Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Red Queen

Red Queen

Victoria Aveyard
Fiction
For ages 14 and up
HarperCollins, 2015   ISBN: 978-0062310637

In Mare’s world people belong to one of two groups. You are either a Red or a Silver. The Reds are the common people, the people who serve in the army, the people who eek out an existence as best they can, the people who serve the Silvers. The Silvers have silver blood running in their veins, and they are “stronger, smarter, better.” Each one of them has a supernatural ability that gives them an edge Reds can only dream of, and envy from afar.

Mare lives with her parents and her sister Gisa in the Stilts, a village along a river. Her three brothers have all been conscripted, and are fighting in a war that has been going on for almost a hundred years. Soon enough Mare will be conscripted as well. Thankfully, Gisa has been apprenticed to a seamstress. She will be able to set up a business of her own one day, and she will no doubt be the one who will support everyone else as best she can.

Mare might not have a skill that can get her a job, but she does have a skill that is useful. She is an expert thief and pickpocket. Many Silvers have lost coins and other valuables to Mare’s nimble fingers. Even though what she steals is needed by her family, Mare’s parents clearly feel uncomfortable with the fact that their daughter is a thief, which leads to arguments and resentment.

Mare’s future seems settled until her friend Kilorn loses his apprenticeship when his master dies. Kilorn, who was going to be a fisherman, will be conscripted. In desperation, Mare contacts her fence to find out if there is someone who can smuggle her and Kilorn to someplace safe. It turns out that there is someone who can do this, but the cost is high. Mare is going to have to find two thousand coins in just a few days, a task that seems completely impossible.

Not knowing what else to do, Mare ask Gisa for help. Gisa takes Mare with her to Summertown where Mare sees Silvers enjoying the kinds of luxuries she can only dream of. It is sickening that they have so much when she and her family have so little. Surrounded by people dripping with jewels, Mare prepares to do what she does best when her plan is upset by a terrorist attack. A group calling itself the Scarlet Guard has targeted government and royal buildings. Not surprisingly, the Silvers lash out at the Reds and Mare has not time to steal anything. She and Gisa have to get out of Summertown as soon as possible.

Just as they are about to leave, everything goes wrong. When Mare and Gisa finally get home to the Stilts, they have nothing that they can use to save Kilorn, and Gisa’s precious sewing hand has been broken by a Silver soldier. Heartbroken and feeling guilty for everything that has gone wrong, Mare goes out to pick pockets as usual. She ends up picking the pocket of a servant who is clearly comfortably off. He is also very sharp and quick, and he catches Mare in the act.  Instead of turning her in, the young man, Cal, is kind to Mare and in a moment of weakness she tells him about her hopeless life.

The next day people from the palace come for her, and Mare finds out that she has been given a job as a servant. Clearly Cal has pulled some strings on her behalf, and though Mare hates the idea of working for the indulgent Silvers in Summertown, she is grateful for the work. She won’t be conscripted and she will be able to help her family.  She never expects that her presence at the palace on this day of all days will lead to her, and everyone else, discovering that she is special.

Human history is full of stories about clashes between the haves and the have nots, about the rich and powerful oppressing the common people and forcing then to labor and fight for them. This story therefore has a familiar feel, and yet the gap between the Silvers and Reds is even greater than the gaps that we have seen in human societies because the Silvers have powers. As the story unfolds the author, with great skill, peels back layers of lies and deception to reveal stark truths that are shocking. Readers will be eager to find out how Mare and her friends survive when it looks as if all is lost.

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