Picking up immediately where Red Queen left off, Victoria Aveyard’s Glass Sword throws us right back into the blood-feuding world of Norta, with the Reds and Silvers teetering upon the edge of civil war. With the help of Captain Farley and her Scarlet Guard militia, “little lightning girl” Mare Barrow and the fire-brandishing former prince Cal make a near-death escape from the Silver capital’s Bowl of Bones arena and the manipulative King Maven’s clutches. But they don’t get much rest or respite. The secret list of “newbloods” that Mare holds is the key to tipping the scales of war in their favor, and she must do everything in her power to track them down and save them—before Maven slaughters them all.
As we jet across the world Mare thought she knew so well, we discover a host of newblood characters and their unbelievable new powers that are “neither Red nor Silver, yet stronger than both.” And with each new person she saves, Mare can’t help but remember what she’s sacrificing to save them, and how that weight—and the darkness inside her—is slowly tearing her apart.
We caught up with Aveyard to ask about the success of the Red Queen series, Mare’s struggle to maintain her humanity and the possibility of seeing it all on the silver screen.
You’ve mentioned before that you first drafted Red Queen in the lean year immediately following your graduation from the University of Southern California. What was that year like—both in terms of writing and in making ends meet otherwise? How did it differ from the time you’d spent writing Glass Sword, knowing you’d already signed a deal with HarperTeen?
That was definitely one of the scariest times in my life, and I really hope I never have to repeat it. Of course, moving back home to write a novel turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life, so it’s working out so far. I spent the six months after the move (July to January) writing the first draft of Red Queen. At least, some days I wrote, and some days (OK, weeks), I was totally stuck. I definitely had a moment where I realized I am either going to give up on this book and throw away everything I worked for, or I’m at least going to finish the goddamn thing. Having my dad and my best friend read along while I wrote was actually a great choice. They bugged me for more of the story when I got slow, and helped motivate me to get to the end. After I finished the draft, my parents were still supportive but obviously wanted me to get a job, so I ended up driving kids home from my mom’s middle school for cash during the spring semester. I got both the calls that RQ had been sold to Harper and then the option picked up at Universal when I was returning from carpool.
It’s an odd time to compare to the time spent writing Glass Sword, and now Book 3, especially because RQ was written with no expectation, but also with my back completely against the wall. It’s a bit like a fox and a rabbit: The fox is just running for his dinner, but the rabbit is running for his life. But now I have the added benefit of security, not to mention the knowledge that I’m living and breathing my dream life. It’s a good motivator, but I do have to put the blinders on sometimes. Both times had their separate difficulties, I guess.
Your vivid writing in both books has such a wonderfully cinematic scope. How did your screenwriting background come into play here, and how do you think it distinguishes your story from those of other writers also working in this genre?
I’ve always been a visual storyteller, from my Barbies to my screenplays. Movies were my first love (since I couldn’t exactly read at 2 years old), so the moving image is always in my head when I write, whether the project is a book or a script. Of course, I have the added benefit of a pretty phenomenal screenwriting education from USC. Four years of workshopping has helped me internalize storytelling, so it’s a bit easier to feel where to go. Personally, I work from the classic three act, eight sequence structure, which really helps me craft. I also think the most important skill I picked up in college is the ability to take criticism. Film is a really collaborative industry, so you have to be able to not only take criticism well, but know the difference between good and bad criticism, and also maintain distance enough to critique yourself properly. It makes things a lot easier when an edit letter comes around. It’s not personal, it’s help. It’s a damn cheat sheet on how to make your story better!
From what I’ve found online, you haven’t spoken much about the movie adaptation of your series, either because nothing is concrete yet or the studios are requiring you to remain hush-hush. Nonetheless, rumors have been swirling about a powerhouse lead production team, including actress Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games), producer Pouya Shahbazian (Divergent film), screenwriter Gennifer Hutchison (Breaking Bad) and studio executive Sara Scott (Universal Pictures). How much does this possibility alone excite you about what else your words may bring to life?
First of all, I am so cautiously excited about this project. I say cautious because I am naturally superstitious and I won’t believe RQ is being adapted until I physically see the credits roll after I watch the film in its entirety. I’m especially pleased that real efforts are being made to include women in key creative positions. It’s no secret Hollywood has a serious problem with gender equality, and I’m honestly so proud that we’re pushing back against it. I’m intrigued to see where things go, and that’s pretty much all I can say on that matter.
