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?
Book 1: Red Queen
Thousands of years from right now, the world is really messed up. Half of it is made up of gods, referred to as “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 lowly mortals, referred to as “Reds”, who have no special powers and no money and old-fashioned red blood. Mare Barrow is a Red and also a thief, and one night she pickpockets a boy who happens to be THE Silver prince, Cal. The next morning she’s taken to the palace to work as a servant as punishment, and then a freak accident reveals that she has special powers of her own. Although she’s definitely a red-blooded 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 amok, the royal 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 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’s happening if you haven’t read the first book. Good marketing tactic, or bad writing? Good marketing, I say!
So Mare and Cal, now both accused of murder and treason based on the goings on of the end of Book 1, have escaped execution by the Silvers thanks to the Scarlet Guard. They return to the Scarlet 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. Eventually Mare, Cal, Mare’s brother Shade, Scarlet Guard leader Farley and Mare’s childhood friend/love interest Kilorn (think Gale in The Hunger Games) steal a Silver jet to scour the country for more “newbloods” (Reds with the same blood mutation as Mare), which is their only hope for winning the war they started and changing the entire world. Unfortunately they’re not the only ones with this idea, and Maven and his Silver army 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.
One main theme I noticed throughout the first two books:
Anyone can betray anyone.
A Red-friendly Silver says this to Mare early on in the story, and it gets proven time and time again throughout the story. Reds, Silvers, Scarlet Guard, family, even Mare herself, turn on one another constantly so you never know who’s good and 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.
Book 3: King’s Cage
Oh my god, this book is so so so so good. Like, way better than the second book, and possibly even the first. I could not get enough of it, and it may or may not have something to do with the finally fully-fledged romance between Mare and Cal. But let me rewind.
The dark ending of Book 2 continues throughout the first half of Book 3 with King Maven’s confusing imprisonment of Mare. He is very obviously obsessed with her, but not necessarily in love with her, so he doesn’t outright hurt her, but that almost makes it worse. She is essentially used as his doll, his puppet, to create propaganda throughout the world against the Scarlet Guard and even recruit newbloods to the Silver side. He also puts her under constant surveillance and Silent Stone, which painfully suppresses her powers and then some.
After a few failed escape attempts Mare has almost completely given up, until Maven decides to marry the daughter of a sworn Silver enemy in order to unite all Silvers against the Scarlet Guard. The Scarlet Guard attacks the royal wedding and an unlikely silver helps Mare escape, sending her back into the loving arms of Cal. A somewhat forbidden, definitely frowned upon, exciting little teen romance ensues amidst a world of chaos and destruction, my favorite kind of romance.
For some reason I thought this series would only be 3 books long, but now I think (and desperately hope) I was wrong based on the way this third book ended. AND, upon my purchase of this book I learned that Elizabeth Banks is directing the movie adaptation of the first book, which makes me EXTREMELY happy. This story will translate wonderfully into movies.