Mare sneaks around Summerton all sneaky-sneak style, looking for something to steal. This isn’t an easy task, because there are security cameras everywhere.
I can just hear them humming in firm reminder: someone else is watching here.
She makes several references to cameras “humming.” Keep this in mind for later.
While walking past a pub, Mare overhears a news broadcast about a terrorist attack in the country’s capital. Everyone thinks it’s the Lakelanders at first, but then a recorded message pops up and surprise! It’s the outlaw woman Mare ran into earlier, Farley, announcing that her rebel organization the Scarlet Guard is going to start super-exploding the Silvers.
This once again feels sloppy. When Mare met Farley she stated the name of her organization– “the Scarlet Guard accepts”– even though that name would mean nothing to Mare. There’s no reason for her to say that, other than to introduce it to the reader so they’ll recognize it when it comes up again.
Also, why is the news channel broadcasting this entire speech? You’d think the authorities wouldn’t want that getting out to the public.
This news causes instant pandemonium as Silvers begin rioting and launching random attacks against Reds, and there’s a quite good bit where Mare is sprinting through the city as all hell breaks loose.
While escaping with Gisa she reveals that she didn’t have time to try and yoink anything valuable, so Gisa tries to pick someone’s pocket. It doesn’t go well, and she gets her hand shattered by a guard for her trouble.
Mare reacts to this as though Gisa’s sewing and embroidering capabilities have just been taken away permanently, but is that actually the case? Would a severely broken hand heal to full functionality? I actually don’t know.
The next chapter sees Mare having a good old mope about what happened to Gisa, randomly pick-pocketing people in the Stilts so she won’t have to go home and face the music. As usual I find her emotional reactions unconvincing, as she displays a self-loathing streak that I think is meant to be, like, deep or whatever but which comes across as melodramatic teenage angst.
I’m having a really hard time getting a grasp on what sort of person Mare is supposed to be, or even what her personality is like beyond “snarky”. At times the book paints her as self-righteous, self-assured and burning with rebellious anger, but then when it’s time for some pathos she’s cast as lacking in confidence and full of doubts. I know that these qualities aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but the book isn’t doing a good job of integrating them into a complete character. As a result, her one-note hatred of the Silvers is the only part of personality that feels real.
While stealing shit Mare meets a mysterious Hot Dude named Cal, who is very obviously a Silver slumming it in the Stilts for some reason, although I don’t think we’re meant to figure this out until later. She ends up blurting out her entire predicament to him, and he leaves looking thoughtful about something.
So, let’s just get it out of the way now: this is actually the moment that sets the plot in motion, and it feels incredibly slipshod and unsatisfying. It has absolutely nothing to do with all of the stuff we were reading about before, which is basically prologue (explaining why the book blew through it so quickly). I’m not big on adhering strictly to rigid plot structures (“Okay here’s the setup, then the inciting incident, then I move into Act 2 with some rising action, then…”), but this feels unsatisfying because Mare meeting Cal has nothing to do with any of the events that occurred until this point.
Yes, technically they encountered each other because Mare was moping after the incident with Gisa, but randomly pick-pocketing people is something she does all the time, and thus the two events aren’t really connected. A while back I saw a video by some Pixar writers who described good storytelling as using “because of” to link individual scenes and story beats– this happens, and because of that the next thing happens, and because of that, etc– whereas bad stories tend to use “and then”: this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens. Think back to any badly written summer blockbuster over the last ten years, and it’s virtually guaranteed that the plot will consist of a bunch of set-pieces linked with “and then.” Red Queen is definitely starting to feel like that.
Which is a shame, because it wouldn’t be hard to give Cal’s presence in the story more setup. Let’s say that when the book opens Mare already knows that he’s a Silver who sneaks out to mingle with the Reds, and has been watching him for some time, trying to work up the courage to steal from him (bonus: exposition about the Silvers’ powers could be delivered by Mare catching him in the act of using his, rather than this wierd business with the Silvers setting up arenas all over the place and making the Reds watch them fight each other). After Kilorn’s master slips on a banana peel she takes the plunge, but Cal catches her and they have their heart to heart. The next day the mission to Summerton happens and during the riots Mare spots Cal in the crowd and asks him for help; he protects her by telling the angry mob that she’s his servant, and when the danger is gone she begs him to give her the job for real as a way of making enough money to save Kilorn. This would have the added bonus of requiring Mare to swallow her contempt for the Silvers, which would add some conflict and serve as a nice character moment.
