Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

“Love is a dangerous power.”

Mare Barrow will soon turn eighteen and since she is apprenticed to no one, she will be conscripted into the army, just like her three older brothers. Kilorn Warren is Mare’s only real friend. A fisherman’s apprentice, he is also a war orphan. His father’s body was returned in a shoebox and his mother ran off after that. Mate's father returned alive but missing a leg and a lung. Kilorn was left alone to fend for himself. Starving, he kept picking fights with Mare. Not wanting to “kick around a bag of bones,” she fed him. Now ten years later, they face separate futures. The two are making their way with the rest of the citizens of the Stilts to the open area arena where First Friday, the feat of August will take place. Attendance is mandatory.

Mare’s world is divided by blood. The Silvers with their iridescent, metallic blood have it all. They are smarter, stronger and just plain better than the Reds. The two are not the same and never will be, no matter how much the Reds want to be. The Silvers have all the luxuries, including something as simple as ice. And only the Silvers are allowed to fight in the arena. Kilorn loves the fights, even bets on them, but Mare knows they are to show that the Silvers are superior to the Reds. Kilorn thinks that the strongarm champion will win today. They usually do. The first champion is announced, a strongarm named Cantos Carros. His opponent is from the capital, a man that compared to Carros would be referred to as a weakling. He is announced as Samson Merandus. Mare thinks his last name sounds familiar but many Silvers belong to famous families. Carros strikes first and Merandus roars in pain. Carros quickly strikes again. Everyone in the stands can see the metallic blood dripping from Samson's mouth. As Carros holds his sword high, he begins to walk towards his opponent. Soon he freezes in midair. Samson just stares at him. He flicks his fingers and Carros begins to walk towards him, mouth hanging open. Mare realizes that Samson is a whisper, a rare and dangerous person even among the Silvers who has the ability to control someone's mind. Everyone is speechless as Carros turns his sword on himself and drives it through his stomach. Silvers are never to die in the ring and it's all the soldiers can do to get the arena evacuated.

Later that night after the electricity is cut off at the Barrow house, a bird call wakes Mare. She knows it's Kilorn and hurries down the ladder to see him. She is stunned to see him crying. The apprentice he worked for has died. Kilorn hasn't completed his training and at eighteen no one else will take him on. All that is left for him now is to be conscripted as a soldier. Mare isn't willing to let that happen and knows someone who might be able to help. Willie Whistle is the fence who Mare goes to offload the items she steals in the town square. Willie is too old for honest work. Mare asks if he can help them leave. For the first time since she has known Willie, he tells her no. She is devastated and it breaks down Willie's resolve. He invites her in his wagon. Highly appreciative, Mare babbles on until a high pitched voice tells her to sit down and be quiet. A girl, slightly older than herself stands there with a gun on her hip that is tucked into a unauthorized red sash belt decorated with suns. Willie introduces her as Farley. Farley will move the "cargo" but it will come with a hefty price. Mare just wants to go somewhere away from the Silvers. Farley finally agrees by saying, "the Scarlet Guard accepts, Mare Barrow." She is excited but Mare knows not to show it. Farley then tells her the price, one thousand crowns and payment is expected in full. Mare and even Willie are shocked but there is more. The price is per item. It will cost two thousand crowns for both Mare and Kilorn's freedom. The cargo will be moved the day after tomorrow. Knowing it's her only chance. Mare accepts. She leaves to tell Kilorn the news. He is devastated and asks that she not give him false hope. He thanks her for the effort and hopes that she can save up enough before her time comes. Mare is unwilling to give up. Back at home in bed, Mare looks over at her sleeping sister Gisa. Gisa is apprenticed to a seamstress and creates lovely stitched works of wearable art that the Silvers pay lots of money for. Inspiration strikes Mare for a second time that night. She wakes up Gisa and tells her about Kilorn's situation. Mare knows that she will agree because she has a crush on him. The two come up with a plan.

The next morning, the girls make the trip to Grand Garden, the marketplace for Summerton where the Royals spend the summer and Gisa's mistress' shop is located. At the gate, they show their identification and Gisa explains to the guard that her sister is helping her today be carrying in extra supplies. They are granted admittance and given bracelets that will be removed when they leave. The girls head to the shop to unloaded their packs. Gisa tells Mare to meet her back there when she is done. Mare heads off to the square to make a plan. Looking around, she quickly notices that the job will not be as easy as it is back home. Guards and cameras line the streets. She walks by an open air bar where Silvers are having their morning drinks while watching a line of video screens. A noise like the one that starts the Feats but different grabs her attention as well as that of the Silvers. All of the video screens flash to the same news broadcast. The woman looks frightened as she reads from a sheet of paper. Thirteen minutes earlier, there was a terrorist attack in the capital. Several government buildings were damaged but courts wasn't in session and the royal family wasn't in residence. No one was injuried. King Tiberias will address the nation within the hour. Before Mare can leave a strongarm grabs her arm. The Silvers assume that the Lakelanders are bringing the war closer to them. The news coverage continues and the woman on screen pales further. She states that "a terrorist group calling themselves the Scarlet Guard released this video moments ago." The Silvers are confused as to who the Scarlet Guard is but Mare isn't. She looks up and sees a disguised Farley talking on screen. Mare knows that she needs to leave immediately. Chaos ensues. Any Red in the square is soon taken by a Silver, demanding to know who the Scarlet Guard is. Mare knows that she must make it back to Gisa's shop. Running for her life, Mare is attacked. Drowning in a fountain, Mare is rescued by her sister. They know that they need to leave. Gisa is disappointed that Mare was unsuccessful. Making their way to the gate, Mare is unable to stop her sister from trying to pickpocket  a man. He turns around and grabs her and his "twin" stops Mare. Soon, the man multiplies and Mare realizes that he is a cloner. They try to escape but a security guard comes over. The man accuses Gisa and the officer, knowing Gisa slightly, frowns before asking if she knows the law. She does and he holds her hand down. Mare can only watch as he breaks her sister's hand.

