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Red Queen
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Orion Paperback Feb 2015
ISBN: 978 1 4091 51173
• Sam Hawksmoor review

Someone had to do it.  This is Cinderella re-invented for the 21st Century.
17 year-old Mare goes from Rags to Princess – with the bonus of a choice of Princes, add a wicked step-mother, not to mention one evil potential step-sister who hates her on sight. One false step and she’ll right back where she started or dead.

If you are going to update a classic, why not go the whole way and invent a world of extreme privilege coupled with superpowers.  That’s the Silver elite that rule Mare’s world.  She is a Red, poor, humble, a seventeen-year-old petty thief awaiting conscription to join the war, where mostly Red blood is spilled for the glory of Silver battles.  A war that has already been going on for 100 years.

Mare lives in a humble village on stilts (because of flooding) just outside the glittering summer city of the King.  She knows she will never be anything but what she is. Her little sister, a talented seamstress, is the breadwinner for the family, working for the rich Silvers and their insatiable demands for ever more glamorous costumes. Her bothers are already at the front and risk death every day.  Mare is a disappointment to her mother.

After an aborted attempt to buy her way out of the war by asking for help from the Scarlet Guard, secret underground smugglers, she inadvertently wrecks her little sisters life and future opportunities.  Mare desperate to make amends tries to dip into a stranger’s pocket, but when discovered he doesn’t punish her, but rewards her instead.  She thinks he’s a woodcutter called Cal who has taken pity on her. It is a strange encounter and he is more than generous to her.  The very next day she discovers she has a new job in the Silver City, working in the King’s own quarters.  She is saved from war, but at what cost?

Mare, now a serving slave for the Silvers, watches the extraordinary sight of young girls vying for the attention of the King’s son, Prince Cal (who she now realises to her mortification is her saviour, the strange woodcutter obviously masquerading as a Red peasant the night before). Each girl shows devastating skills and demonstrating just how and why the Silvers dominate the Reds in this world through power and strength.  Girls who can flood an arena, make metal fly, burn a whole in the sky, impressive stuff.  All the while Mare is aware that she is being watched by cameras and that the buzz of electricity is everywhere – it seems to affect her strangely.  So much so when the last of the would be princesses shows off her spectacular magnetron skills it triggers an amazing response out of Mare’s own hands and she literally explodes with power.

But this cannot be.  She is a Red, a peasant.  Reds have nothing.

This whole scene has been witnessed by millions on video-screens and cannot be hidden.  The Queen, naturally the evil step-mom of Cal, has a scheme to hide it.  Mare is no longer Red but Silver.  A whole story is concocted to hide her Red birth and show that she is a long missed Silver girl with an amazing lineage, a General for a father.  (Her own father is a cripple from the war).  More yet, Mare is to be betrothed, but not to the handsome Cal, but to the younger son, the also ran Prince Maven. 

So do the glass slippers fit?  Certainly the costumes will.  Mare has to be trained in social etiquette (protocol), learn how to control her skills.  She is to be ensnared into this incredible world of privilege and ostentatiousness. Will she forget her roots? Will she betray her Red heritage – just because she is now a princess – even if she is betrothed to the wrong prince?

Meanwhile the rebels, The Scarlet Guard intend to wreak havoc in the Silver City and bring down the regime – even if the Reds will suffer mightily if they do.  The Queen wants to use Mare, now Princess Titanos, as a weapon against the Reds.  Mare needs an ally of her own and finds it in the scholar Julian, who is curious as to how she acquired such amazing and potentially lethal talents.

Red Queen – is a wonderful mash up of Ancient Rome and Marie Antoinette with a dash of Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, not to mention some of Marvel Comic’s box of tricks. 

Not at all surprised it has been snapped up for the movies and no doubt a host of sequels are on the way.  Victoria Aveyard has synthesised all the great tricks of fantasy and produced something exciting and original. *If you like Divergent, you will proably like this.

© Sam Hawksmoor Jan 2015
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