Red Queen, Cruel Crown, Glass Sword, and King Cage
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Publisher: Harper Teen
Published: 2015 – 2017
Red Queen: 3 / 5 Stars
Cruel Crown: 3 / 5 Stars
Glass Sword: 4 /5 Stars
King’s Cage: 4 / 5 Stars
Overall: 3.5 / 5 Stars
For Those Who Enjoyed: The Hunger Games, X Men, The Sineater’s Daughter, Six of Crows, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, The Bone Season
I’ve had a rather complex relationship with this series, ranging from incensed from its predictability to deeply respecting Aveyard for growing as a writer. It’s fair to say many series openers aren’t always the best representation for the series as a whole, especially for debut authors. The writer is still getting comfortable with their characters and world building and settling in with their token writing style takes some time. Red Queen is one of those books. It reads like a new writer influenced by several classic outside sources, and as a result, her plot is extremely predictable. I could see exactly where the plot was going about 20 pages in, which made for a really boring, formulaic reading experience. On top of this, Red Queen also happens to be one of the closest stories I’ve read to my own YA sci-fi/fantasy series I’m working on. Seeing a “little lightning girl” go up against a thoroughly evil psychologically manipulative queen hit a little too close to home for me and I have to say, I was a little annoyed. Namely, because I knew I could do it so much better.
By Glass Sword, it’s very clear Aveyard’s nice and settled in with her characters. She’s finally gotten her foot in the door in the publishing world, and she can drop the pretence of the tired love triangle trope. In fact, what makes Glass Sword so strong as a sequel is the subtly of the romance between Mare and Cal. Their love story isn’t front and centre, it doesn’t take priority. They’re facing a war, trying to save lives, and going up against an evil kingdom. It’s safe to say they have a lot more on their minds than making out. The dynamic we get instead is one of quiet support. They’re a kick ass battle couple in for the majority of the story, and then they’re there for each other in the moments in between. I was far more eager to get behind them as a couple when their romance wasn’t so in your face. Another aspect I loved about Glass Sword was Mare really coming into her own as a character. And not just as a protagonist, but a morally gray one. She goes to a very dark place of dejection and mistrust and it leads her to do some pretty horrific things, which she feels is 100% justified at the time. This is the exact type of juicy character development I love delving into, and, in fact, is what I strive for my own characters. Again, I see my own protagonist in Mare and by the end of Glass Sword, I’d dropped the annoyed pretence and jumped straight to rooting her on. I’m less worried about writing another female protagonist stereotype, and more thrilled that my own lightning girl has a feisty heroine to follow. My girl will be in good company one day.
The thing about Aveyard is, it takes her 100 to 200 pages to get going in each of her books. Glass Sword doesn’t get really good until halfway through and King’s Cage’s weakness is Mare’s being rendered powerless in captivity for the majority of the book. Cruel Crown suffers from this issue in that it’s a duology of two novellas, 100 pages each. She doesn’t quite have the time to build the tension or rise to her climax properly with “Queen’s Song” and “Steel Scars”. Her strength is in 300-400 plus page novels with that properly build climax. The slow-building rollercoaster is worth the climb to the top because the free fall to the bottom really is something spectacular once Aveyard’s built her momentum.
The nice thing about reading this series, is you can see the layers of awareness in Aveyard’s craft. In Glass Sword, it’s clear her focus in her writing overall is on strong female characters. She adds not only female friendships in Farley and Mare, but characters of colour in Cam. In King’s Cage, she seems to understand her weakness in her slow build-up. Leaving Mare chained up and helpless in Maven’s court leaves very little to play with in terms of narrative. Fortunately, she finds a way around it by offering multiple perspectives. Giving Cam and Evangeline POVs is kind of a genius move. They’re fringe characters at best, with an outsider’s opinion on the main action. It’s refreshing seeing characters give their honest opinions about the protagonist. Cam is critical of Mare, which gives the reader an option to create their own opinion about her, instead of blindly following what Aveyard gives them. We know Mare’s motivations for her actions, and we now see how they are influencing others around her. It’s a very self-aware take on the narrative, and I have a lot of respect for it. You can tell Aveyard’s driven to push herself to be better with each book. She wants to improve in her diversity and she knows how to be a role model for her young readers. If I’m being honest, that’s kind of exactly what I aspire to be. Is it any wonder my urge to leap off the couch and go write something was far stronger than actually finishing my reading sessions with these books?