A few days ago I read a quote from an author somewhere that there’s nothing wrong with writing to a formula, that it’s what you bring to the formula that makes a great story. I’m annoyed that I didn’t pay more attention to the source, the university student in me is appalled at my lack of referencing but what they said struck me as interesting. There’s often a sense that formulaic writing is somehow lazy or unimaginative, but all stories have a formula. Each has a beginning, a middle and an end. There is a point of conflict, sometimes a resolution. Some of my favourite novels have followed formulas. Life often follows the same pattern, so why shouldn’t novels? When a story surprises us it’s because it goes against the conventions of the genre and the novel. A writer can follow a formula and bring something new to it at the same time.
That’s not to say it always works out, and while I was reading Red Queen there were elements of the story that felt fresh and interesting, but I felt as if it was something I’d read before.
In a world that is divided in two, the Reds are subservient to the Silvers. It’s a world that relies on this hierarchy, but the balance of power is tenuous. Silvers possess abilities that Reds could only dream of. They can control fire, water, metal and even people, and they maintain their control through fear, pushing the Reds into poverty for their own gain. Mare has the potential to change everything. A Red who can do things that shouldn’t be possible.
The world Mare lives in is unusual. Her village are forced into lives and homes that seem Medieval and yet there are elements of our world evident; electricity, cars, weapons. It’s as if what we know has been destroyed or regressed, and the divide in class has grown. I liked this element of the novel, that there were things that felt familiar and strange at once.
I was less engaged with the rest of the novel. Mare is special because of her emerging abilities not because of her character. She has the opportunity to use her position and abilities to change things, to save lives but does very little. Her involvement in the rebellion is minimal, she goes along with their plans but when she feels that the assassination of court members is too extreme she says and does nothing. Her romance with Cal felt forced but inevitable since their first encounter.
I found myself skim-reading the last third of the book. It just wasn’t the book for me.