But anway, Mare returns home to find her dad trying to fix their broken electricity meter thing, and this happens:
The metal box is cool to the touch, having long lost the heat of electricity. But there are vibrations still, deep in the mechanism, waiting to be switched back on. I lose myself in trying to find the electricity, to bring it back and prove that even one small thing can go right in a world so wrong. Something sharp meets my fingertips, making my body jolt. An exposed wire or faulty switch, I tell myself. It feels like a pinprick, like a needle spiking in my nerves, but the pain never follows.
Above us, the porch light hums to life.
“Well, fancy that,” Dad mutters.
Just like with Cal being a Silver, I’m not sure whether we’re supposed to realize that this is Mare discovering her hitherto unknown electricity powers. The wording definitely makes it sound like she’s using some sort of affinity for electricity, and there have been several mentions before of her sensing electrical devices like cameras. Weirdly, there’s a line later where she seems to imply that she’s been aware of this electricity-sense the whole time, but apparently never commented on it or found it at all unusual. Chalk it up to the book’s generally poor plotting, I guess.
Mare gets home and re-reads the latest letter from one of her brothers, and realizes from a phrase he used that he knows about the Scarlet Guard. Dun dun duuuuuuuun.
I don’t really get what the point of this is, from the brother’s perspective. The attack didn’t go down anywhere near where they are, so it’s not like he’s warning them. And he’s not giving them information on how to join the Scarlet Guard or request their help, so all he’s really done is increase the odds that he’s going to get either himself or them into trouble. What if the authorities started kicking doors down and searching houses after the bombing, and found the letter?
Speaking of which, the next morning some soldiers come stomping into the house. Mare doesn’t even think about hiding the letter, but it’s okay because they’re just here to bring Mare into Summerton so she can start her new job as a servant. She’s all like “ZOMG” but the women who brings her to the palace is like “yea I know right”.
As it so happens, there’s an extremely important event going on right as Mare arrives, and she gets sent to work at it with zero training or time to prepare, despite having never been a servant before. This seems like an obvious way to mine some tension out of the situation, but Mare is able to do her job effortlessly, and never seems nervous or unsure of herself.
“Today is Queenstrial. The daughters of the High Houses, the great Silver families, have all come to offer themselves to the prince. There’s a big feast tonight, but now they’re in the Spiral Garden, preparing to present, hoping to be chosen.
This is literally the plot of another YA series.
An image of a bunch of peacocks flashes in my head.
Only the male peacocks do that Mare
get with the program geez
It turns out that the Queenstrial (not to be confused with the Kingsglaive) does not, in fact, involve the girls sashaying and fluttering their eyelashes; instead they show off their Silver abilities in front of an audience of nobility, who are protected by some sort of electric shield.
He waves a hand, and two figures step forward, flanking their father. I cannot see their faces, but both are tall and black-haired, like the king.
One of them is Cal, isn’t it.
I’m too busy laughing at the sheer absurdity of the name to notice the young man waving and smiling.
It’s going to be Cal.
And then he turns fully, waving all around. There’s no mistaking it.
The crown prince is Cal.
Oh my goooooooood this book isn’t very good.
The Silvers are mildly interesting in concept. The idea of a future where psionicaly-powered atomic superman have risen up and taken over the world harkens back to tropes from the golden age of sci-fi– and more specifically the Phillip K. Dick version, which posits that actually that wouldn’t be a good thing– which is kind of neat. And I appreciate how the Silver portions of the setting have this daft JRPG-esque techno-fantasy vibe going on. You could do something cool with these elements, but Red Queen doesn’t.
I actually intended reading the whole thing for review, but I stopped at the point where, after discovering her electricity powers in front of all the nobles, Mare is forced into a marriage with prince Maven. Not only is this exactly as contrived and nonsensical as it sounds, but it made me terrified that between Maven, Cal and Kilorn there was going to be an honest to god love rectangle, and I’m just not sure I can handle that.