, it was the ultimate book if you like a bit of courtly intrigue, superpowers, underdog rebellions and awesome characters. Er, yes please! Count me in! From what everyone was saying, Red Queen sounded kind of a YA Game Of Thrones.
I started reading it and the author gets to work quite quickly with some nice world-building. At first I thought the world Red Queen is set in was a traditional fantasy setting - kind of mediaeval, big on social strata, magic, superpowers. But I soon realised that actually it’s a future dystopia. There was mention of tech - video screens, electricity and so on which promised to sit really uniquely and interestingly alongside the fantasy setting.
Good lord, I thought to myself. A YA fantasy-sci-fi hybrid with intrigue, power-plays, monarchy and superpowers. What could possibly go wrong?
Well ... Mare Barrow is what went wrong.
I honestly didn’t think it was possible to dislike a protagonist as much as I disliked Mare Barrow.
The first thing that struck me about Mare was how whiny she was. Man, that girl could whine about stuff. To begin with I thought, ‘Yeah, fair enoughski. She lives waist-deep in dirt, in roaring poverty and is facing a future where she’s going to make very young bones indeed in her oppressor’s war. The girl has reasons-a-plenty to complain.’ Even so, something in her attitude jarred. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, until it suddenly clicked. Mare Barrow is hardly the first girl in YA fiction to come from inauspicious beginnings to undergo a massive life-change and possibly go on to lead a revolution. The difference between Mare and her contemporaries (Katniss, Tris, Tally) was her attitude. Instead of getting on with it and making the best of her situation, Mare just whined. And whined. And bitched and then whined some more.
She just didn’t seem to have any get-up-and-go about her; no spark, no wit, and I think this was what set her apart from other YA protagonists. Even in the direst of situations, it’s possible to maintain a sense of humour. Obviously, I’m not talking about belly-laughs, but I like to see a bit of fire about a protagonist that says, ‘Things may be shit now, but I’m trying damn hard to turn things around, to claw my way up out of the crap.’ And I just wasn’t seeing that about Mare. She was glumly accepting of her (probably short-lived, and not in a good way) compulsory career in the army, content to wander round moaning about it, until it looked like her friend was also about to be conscripted. Upon hearing this, she formulated a plan for them both to avoid conscription in about three seconds. Why didn’t she do this before? I didn’t get why she didn’t do this before. Why did it take Kilorn being conscripted for her to get her act together?
And stupid. My god, that girl was as dumb as paint. In fact, all the characters were. You don’t need a university education to work out that if you’re in a secret rebellion society and the son of the king you’re trying to overthrow comes up and says he’d like to join and that he honestly, honestly wants to overthrow the king (again - his DAD), you need a bit of a better selection criteria than:
‘But what if you’re LYING?’
‘I’m not lying!’
‘Oh, that’s okay then. Come on in.’
Like, I know virtually nothing about how to run a secret organisation or be a spy or whatever, but even I know that if you’re in a situation where people’s lives and the fate of a rebellion depend on not being betrayed, what you need to do is test everyone’s loyalty on a regular basis. You send out little red-herring secrets that can be traced back to one person if they fall into the wrong hands. Or something. What you don’t do is sit your new recruits down (like the SON of the KING) and tell them all your huge rebellion secrets.
This could have been a solid four-and-a-half star book, but unfortunately, Mare’s lack of wit and interest and her attitude in general affected my enjoyment of the whole book. I just couldn’t get interested and that’s why I’ve only given it two stars. Her narrative was so tiresome that I found myself skim-reading for a lot of it.
Another issue I had was the pace of the book. It felt very slow indeed and while I understood what the Reds were fighting for, I didn’t really care that much. There were huge swathes where nothing much seemed to happen, or if it did, I was so put off by Mare’s character that I skimmed and missed it.
Which brings me back to another point about Mare, which was her habit of italicising whole sentences, most often at the end of a paragraph. Like what she was saying was so profound, she had to highlight it in case I, the reader, should fail to pick up on the importance of what she was saying. And the thing was, the sentences she was italicising didn’t need it. They weren’t saying anything particularly noteworthy, as far as I could tell, and the story would have flowed miles better without it.
Maybe I shouldn’t have let this bother me as much as it did, but to me it was the equivalent of using too many exclamation marks, or loads of brackets. It was annoying and it pulled me out of the story every time it happened. And it happened a lot. On one page (and these were Kindle pages, so shorter than normal book-pages) it happened four times. It made a narrative that I was already struggling with go even slower.
So yeah. Unless the Glass Sword of the next book refers to a weapon used to decapitate Mare on the first page, I won’t be carrying on with this series.