Red Queen, by all accounts, had a standard plot. People are divided by red bloods and silver bloods. Silver bloods have superhero powers and their boots on the Red’s neck. A Red named Mare manages to gain Silver powers and gets thrown into a world of political intrigue and rebellion. But what gave Red Queen such success was the fact that it was genre aware – it took a whole bunch of YA clichés and threw them in your face. Glass Sword was not so lucky. So many things went wrong with this novel that I am not exactly sure where to start. Plot, pacing, characters, dialogue and writing style all came together into a book that was a challenge to get through. So what happens in Glass Sword? Mare, Cal and the Red Guard escape Maven’s army after the Battle of Bones, but when they get to the Red Guard’s island base Mare butts heads with the new command. Knowing that Maven will kill any Newbloods he finds (the Reds with Silver powers), Mare wants to get to them first. Mare, Cal and others escape from the island and go in search of Newbloods through on covert operations which successful as many times as they’re not. Eventually they learn that Maven is holding Newbloods in a prison for experimentation, and they set out on a giant rescue mission to save them. Sounds pretty solid so far, right? Well, let’s discuss the biggest problem out of the gate. Mare. In the first book she had problems, she wasn’t always sure what the right course of action was and she made mistakes. Sometimes she made big mistakes, like trusting Maven, but she dealt with them and moved on. Mare of Red Queen was a tolerable main character. She was like Tris Prior or Katniss Everdeen.
Mare of Glass Sword is a completely different person. This is a character who is bogged down by her mistakes, focused on what she’s lost, fixated on suffering and pain, and racked with guilt. She is a gaping black hole that sucks all the life out of this book and takes anything else that could have been good about this book with her. Mare’s thoughts are either some form of self pitying statement or an absolutely depressing thought. And it’s not that there haven’t been characters who have made major mistakes or felt guilt or any of those other things that help build a character. The problem is that her self pitying statements become the entire focus of Mare’s inner monologue. The funniest (and saddest) part is that Cal even points out exactly what is wrong with Mare. [quote]You feel no remorse for the dead. You do whatever you can to forget them. You abandoned your family without a word. You can’t control yourself. Half the time you run away from leadership and the other half you act like some untouchable martyr, crowned in guilt, the only one who’s really giving herself to the cause.[/quote] Imagine having to listen to that inner monologue, but it takes up 90% of the book. Usually inner monologues are broken up by dialogue, but in Glass Sword if people weren’t talking to further the plot they weren’t talking at all. That means that character building was in a constant holding pattern.
Glass Sword was our chance to get to know the other characters. Cal, Farley, and Kilorn are the only secondary characters remaining from book 1, but I barely know anything about any of them or can even name a concrete reason why the revolution is so important to them. Farely wants a Red revolution because Silvers are oppressing Reds? Kilorn wants to fight because he almost got drafted that one time? Cal is there because he has nowhere better to be? Nothing is personal for these characters. Look at any good dystopia: Katniss’ fight started when Prim nearly ends up in the games, but it became personal when Rue dies. In the Newsflesh trilogy it was people actively trying to assassinate Shaun and George that committed them to the fight. And Triss’s figh4t becomes personal when the Erudites start killing off Abnegation. The only person who anything is really personal for is Cal, because Maven and his mother made him behead his father. But that’s not his reason for joining the revolution, because he hasn’t officially even joined. We also never get to see much of his inner struggle with working against Silvers because Mare acts like a two-bit psychic, interpreting everyone’s minds, and so we only get what he probably-maybe-might be thinking through her very biased opinions. As for plot and pacing every page was like a tiny papercut between the webbing of my fingers: slow and painful. Up until the big rescue mission at the end not much happens that is the least bit exciting. Mare and co. go around and trying to find Newbloods, train Newbloods and Mare argues with people, but none of it peaked my interest. And when there is drama it feels forced, like it is only there to be drama. Even major fights, like one that took place between Mare and Kilorn falls flat. I had no idea what they were fighting about or why it ended but I couldn’t bring myself to care.
The worst part is that almost everybody gets turned into cardboard cut outs. Red society, Silver society, Cal, Maven. They’re very binary. Reds are good. Silvers are bad. Cal is the fiery prince, Maven is the shadow boy, Kilorn is the fish boy. And while Aveyard was trying to go for shades of grey that wasn’t how it came across. We’re told that there are some decent Silvers out there besides the few that Mare calls friends, but we never see them. We can assume that not all Reds are good, but they almost never do anything to tell us otherwise. The only way for me to talk about the good in this novel is to talk about specific moments. I like that Cal and Mare are both mourning the Maven they thought they knew. I liked the Mare’s plans after the prison break which I will not spoil. I liked the side character Nanny, an old woman who can shapeshift into anyone. But these few good things do nothing to erase the parts that dragged. I have seen the Red Queen series compared to a lot of things. Some people think that Maven is going through an character arc like Warren in Shatter Me and that he has a really good reason for why he’s being a brutal little monster. Mare turning into a monster could be compared to the Adelina in the The Young Elites. Or the Grisha trilogy with a villain convinced that he’s saving people as he becomes the monster he’s trying to depose. But those novels do those elements so much better. Red Queen was a great read. It challenged a lot of YA clichés and was a fairly good story to boot, but Glass Sword was not of the calibre we were promised. I am so sad that this book wasn’t for me, and I’m not sure if I holdout any hope for the next one. But I guess that’s the thing, isn’t it? Anyone can betray anyone.