After dropping off Gisa at home, Mare runs away from everyone's disappointment, including her own. She stops outside of their village at an inn that is frequented by the servants and seasonal workers that follow the royal court. It's a place where no one knows her so pickpocketing is easier. Hiding in the shadows, the drunks that venture out with full pockets are easy prey for her. No one is noticing her. Needing to head back home, Mare goes for one last victim. While he is staring at the sky, Mare opens his coin purse. His hand closes around hers and pulls her out of the shadows. He looks her over before tossing a silver tetrarch at her. She catches it and mumbles thanks. It’s worth more than all the pennies she has stolen that night. He thinks it should ride her over. Curious at his appearance since he is not much older than her, Mare cannot tell if he is a servant or woodcutter, she asks why he gave her the money. Because from her looks, she needs it much more than he does. He asks if she lives in the village and enjoys living there. She snaps back with a sarcastic reply. He has no answer and asks if she is headed home, wouldn't want all of the bar patrons to leave broke. He introduces himself as Cal and extends his hand. Mare doesn't take it. She walks off down the road and calls her name over her shoulder. Mare notices that he quickly catches up to her. He asks about a job and is silent when she tells him she is seventeen and jobs are scarce. He knows that she will be conscripted and grows quiet. He asks if she was at the riots earlier and in the dark, Mare finds herself telling him what happened to her sister. He gives her another second tetrarch, which she accepts. He tells her that he is sorry. She tells him not to be, others have it worse. He leaves her at the edge of the village, seemingly uncomfortable. He is gone before she can thank him.

Back home, she runs into her father whom is on the ground outside of the stilted house. He begins to let out some of his aggression on the electrical box that seems to actually be broken. Mare joins him. She hits it and receives a little shock. Seems like there was a faulty wire and the box begins to work. Her father tells her not to tell her mother that he left the house. He is never going to get better and she would only get her hopes up. At the top, Mare helps him in the house. Climbing to the loft where she sleeps with her sister, she cannot help but notice her broken hand. Not able to sleep, she rereads her brother Shade's latest letter from the warfront. Near the bottom, a familiar phase is written, the same phrase that Farley spoke on the video earlier. Mare realizes that her brother is a part of the Scarlet Guard.

The next morning, Mare is awoken by a banging on the door. Security searches are not unusual but they have had the usual two already this year. Her father voices his acceptance, a requirement. Mare notices two officers but a third figure  is with them, a young woman in red with a crown badge over her heart. It designates that she is a Red who serves the king. The woman comes forward and looks straight at Mare. She has been summoned to Summerton. They will escort her. Confused, Mare wonders if she is being taken in due to meeting with Farley the other night. The woman reassures her that the market is well controlled after yesterday's violence. Knowing she cannot refuse a summons, Mare goes to leave. She and her family both wonder if she will return.

At the gates, Mare leaves the transport with the woman. She introduces herself as Ann but around these parts they go by their last names, hers being Walsh. Mare thinks it sounds familiar and Walsh tells her that she is from the Stilts as well and knows two of her brothers. Walsh tells her the details of the job as a servant. Mare wonders how Cal was able to pull the strings to get her a job. Scurrying through the underground tunnels, Mare keeps an eye out for Cal to thank him and to see if he can also get Kilorn a job. Now she won't have to go off to war as a soldier. Mare finally asks where they are going. To the Hall of the Sun answers Walsh. Mare now works for the king, just like she does. And of all the days to start, a busy day, probably the worst. Today is the Queenstrial, the day the daughters of the high houses come to be presented to the Prince. Since Mare will be on serving duty, she will get to see everything for herself.

After preparing the spiral garden, Mare joins the remaining kitchen staff behind gauzy curtains to watch. Looking around, she notices Samson Merandus, the whisper from the Feat and makes note to avoid him. She doesn't see any girls of age and wonders where they are. Next in line, she is called to the box where Samson's family sits. The father and a son hold out their empty water glasses to her. She rinses them off in a sink when a sound comes that heralds the entrance of the royal family. Mare finds herself standing level with the King's box. After the past two days, she cannot believe that she is this close to the king. He is announced and soon the queen follows. The queen bows only to Samson's box and Mare realizes that they must be family. After putting down outbursts about the Scarlet Guard, King Tiberias calls forth his two sons. First is Prince Maven, the youngest and child of his current wife. Then he announces the crown prince and child of his deceased wife, Prince Tiberias the Seventh. Mare is snickering over his name that she doesn't immediately look up. When she does, she drops the glass she was holding. Crown Prince Tiberias is none other than Cal, the boy she met last night.

Why has Prince Tiberias, aka Cal, brought Mare to work at the palace? What will they say to one another the next time that they come face to face? Does Mare stay on at the palace? What will happen to her family? Who will be chosen as the future queen? What is the Scarlet Guard? Is Shade a member? Will Kilorn be able to escape conscription? What is the difference between Silvers and Reds?

The Red Queen, is the first in a trilogy.

Visit Victoria Aveyard’s website.

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