Review: Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard

cruelcrownCruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard

My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes

Series: Red Queen #0.1-0.2

Date Published: January 5th, 2016

Publisher: HarperTeen

Pages: 208 pages

Source: Library

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Two women on either side of the Silver and Red divide tell the stories no one else knows.

Discover the truth of Norta’s bloody past in these two revealing prequels to #1 New York Times bestseller Red Queen.

Queen Song—Queen Coriane, first wife of King Tiberias, keeps a secret diary—how else can she ensure that no one at the palace will use her thoughts against her? Coriane recounts her heady courtship with the crown prince, the birth of a new prince, Cal, and the potentially deadly challenges that lay ahead for her in royal life.

Steel Scars—Diana Farley was raised to be strong, but being tasked with planting the seeds of rebellion in Norta is a tougher job than expected. As she travels the land recruiting black market traders, smugglers, and extremists for her first attempt at an attack on the capital, she stumbles upon a connection that may prove to be the key to the entire operation—Mare Barrow.

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This is a spoiler-free review.

Once again, I appear to be in the minority when it comes to my opinion on Victoria Aveyard’s novels—however, this time, it is in the complete opposite way. I am pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading these two novellas. These are the first prequel novellas to Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series—a series that I have not been a major fan of so far.

Though the idea for the plot of Red Queen is intriguing, unique, and something that would normally be right up my alley, I do not believe it is executed as well as it could be, which ends up being a massive detriment. However, Cruel Crown has further confirmed two thoughts I’ve had ever since I began the series last year. First, that Victoria Aveyard is in fact an absolutely spectacular writer. And second, that there is just something about the main character, Mare, that I genuinely cannot stand.

Over the course of these novellas, we get an opportunity to see Aveyard write from two completely fresh points of view. Whether sharing the thoughts of a young girl from a lower class Silver family as she turns into a queen, or exploring the mind of an influential member of the Red rebellion as she realizes her full potential, Aveyard masterfully portrays her various characters. Her talent as a wordsmith cannot be denied and these novellas—with their varying points of view—allow her to present us with a more solid demonstration of this than Red Queen did.

As she has been displaying since her debut novel, Victoria Aveyard has a natural aptitude when it comes to world building. Her background in screenwriting is quite apparent as she creates every setting, unfolds every single action, with a vivid palette of words. This is something that has caused me to completely fall in love with her writing style, despite not always being thrilled with her characterization or what she chooses to focus on in her plotlines.

I’ll now briefly touch on my specific thoughts about each story individually.

Queen Song (Rating: 4/5)

Queen Song briefly recounts the life of Coriane, queen of Norta, first wife of King Tiberias, and Cal’s mother. We learn of the trials she faced through her younger years—her struggle to find some source of happiness. We are able to get a brief glimpse into her romance with Tibe and the torments that plagued her through the final years of her life. A damaged, desperate, yet inherently brave young woman fighting against demons—both tangible and intangible—Queen Coriane’s story is truly a captivating one.

This ended up being my favorite of the two novellas—in fact, I really wish that this story were a full novel in itself. I would have gladly read many more pages about Coriane’s life, as well as the life of the kingdom itself prior to the events of Red Queen. It is hard to imagine feeling for anyone other than the Reds, but Coriane’s story is surprisingly heart wrenching. This is due primarily to the fact that Aveyard forms her into an extremely kind, relatable figure, despite her slightly elevated standing in society.

Right from the start, Aveyard shows the same vivid and technically proficient writing as she demonstrated in Red Queen. Coriane’s pain is understandable, clearly rendered and fluidly woven into the overall tone and atmosphere of the novella. There is a repetitiveness and childishness to the way she thinks and handles the emotions she faces through the beginning of the story. This at first got on my nerves, but the more I thought, the more I realized how perfectly Aveyard captures the way in which a young girl might confront extreme sadness. As Coriane ages, this repetitive method gives way to a much stronger, more mature one, displaying solid character progression in a short amount of text—not an easy feat.

