We know that red is the blood of angry men, but silver? In Victoria Aveyard’s debut Red Queen, people are divided by the color of their blood. Those who bleed red suffer poverty, hunger, and disease. They fight the wars and serve. Those who bleed silver are seen as gods, blessed with dangerous powers that they use to maintain control over the Reds. But everything changes when one Red girl realizes she, too, has powers. In this interview, we talk with Aveyard about tropes, feminism, and betrayal.
Bookish: The characters in the book are called Reds or Silvers, depending on the color of their blood. Even in fantasy conflicts, the color of blood tends to remain red—it’s one thing that connects us all, despite all other differences. What made you decide to have that be one of the key differences between the classes?
Victoria Aveyard: It’s a very interesting difference, and not one I’d really seen before in fantasy. Because the rest of the novel could be called derivative, drawing on the familiar tropes of the genre only to bend them, I wanted at least one piece that was entirely my own. And because I’m a visual writer, this was such a great image to play with. Someone bleeding silver, like mercury? Cool! One of the first images in the book is a Silver bleeding, and that was so much fun for me explore. And, in regard to the plot, the blood thing isn’t completely in the open either. There was a lot of wiggle room because of this.
Bookish: My favorite line in the book definitely goes to Farley when she said, “You want me to pin my entire operation, the entire revolution, on some teenage love story? I can’t believe this.” It’s a brilliantly self-aware moment because so many young adult stories intertwine romance and revolution. What do you think the connection between the two is?
VA: I think the idea of revolution is inherently romantic. We romanticize revolutions in our own history, as well as demonize them, and I wanted to play with both sides of that sword. And when drafting the first book, it just made sense for the main character to develop feelings for her enemies. It felt natural in terms of the story, so I ran with it, and let it run a very twisted course—much like a revolution. You start out with noble intentions, but if you’re not careful, your heart’s cause can turn you into an absolute monster. And yeah, that line was definitely a dig at myself and the trope I was leaning way, way into.
Bookish: Are there any writing tips that you’ve learned from screenwriting that helped you when working on the novel? Or anything you learned from writing the novel that you now bring to your screenwriting?
VA: I learned structure, pace, and visual writing in a screenwriting class, so naturally every piece of any story I tell will come entirely from those lessons. I use classic three act structure in everything, which to the trained eye is very basic, but so is any skeleton. The same can be said of pace. Screenplays are meant to be as fast as possible, and I brought as much as I could to the novel. On the flip side, novels give you so much more room to move. Writing screenplays after having written a full novel is a bit like learning to swim again, I got the hang of it. I still follow the rules of the medium, but throw in my indulgent lines here and there.
Bookish: While you remain coy when it comes to dream casting this novel, is there anything you would want the actors to know about the characters of Mare, Cal, and Maven?
VA: That these people are, at the end of the day, children. Mare and Maven are 17, Cal is 19, and they’ve all led relatively sheltered lives in their own separate bubbles. All three could kill you with a single hand, but they’re just as unsure of themselves and just as lost as any teenager.
Bookish: What’s your favorite book to film adaptation?
VA: Too easy. The Lord of the Rings.
Bookish: If you could have any ability featured in your book, what would it be and why? Any ability you would not want?
VA: Present in the books (so far), I think the whispers/mind controllers are the most dangerous, so I’d have to go with them. Two characters shows up in book two with some absolutely rad powers I’d love, but won’t say. And overall, not present (yet), is my very favorite superhuman ability, time travel. As for abilities I wouldn’t want, I guess being a whisper is a double-edged sword. It would get really annoying and depressing hearing everyone’s thoughts, but it’s also the best shield, so it’s a tradeoff.
Reader beware: A major spoiler for A Game of Thrones included in the next answer
Bookish: “Anyone can betray anyone.” This is said throughout the novel and yet is a difficult lesson for Mare to learn. Are there any literary betrayals that shocked you as a reader or inspired you when writing Red Queen?
VA: Only everything in A Song of Ice and Fire. After Ned Stark lost his head, I knew pretty much everyone was fair game, but before that, man, was I a sweet summer child. One swing of the sword and I was totally at sea. I think those books ruined my ability to trust any character in any novel ever.
Bookish: Some are calling 2015 the year of feminist young adult literature and we’ve certainly seen a trend recently of YA literature showcasing women who are complex and truly represent real women. We see a lot of that in your novel, especially when the princes are choosing their brides based on what they can accomplish, not how they look. Elara, to me, was one of the most fascinating women in the book. Can you tell us about the creation of her character and if she had any inspiration (literary or otherwise)?
VA: I definitely approached Elara, not defining her in my mind as the antagonist, but another person trying to protect her son and survive (and survive well) in this world. Her motivations completely surround self-preservation within the rules of the place she lives in. And she’s always thinking about her son. She wrongfully sees him as an extension of herself but loves him dearly, causing her to both use and protect him as she would one of her own limbs. Her true story, the real formation of who she becomes and why she ends up this person, is only hinted at in Red Queen, but mainly revolves around Cal’s mother, Coriane. I hope I get to tell that story one day. And as for feminist literature on the rise, hell yeah. Let’s keep this tide going, not because it’s “in” now, but because it’s true.
Victoria Aveyard was born and raised in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, a small town known only for the worst traffic rotary in the continental United States. She moved to Los Angeles to earn a BFA in screenwriting at the University of Southern California, and stayed there despite the lack of seasons. She is currently an author and screenwriter, using her career as an excuse to read too many books and watch too many movies.