For your central character, you’ve crafted the complex and strong female protagonist Mare Barrow. And as we get to know her better, we increasingly see her internal struggle to become herself—whomever that may be—as opposed to what this world is trying to turn her into. In your opinion, what is it about Mare that enables her to maintain her humanity, and what makes her something more?
Mare’s humanity is firmly rooted in her family and the few people she loves. If they didn’t exist, I guarantee she would become a raging monster warlord. And I think that’s true of a lot of people. We are our best selves not for our own sake, but the sake of the people we hold most dear. And what gives Mare her little bit extra? I think her survival instinct and selfish streak definitely helps. It’s a joy to write those pieces where she knows she’s not making the “right” choice but she does it anyway because it makes her feel better or it saves her skin.
Blood relations—and all their awesome and dark implications—reappear throughout as the central theme of the story. How do these echo America’s own (and perhaps the world’s) history with these same and similar race and class divisions? Why were these important to address in your work?
I think it's impossible for anyone who is mildly aware in this day and age to write anything that isn't shadowed by America’s past/present. Personally, I came of age in the post-9/11 world. I moved from a very sheltered town in New England to a vibrant, diverse university in Los Angeles. I’m currently watching Donald Trump lead national polls for president. It’s very strange to live in a nation that is so diverse, and yet so clearly delineated in most communities.
And I’m very much a student of history. That, more than anything, plays into what I write. Red Queen is defined by its divisions, as America, the so-called Great Melting Pot, is and has been since the Virginia Company landed in Jamestown and met the soon-to-be-massacred Powhatan tribe. The blood divisions in Red Queen draw obviously from American divisions of class, race, religion, orientation—but obviously are most paralleled by the horror and genocide that was American slavery, as well as modern-day prejudices against non-heteronormative people and prejudices against Muslims. (Book 3 is drawing a lot from the current conflict with ISIS.)
"The blood divisions in Red Queen draw obviously from American divisions of class, race, religion, orientation—but obviously are most paralleled by the horror and genocide that was American slavery, as well as modern-day prejudices against non-heteronormative people and prejudices against Muslims."
Your series is a beautiful blend of the sci-fi, fantasy and dystopian genres. How did all of these come into play when you were crafting the books’ other main theme—the brewing civil war, and the comingling of trust, betrayal and espionage?
I’m a kitchen-sink writer. I write what I like, and I like lots of stuff, hence lots of stuff goes into the mix. Something that really inspired the fantasy/dystopian mix are all the theories about Middle Earth being pre-modern Earth (subsequently making us a Tolkien dystopia) or that Westeros is a society reforming thousands of years after nuclear apocalypse. That’s rad. So I spun into that a bit myself. As far as sci-fi goes, if I were to identify the technology time period that mirrors Red Queen’s best, I’d probably say 1950s/’60s America. Video cameras exist, planes exist, but not personal computers, etc. And the trust and betrayal stuff just comes from normal human instinct.
In your Twitter bio, you describe yourself as a “map person,” and as we journey with Mare throughout Glass Sword, we get more and more glimpses of this world beyond Norta, which she never knew existed before. How did you come up with all these lands, and just how big is this world they’re all a part of?
Norta is based on the Northeastern United States. It goes from Washington, D.C., up to Maine and the St. Lawrence River in the north. The world they’re part of is the remnants of North America. There are many other countries currently occupying the continent.
Both of your books introduce us to new casts of characters, each with phenomenal superhuman abilities more amazing than the next. How did you dream up with all the Silvers’ and the newbloods’ powers?
While writing Red Queen, I did a big excel sheet of different superhuman abilities I either found or came up with. Many of them I held back to be used later in “superior” supers. I definitely spent a lot of time on Wikipedia and TV Tropes wrapping my brain around exactly how many variations of superpowers there are.
Of all the new characters we meet in Glass Sword, I think Nanny is my favorite. Who was/were the inspiration(s) that helped to form this loving, joking, shape-shifting character?
Obviously Mystique comes to mind, since they can both change their physical appearance. Although Nanny is not so skilled, and isn’t a nimble warrior. I also love sassy old ladies and feature them whenever I can.
There are countless tales and takes on mutants, further-evolved peoples and superhumans out there. Where does yours fit in the mix, and how does it differ?
I definitely owe most of the credit to X-Men. I guess my spin is putting the superhumans on top instead of the bottom?
Book 3 is currently being written, soon to be followed by Book 4 in the Red Queen series. Those are my first priorities. Afterward, I’m going to the next world I want to jump into!
Author photo credit Stephanie Girard.
Justin Barisich is a freelancer, satirist, poet and performer living in Atlanta. More of his writing can be found at littlewritingman.com.