The biggest complaint I have is not even much of a complaint, per se. I really just want more. I want more details about her early life—more of her relationships with her best friend, brother, and father. I want to see more of her courtship with King Tiberias. Their love story is sweet and beautiful, not only elaborating on their history, but also adding a new dimension to Tiberas’ character. However, it is a comparatively small portion of the novella. The ending is quite rushed—understandably—and though I thoroughly enjoyed this novella, I do wish there was just a bit more to it.

Steel Scars (Rating: 3.75/5)

In Steel Scars, we follow Captain Diana Farley—a key figure in the Red rebellion—through the months that lead up to the moments when her life first becomes entangled with Mare Barrow’s. Alternating between Farley’s point of view and a series of secret transmissions, Aveyard paints a picture of a strong, ambitious leader discovering her true strength as she pushes through her fears and weaknesses to do what she believes is right.

Though it starts off a bit slow, this story quickly begins to pick up, and I found myself pulled into the highs and lows, the triumphs and struggles that made up Captain Farley’s past. Though we do not begin at the start of her time in the rebellion, we get to see a very different side of Farley—a more impulsive, vulnerable side as she tries to make a name for herself and establish a place of power in the rebellion. It was interesting to see how she has changed, how much she matured, and the full extent of both her personal and professional strength.

Again, Aveyard’s writing is as beautiful and skillful as always. I found her world building in this particular story to be some of her best so far, and the action sequences were exciting and enthralling. As this is a spoiler-free review, I will only go as far as saying that the mystery guest who makes an appearance in this plotline and their relationship with Farley was probably my absolute favorite part. This is what has made me particularly eager to continue onto the next book in the series.

I must admit, the decoded messages were a bit confusing and difficult to follow at times, but as the story progressed, I found myself getting more used to reading them. Since each series of messages follows a new chunk of plot, understanding what events they are referring to and whom each codename belongs to becomes quite straightforward. They also consistently become more and more intriguing, which aids the ease of reading them. Though I was not a complete fan starting out, they grew on me, and I ended up really appreciating the reality they add to the atmosphere of Farley’s story.

Astonishingly enough, despite my mixed feelings on this series as a whole, I am actually feeling quite eager to continue on with it after reading these novellas. The time away from it and this brief glimpse at some of the other characters and their backstories has been oddly refreshing. I did not enter this novel with high hopes, but I came out of it very pleased with what it held. Though these stories are not necessarily integral to one’s understanding or enjoyment of the series as a whole, I would personally recommend giving these two novellas a try as they do enrich the world.

4.0 TARDISes

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Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

redqueenRed Queen by Victoria Aveyard

My Rating: 2/5 TARDISes

Series: Red Queen #1

Date Published: February 10th, 2015

Publisher: HarperTeen

Pages: 383 pages

Source: Library

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart…

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This is a spoiler-free review.

This book was very difficult for me to rate. I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with it; there were many problems, but also a few aspects that I thought were fantastic. I am always reluctant when it comes to books that have a lot of hype surrounding them, but I decided to take a bit of a risk with Red Queen due to the many positive reviews it has been receiving.

Lately, I have been reading a lot less of this type of novel, as I am finding that it does not appeal to me as much as it did a few years back. I believe this is due not only to the fact that I am now outside the target age range, but also to the repetitive nature of many of the storylines. While I am perfectly fine with some similarities between books and I understand that it is bound to happen, there tends to be a lot of overused tropes in the young adult dystopian genre these days, and I am not a fan of many of them.

In my opinion, the plot of Red Queen started out very promising and pulled me in right away. Aveyard does a wonderful job of conjuring up a vision of the world and showing the stark contrast between the living situations of the Reds and the Silvers. She also clearly shows the social divide and the unfair and inhumane treatment of the Reds. The concept of the Silvers is fascinating; the idea of their powers is enthralling, and I truly enjoyed all the scenes where these powers were demonstrated. I do wish that there had been a bit more of a focus on those abilities and the history of the Silvers, but I am hoping this will be shown in more depth in the future books.

