Book by Victoria Aveyard
In the kingdom of Norta, people are divided by the colour of their blood: the common “Reds” and the supernaturaly gifted “Silver” elite. Mare’s blood is red, and she lives in a small fishing village with her family, trying to avoid being conscripted in the army – or at the very least, making the most of her time before she leaves for war in the north. That is, until a series of unlikely circumstances lead Mare to discover that she has a strange ability… an ability that even Silvers can’t control.
But Mare’s blood is red.
Masqueraded as a lost Silver princess and told to keep her mouth shut about her heritage, Mare will have to survive perhaps her toughest challenge yet: the whispers and intrigue of the Silver court.
This book came highly recommended by pretty much everyone, so when I opened it I was well over my head in the hype. And by the time I closed the book, I really had one thought:
It was… okay. Overwhelmingly okay.
This YA dystopia is like every other YA dystopia: one group oppressing another group due to some arbitrary distinction (although at least blood colour would be an understandable thing to divide people by *LOOKING AT YOU DIVERGENT*), anachronistic technology, in-the-ruins-of-what-was-once-North-America, etc., etc. There is the requisite love triangle (involving two brothers, no less), special-snowflake heroine (though, again, the reason she’s special does make sense *LOOKING AT YOU AGAIN DIVERGENT*), childhood best friend and uprising against the evil government. The heroine is female but most of her meaningful interactions are with men, and most helpful side characters are male. The female rival is beautiful-but-in-a-scary-way, while the heroine is naturally attractive. You know where I’m going.
It seems obvious that the author has read a lot of YA dystopia, or is at least very familiar with the tropes. Aveyard does make an obvious effort to play with and subvert many of those tropes (the love triangle is very self aware, though perhaps a bit too on the nose), but doesn’t always succeed where it counts (based on Aveyard’s tumblr I think she was trying to make a commentary on a patriarcal society’s effect on women, but it mostly translates as bitches-be-catty and madonna-whore complexes.) The love triangle in particular disappointed me, because I thought it was going in a particular direction that would actually have been subversive, but then it did the predictable thing. The worldbuilding wasn’t bad, per say, but a bit amateur-ish and derivative (although thank you for including Canada in your future-America-dystopia, Miss Aveyard. I don’t know why most authors think we would either be bombed into oblivion or seamlessly merge into the United States, yet here we are.)
I’m tempted to blame this mostly on the closed first-person narration, which doesn’t leave much room for any perspective that isn’t Mare’s. That means that we have nothing to help us temper her feelings about other characters and can only interpret them the way she does, which leaves many characters flat and/or clichéd. It also means we can only know as much about her world as she does, and Mare is fairly uneducated about life outside her village. This ignorance is useful for exposition, but may also be why some details of the worldbuilding seem sketchy at best and contradictory at worst.
Still, I enjoyed the book enough to buy and read the sequel. Honestly, if YA dystopia is your thing, this is right up your alley: just ignore the questionable gender politics and don’t think too hard about the worldbuilding, and you’ll be fine.