Thursday, February 12, 2015

Does a book have to be good to be enjoyable? Red Queen as a case study.

Several of our contributors have recently read Victoria Aveyard's Red Queen, a new and heavily hyped YA novel.

As a group, we were wary, as most of us have also read (and loved) Pierce Brown's Red Rising. The commonalities in the plot are hard to miss. Both feature a society with a color-based class system, with Reds at the bottom and Golds or Silvers at the top. Both feature a plucky young Red who, through no particular plan of their own, infiltrates the most elite circle of the upper class, and if their true nature is exposed they risk death. Both intend to upend the rigid social heirarchy by working from the inside.

Oh, and did i mention one's named Darrow, and one is named Mare Barrow?

Either putting our concerns aside, or holding them tight and making a bowl of popcorn first, we read Red Queen. And a funny thing happened: some of us liked it, and some of us didn't, but we all agree it wasn't very good.

When we disagree on a book, it's often the case that what the low-star camp cites as plot holes, inconsistencies, or just nonsense are details the high-star camp can explain, justify, or otherwise believe. For example, when we disagreed wildly about Winner's Curse, it was the exact same elements that made or broke the book for each group.

However, in this case, both the pro-Red Queen and anti-Red Queen camp agreed: this story is full of plot holes, character inconsistencies, flawed worldbuilding, and, frankly, nonsense. We got together and had a lovely time listing out all the things that Just Plain Didn't Make Sense. It's not a short list. This is not a plot that can withstand even casual scrutiny.

But while some readers refer to The List to justify why they didn't like the book, others acknowledged the list and insist the book is worth reading anyway.

One is reminded, in a way, of Summer Blockbuster Movies, which are often more about spectacle than content. While you can sit down and make a (very long) list of the problems with, say, Die Hard, most people will still agree that it's a fun movie worth watching. So why is it different with a book?

I was one of the readers who, despite my misgivings, ended up enjoying the book. I think the reason i liked it has to do with the fact that it is, in several ways, a Superhero Story. Mare is a bit like an X-Men mutant, and i spent a fair deal of my youth watching the X-Men animated series, collecting the cards, and blowing my allowance on the comic books. Any comic book fan has to have a habit of overlooking the kind of errors that plague Red Queen, otherwise they probably wouldn't enjoy comic books in the first place.

Reading is always going to be a subjective experience. One person's Favorite Book Ever is a stack of pages that another reader couldn't even finish. But it's rare to find a book like this, that everyone seems to agree is deeply flawed while disagreeing about its merit. I invite my fellow bloggers to add their own comments about why they liked or disliked this book.

Disclosure: most, if not all, of us who red Red Queen got the Advance Readers Copy for free through the Amazon Vine program. 

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