While the setting and concept of the novel are both fairly strong, the actual plotline does not do either of them justice. There is a world of people where the color of their blood determines their lot in life. A world of disunion and unrest, and a rebellion springing up to work toward gaining proper rights for the downtrodden. A world entirely human, but ruled by those with superhuman abilities, acting as merciless gods. There is so much to be explored, and yet the main focus is not on any of these topics. Instead of focusing on the structure of the society or the political intrigue and deception, there is far too much emphasis put on more trivial matters. I believe this is primarily due to the fact that it is written using first person narration.

I genuinely believe that I would have liked this book a lot more if it had been told in third person. One of the main reasons that I had trouble connecting with the story was due to the fact that I only liked a handful of the characters, many of whom did not play large roles in the plot. Most importantly, I did not like the main character, Mare.

I frequently found myself becoming irritated with the things she did, such as the way she treated other people and how she handles the situation she is in. She seemed to lack sympathy for others, even her own family members, and tended to always put herself first. Mare does occasionally worry about the safety of her family, but it never feels truly genuine because she spends much of her time feeling sorry for herself.

She has been thrust into a difficult and very dangerous situation, essentially becoming a pawn to the Silvers, and has every reason to feel discouraged. However, Mare unfortunately lacks the maturity that makes a strong heroine, and spends far too much time indulging in self-pity. It is nice to see a character overcome some of those negative thoughts and forge ahead to protect themselves and their family, and I did not think that there was enough of this demonstrated here. I do hope to see her character mature and strengthen as the series progresses.

There is also too much focus on romance, specifically one that is rather weak, and a bully, both of which seem as if they have been forced into the plot. This novel does involve a bit of a love triangle, something that I tend to not be a huge fan of. However, Mare’s main love interest is Prince Cal. While I did like Cal as a character, I felt that their romance was a bit rushed and did not feel as if it was happening naturally. Likewise, I also felt that the antagonistic relationship between Mare and the bully character, Evangeline, was too suddenly intense, and that Evangeline was a very cliché “mean girl”. Both of these storylines ended up being very formulaic and therefore did not capture my attention.

Between her self-centered attitude and her fixation on Cal, I quickly became tired of being in Mare’s head and hearing her thoughts. I frequently wished that I could pull away from things slightly and observe this story playing out from a third person perspective. Though it had the potential to be a very complex and unique plot, it falls victim to many clichéd tropes and loses a lot of possible seriousness and maturity. It ends up becoming more of a sophomoric story that focuses too heavily on things like mean girls and love triangles.

While I disliked the above aspects, there was one main part of the narrative that I completely loved: the writing style. When reading about Victoria Aveyard, I learned that she has a degree in screenwriting, and her talent in that area comes through very clearly in her writing. Aveyard’s descriptions are vivid, captivating, and absolutely spot-on. The entire way through the novel, I could clearly see everything playing out in my mind, and she built a fascinating world. One recurring thought I had was about what a good movie this would make and, in fact, I think this may have come across better in a cinematic format. Her writing flows beautifully, and that is what truly carried me through the novel.

Overall, I would have to say that I was not a fan of this novel. However, I am extremely interested in reading more of Victoria Aveyard’s writing, and for that reason, I think that I may give the sequel, The Glass Sword, a try. Since first books in series tend to have a lot of set up for future stories, I would be intrigued to see if I have a more enjoyable time with the next part. I would also like to see if Mare matures and becomes a stronger heroine. I am still glad that I gave it a try, and would also recommend giving it a go if you have been debating whether or not to. It did not click with me and I think it is a hit or miss kind of story, but I can definitely see why this novel has gotten many glowing reviews.

2.0 TARDISes

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