I think in order to get a teen novel/series published these days, you have to get it as close to The Hunger Games as possible — post-apocalyptic, dystopian societies only please! It’s not necessarily a bad trend, it’s just very obviously not going anywhere anytime soon. Such is the case for a new series from young author Victoria Aveyard (who kind of looks like Shailene Woodley, no?): Red Queen.
Book 1: Red Queen
Hundreds of years into the future, the world is all messed up. Half of it is made up of gods, “Silvers”, who have special powers and money and silver blood (think The Capitol in The Hunger Games), and the other half is made up of mortals, “Reds”, who have no special powers and no money and red blood, and they fight wars for the Silvers because they have no choice. Mare Barrow is a Red living in a neighborhood called the Stilts, and because she has no profitable skills like her expert embroiderer sister, she makes her living as a thief. One night Mare pickpockets a boy who happens to be THE Silver prince, Cal, but the consequences are not what she expects: The next morning she’s taken away from the Stilts and into the local palace (there are several) to work as a servant, and then a freak accident reveals that she has some special powers of her own. Although she’s definitely a Red, Mare can create and manipulate electricity, a power that according to one of her new palace friends is stronger than any Silver’s. (Eventually this new friend reveals that this is due to a mutation in her blood, and that there are others like her that they must find and rally — very X-Men-esque!)
Not wanting a Red with superpowers running around causing trouble, the Silvers pretend Mare is one of their own. They spin a story that she’s the long lost daughter of a Silver general and parade her around as the princess intended to wed the younger prince/Cal’s brother, Maven, while also training her to hone her abilities and studying exactly how she came to be. Meanwhile, a Red rebellion is quickly developing thanks to an organization called the Scarlet Guard, to which Mare is even more connected then she initially realizes. The twists and turns and betrayals throughout the second half of the book are too juicy for me to spoil here, but man are they juicy!
Book 2: Glass Sword
In my experience, any second or third (etc.) book in a series starts off with many allusions to the first book, just a few explanatory sentences as to what’s going on so that if someone just happened to picked it up they’d have a basic understanding of the plot. This is not the case with Glass Sword — you would have NO idea what was happening if you hadn’t read the first book. Good marketing tactic, or poor writing? I digress.
Mare and Cal, accused of murder and treason, have escaped execution by the Silvers thanks to the Scarlet Guard, but just barely. They return to the Guard’s home base and realize the group has way more influence and connections than they initially thought, but even this organization has its faults and betrayals. Finally (and it takes too long to get to this part, to be completely honest) Mare, Cal, Mare’s brother Shade, Scarlet Guard leader Farley and Mare’s childhood friend/love interest Kilorn (think Gale in The Hunger Games, yum) steal a Silver jet to scour the country for the rest of the “newbloods” (Reds with the same blood mutation as Mare), the only hope of winning the war they started and changing the world. But they’re not the only ones with that idea, and the Silvers always seem to be one step ahead of them. The ending scene of this book is perhaps one of the darkest I’ve ever read, certainly in a teen book, and I am still a little shaken by it.
While I wait for the third (and final?) book in the series, I’ll focus on the one main theme throughout the first two books:
Anyone can betray anyone.
A Red-friendly Silver says this to Mare early in the first book, and it gets proven time and time again throughout the story. Reds, Silvers, Scarlet Guard, family, even Mare herself, turn on each other constantly, so that you never know who’s good or who’s bad or who’s on whose side. It reminds me of a quote from the Buffy Season 2 finale:
In the end, you’re always by yourself. You’re all you’ve got. That’s the point.