“Blood Stains, Ball Gowns” Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

February 11, 2015 / 14 Comments / Review, Uncategorized

Red Queen (Red Queen Trilogy #1)
Author: Victoria Aveyard (website | twitter)

Publisher: Harper Teen (Harper Collins Canada)

Source/Format: eARC provided by publisher via Edelweiss (thank you!)
Publication date: February 10, 2015 (yesterday!)
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | B&N | IndieBound | iTunesGoogle Books | The Book Depository | Audible

Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood—those with red and those with silver. Mare and her family are lowly Reds, destined to serve the Silver elite whose supernatural abilities make them nearly gods. Mare steals what she can to help her family survive, but when her best friend is conscripted into the army she gambles everything to win his freedom. A twist of fate leads her to the royal palace itself, where, in front of the king and all his nobles, she discovers a power of her own—an ability she didn’t know she had. Except . . . her blood is Red.

To hide this impossibility, the king forces her into the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks her new position to aid the Scarlet Guard—the leaders of a Red rebellion. Her actions put into motion a deadly and violent dance, pitting prince against prince—and Mare against her own heart.

From debut author Victoria Aveyard comes a lush, vivid fantasy series where loyalty and desire can tear you apart and the only certainty is betrayal.


Mare Barrow is a Red. In Norta, this means that she’s a normal human being, poor, and needs to scrape a living for herself and her family through thieving and general servitude. Reds are seen as the lowest of the low by Silvers, who have magical abilities that are highly esteeemed in the country. Mare and her family and friends despise Silvers, who treat Reds like dirt and have Reds fight an unending war with a neighboring country for them.

When circumstances for Mare send her right into the path of royals, she ends up discovering that she has magic abilities – and thus, is made a noble who is set to marry the second of two princes so that the reigning royal family can keep an eye on her. Meanwhile, an uprising is gathering through the country, and Mare has to figure out who she is and where her loyalties lie.

This one was hard to review because on one hand, I found the story very compelling, but on the other hand, there were lots of little things that I just couldn’t get into. I’ve broken them down below.

Things That Frustrated Me:

The heroine: my biggest frustration with this book was the lack of character development in Mare. I didn’t feel like I went on a journey with her as a character at all – she was kind of sassy and funny, and she clearly had some cool abilities…but that was it for me. I didn’t feel like I knew her at all by the end of the book because she was the same person the entire way through. That was hard for me to connect with.

The romance: There were (count ’em) THREE love interests for Mare in this book. None of them really go anywhere big, but it just felt like every friggin guy in the book was into her. The hardest part about that is that there is an obvious choice – I genuinely thought that one guy was better than the others, and that just makes for a love triangle (or square?) that’s unsatisfying.

The writing and the “I’ve Read This Before” feeling: There would be moments that I was really into the writing and then I would get pulled out of it by just a few too many cliches. Here are some examples:

“I’m standing on the balcony a full ten seconds before I realize it’s raining, washing me clean of my boiling anger.”

To me, this is just obvious writing – because there could have been a better description of the character’s anger or the rain or just the fact that she was being cooled down by the rain…but it just ends up lost in cliche.

“This is the world I’m trying to bring down, the world trying to kill me and everything I care about…I’ve never felt smaller than I do now, with the great bridge looming above us. It looks ready to swallow me whole.” 

Again, the writing feels very obvious. I feel like I’ve read this line before – “bring down” “never felt smaller” “swallow me whole” – it feels a little tired.

The tropes: The problem with obvious writing is that if you have a story hat relies on a lot of tropes (poor girl who’s special and different; prince who is not thrilled about being prince and just wants to be normal, world that is separated into classes that needs to be overthrown), you can guess what’s going to happen, and your mind tends to wander. And because of that, every scene starts to feel predictable, and you notice every trope for what it is, instead of the trope extending beyond just a trope. It’s frustrating because I couldn’t help but notice and compare this book to a ton of other YA books (I thought of The Selection, Divergent, Hunger Games, even Harry Potter while I was reading), and the book never went beyond or did anything better or different with those tropes.

Things I Liked:

The world-building and concept: I liked how the Silvers and Reds were divided and how there was hierarchy even among the Silvers – there were higher and lower houses and they each had distinctive features. I enjoyed getting into this world through Mare’s eyes – as a Red, she really doesn’t know much about it, and it’s both interesting to see it develop and to see her thoughts on it in her unique position.

The princes: There are two, and they are both interested in Mare romantically. To me it felt very obvious who the superior prince was, but I liked that they were well-rounded and different enough that they kept me guessing on their true natures. I felt like I knew more about them than I did about Mare by the end of the book.

