First published on Fantasy Faction
Contains spoilers for Red Queen
I’m new to this series and tore through the first book, Red Queen, in one sitting. The idea isn’t an original one – we’re talking an ‘us and them’ scenario with the eugenics elements borrowed from dystopian classics such as Brave New World and the oppressive control of the masses popularised by Orwell’s 1984. Anyone who’s read Francesca Haig’s The Fire Sermon will recognise these same elements. Dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction is on trend right now, and particularly so in YA. Aveyard’s take makes for an exciting series, full of plausible and compelling characters and a memorable setting.
Mare is a ‘Red’, a supposedly ordinary commoner ruled over by the ‘Silvers’ – the superhuman elite. In Red Queen, Mare discovers an unusual power of her own: the ability to produce and control electricity. Hidden in plain sight by the royal family, betrothed to the second son, Maven, Mare is schooled to be Silver, but secretly joins the Red rebellion, helped by Maven. At the end of Red Queen, however, Maven reveals his true colours, framing Mare and Cal, the crown prince, for the king’s murder.
Glass Sword opens with Mare and Cal on the run, fleeing with the remnants of the Scarlet Guard (the rebellion), and trying to come to terms with Maven’s betrayal. Mare’s goal in this book is to find and protect other ‘newbloods’ like herself: Reds with Silver powers. Unfortunately Maven has the same information, so it’s a race against time as Mare tries to rescue the newbloods before the traitorous prince can eliminate them.
The book is written in first person, giving Mare a powerful, almost overwhelming presence. She’s a fascinating character, torn between her Red roots and her calling as ‘the lightning girl’. Belonging to neither world, she struggles to find a place for herself and to sort out her conflicting feelings. Shaped by her unforgiving environment and her hard upbringing, Mare is often rash and uncompromising, unafraid to exploit people to achieve her ends. I liked this aspect of her character and the inner turmoil it produces (although sometimes her self-pity is overdone). Mare is the glass sword of the title, a fragile weapon under threat of shattering, but a weapon nonetheless.
Mare is surrounded by an eclectic cast. Her childhood friend Kilorn, who loves her despite it being unreciprocated; Cal, the Silver prince, who Mare can’t help but be attracted to; Farley, the Scarlet Guard captain, resolute and fiercely loyal to the cause; Shade, Mare’s brother, with a newblood ability of his own. They kept me reading long into the night. The other newbloods Mare manages to rescue are all distinct characters with their own abilities and personalities and, most interestingly, not all are happy or willing to help her.
But the best character, undoubtedly, is Maven. I have to say, I never quite trusted him in Red Queen, not with all those references to him having his mother’s eyes (we know his mother is a nasty piece of work). But, like Mare, it’s hard to forget the gentle, overlooked boy in the shadows, who yearned for a cause. The Maven of Glass Sword is very different. Although some of his tactics are meaninglessly gratuitous (think dead baby), I still liked him and, what’s more, Mare does too. It’s a complex love-hate relationship that’s all about power and control. I can’t wait to see where the author takes this.
After setting up the Silvers as enemies in Red Queen, Glass Sword begins to shake our perceptions. The Scarlet Guard gets more airtime, revealing itself to be just as political as the Silver court, disparate factions with disparate ends. At the same time, Mare helps some dissenting Silvers, bringing them into the fight against Maven. It’s refreshing to see that nothing is clear-cut. There’s no good or evil, just the natural divisions bred by inequality.
Expect to shed tears, if you’re susceptible to heart-breaking scenes. This is a dark book and not everyone gets out alive. But it’s also a well-realised, well-written story that had me on the edge of my seat. There’s something hypnotic about Aveyard’s writing, which instantly transports you into a world where magic augments technology and the spectre of radiation still haunts the ruins of once-proud cities.
If you’re into fantasy, dystopian or post-apocalyptic fiction, definitely give this series a try.