These are the first two novels of a four part teenage, fantasy series.
The books are set in an alternative universe, or possibly our own future, we don’t really know. The planet is like earth with towns, cities, rivers, mountains, etc etc. but the people are rather different. In this world people are divided in two, there are the Reds and the Silvers. Reds are just like us, humans, with red blood; Silvers look and more or less act like humans but they have silver blood and even more dramatically have what we would regard as magic powers, the Silvers call them ‘abilities’. Some Silvers can control fire, some water, some can run amazingly fast others are incredibly strong, some have none physical powers like being able to read minds or perform mind control or see into the future. There are a large range of abilities which tend to run in families.
As you may have guessed with such amazing powers the Silvers become the ruling dominant section of society – and they do not use this power benevolently! Reds and Silvers live separately (except when Silvers need servants) the Reds live in all the poorest least desirable areas and are used by Silvers to perform all the horrid tasks in life; cleaning, hard labour, dangerous factory work etc. And even worse, they are used as disposable foot-soldiers in the wars Silvers wage between their different groups and factions. All young Reds must spend time serving in the Silver army and many don’t live out their conscription period, others come home physically broken, mentally scarred or both. Obviously the Reds don’t like living this way and some do try to rebel but it is not easy when any insurrection can be crushed by superhuman Silver soldiers who the Reds cannot possibly beat in a fight.
So this is the set up for the novel. In The Red Queen we meet 16 year old Mare who is a Red, living in poverty, trying to avoid conscription and help her impoverished family by petty thieving. But one day something incredible happens, Mare discovers she has an ‘ability’ too, just like a Silver, except her blood in definitely Red and if anything her power appears stronger than that of an average Silver. Her unique power is discovered by the ruling family of her country and they quickly decided the discovery must be kept quiet; their whole social order partly depends on everyone agreeing that Silvers are naturally superior to Reds. By threatening the safety of her family she is forced to live in the palace and masquerade as a Silver so they can keep a close eye on her and study her developing ability. I don’t really want to say much more about the plot as I don’t want to spoil it for you, there are lots of unexpected twists and turns which is a real strength of the novels.
In the second instalment, Glass Sword, we see Mare leaving the confines of the palace and taking her ability out into the wider world as she goes on a search to find more Reds like her. This is a dangerous quest as most Silvers are determined to hold on the power and squash any threat to the existing hierarchy.
Overall these are very exciting fun books, though the Red Queen is a slightly slower burner. After the interesting set up to the story then exciting revelation that Mare has powers this book becomes a little more steady paced as Mare spends time in the palace learning how to act like a Silver; etiquette, history and dance lessons included (yawn). The only thing to really spice up this dull section is an intriguing love triangle developing between Mare and the two half-brother princes of the Silver royal family. I did reach the point when I decided to give up on the series as the Red Queen was a bit too boring…but then the final chapters are so thrilling and unexpected that I just had to find out what happened next!
Glass Sword does not disappoint, it is a thrill ride from the opening pages. It is an improvement from the Red Queen in that there is constant movement and peril and a team of other characters helping Mare on her quest. My only criticism of this book is that in the dialogue the characters can come across as a bit one note, everyone seems angry all the time! It is a pet hate with some teenage books in that the authors seem to think the best way to demonstrate that the characters are spirited is to make them endlessly snappy and irritable! Also, although some anger is expected in times of difficultly and peril, how come all characters seem to react to stress in the same way? In the real world some people react to bad stuff by becoming quiet and withdrawn, or deflecting how they feel with humour, or being depressed, or over the top positive etc etc. In Red Queen world everyone just seems to get cross so there is a lot of dialogue where everyone is snappy and angry with everyone else and the voices seem to become interchangeable. BUT this is not a novel to choose for subtly drawn characters and sensitive dialogues it is all about the action so this fault is not difficult to forgive.
I look forward to the next instalment.