Julian, the elderly wizard Silver who has Mare’s best interests at heart and is awesome: This is a classic fantasy trope, but damned if I didn’t really like Aveyard’s version of the mentor. I especially liked the detail of how his skin was like the parchment that he read so much of, his abilities, and his secretiveness about his own life.

The villains and layered secondary characters: I’m not going to tell you who the villains are because that’s complicated, but I liked how many of them there were, and how much they all influenced and encroached on Mare’s life. I also liked how a lot of the characters in the novel weren’t all black-and-white – some of the people who were supposed to be “good” weren’t exactly the nicest or best people, and EVERYONE in the novel lied in order to get what they wanted. It’s a dark view of life, but it worked.

The fast pace and the action: This is probably the first fantasy book I’ve read in a long time that I haven’t put down because it had too much exposition or description and not enough action. The action scenes are pretty explosive, and the pacing moves quickly to bring the action to head.

Book Theme Song: 

I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh…

And I’m not proud of my address

In a torn-up town, no postcode envy

But every song’s like gold teeth, grey goose, trippin’ in the bathroom
Blood stains, ball gowns, trashin’ the hotel room,
We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams…
And we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.

The Final Word:

Red Queen is a very enjoyable, if derivative, fantasy read. Brimming with action and classic speculative fiction tropes, this is a good book for younger teens new to fantasy or looking for a book with magic to devour like popcorn. I wanted more depth in writing and character, but there’s no doubt that I had fun while reading.

RED QUEEN came out yesterday! Are you interested in reading it? Do you like fast-paced books with a lot of action, or do you prefer more contemplative reads? What do you think of love triangles (or squares)? Are you into fantasy? Will you be picking this up? Let me know in the comments!

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14 responses to ““Blood Stains, Ball Gowns” Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

  1. Most people seem to agree that this one isn't wholly original but despite that, readers seem to be enjoying it to varying degrees. I think I'll have to be in the right mood when I finally get into my copy. Being a huge mood reader, one day I could love this and the next I could see myself being frustrated LOL The romantic aspect does worry me, but hopefully I'll read it on a good day and be able to move past that. The world, magic and character definitely seem worth the time! Thanks for the insightful review Tiff and sorry you didn't love this one more^^ ♥

  2. I'm glad I wasn't the only one that was raving about this. I had so many annoyances with the characters and the romance, UGHH it was too much. Also the tropes.. If it wasn't for the whole world and plot, I would have dropped reading the rest of the series. Wonderful review Tiff!

  3. UGH those things that you listed as annoying you would TOTALLY irk me. I've been seeing this book on a ton of people's currently-reading lists, and was intrigued by the cover, but I can't stand all of those things that you mentioned. Paaaass.

    PS I think it's fun that you chose a theme song for the book 😉

  4. I picked this book up after falling in love with the cover and seeing everybody rave about it on Goodreads. It was OK but I felt like I had read the same thing hundreds of times before and there was no character development, like you said. Shame really. It would have been a great book,the concept was awesome.

  5. I'm currently reading this book and I have to say, reading your review has made me feel infinitely better about my feelings towards this book! I'm enjoying it because it's an easy read and I'm really loving the world that the author has created. It's intriguing and the intricacies of the world grabbed my attention from the start. But halfway through I can already see where you're coming from and I'm so much more interested in the secondary characters than I am Mare. If there is a second book, I hope Mare grows in it because I genuinely want to like her but I just can't connect to her at all. I love the idea of the book and I do like the story, but so far it's just eh when I was hoping for something more.

  6. Ashfa

    I’ve heard so much about this one but I’m still not tempted to rad it. Though lots of people loved the mash up of different concepts, I don’t think it;s for me and I LOATHE love triangles so a big no-no.

    • Yeah, this one was…just not for me either =( I’m curious, what do you mean by mash-up of concepts? Just the fact that it was like different factions, but superpowers, and there was also a royalty element?

  7. I think I’m one of the few people who LOVED this book. I couldn’t wait to go out and buy this after reading it. I loved it so much. It’s definitely a love it or hate it type of book it seems. I’m also new to YA genre so maybe that’s why I could just read this and it be a new experience for me? Do you plan to read the sequel?

  8. I completely agree with your review! Red Queen was fairly well-written, I just didn’t get to know or care for the characters by the end of the book and that saddened me because I really wanted to like them and the story. It was an okay book, just not for me.
    Great review!

  9. Cali W.

    Good review. There was a lot of talk for this book, even talk for a movie. It sounds like an okay book to me and part of me still wants to read it to find out what all the hoopla is all about. 😉

  10. Rianah

    I get that some parts of the novel are cliche and have a few tropes but the plot twist blew my mind away. I didn’t expect it at all. I also don’t like how there are 3 guys who like her.

  11. I totally agree with everything you said here – while the plot was very interesting, it just didn’t feel very original. I definitely got the “I’ve read this before” feeling.

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