Many people describe a sense of emptiness, loss or sadness when finishing a good book. There is no word for it, the internet throws around a few with the most popular being ‘saudade’. The word is Portuguese in origin and means “deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return”. **
Most avid readers have experienced this at one time or another. The simple fact is, once you have read a book you can never re-read it in quite the same way. There are books that I have read more than ten times and while I enjoy them every time but it’s never the same as when you are so engrossed in a new story that you nearly rip the pages with every turn, hungry for what comes next. The experienced isn’t the same when you know Harry survives in every book. Trust me, I know. With each new Potter instalment, I’d demand we line up outside Big W, purchase the beautiful hardcover and proceed to lock myself in my room for hours, re-reading the entire series from Philosopher’s Stone right through to the latest book. I needed to read them in succession, every time. The loss of excitement at what was coming next, the suspense as you waited on the edge of your seat to find out the fate of your favourite characters (I may be guilty of flipping forward chapters because I couldn’t bear not knowing – I’m looking at you Cassandra Clare with your Clary-Jace brother-sister story line), and finally the relief when you came to the resolution, followed by the fact that you will never experience that feeling with that novel again, is definitely worthy of the word saudade.
Saudade happens when you’ve spent hours wandering through the fields of someone else’s imagination, you’ve cried with and for your characters, laughed aloud and even fallen a little bit in love before finding yourself abruptly, and quite rudely at the end. Other times, the sense of foreboding increases as the pages on the right-hand side dwindle and get thinner and thinner between your thumb and fingers. If like me, this gives you a real sense of saudade, then you will also know that at this point, you start to avoid the end. Trying to delay the inevitable. The constant tug of wanting to know how it ends, yet never wanting to get to the end. I’m unsure if there is a word for this, but there should be. Victoria Aveyard did this to me.
Red Queen, Aveyard’s 2015 debut novel, was a long-awaited lightning storm in a drought. Stumbling into her world divided by blood, reminiscent of the bloody gladiator battles of Ancient Rome combined with futuristic super powers that could put Marvel to shame, was a welcome respite from the stark and cold surroundings of Adelaide airport.
The Red Queen is the first in a quartet of novels by Aveyard, with the first three receiving worldwide acclaim, and the fourth slated for release next year. Mare, the protagonist, is your typical girl boss heroine in this novel. Born into the Stilts as a Red, she has grown up helping her family survive by becoming a master pickpocket and her family has been divided by the conscription of every unemployed Red over the age of eighteen to war. We enter Aveyard’s medieval future with Mare attending a gladiator-type match between two Silvers, aimed at destroying each other using their abilities, while the Reds are forced to watch. The purpose of this is to remind the Reds of the pecking order and that the odds are definitely not in their favor. Ever. Viewed as lower class citizens, confined to slums, living in poverty and forced into the army in order to provide for, and serve the elite Silvers, a group of individuals with abilities ranging from control of the elements to mind reading, and mind control, the Reds are kept under control through fear. Many have accepted the social divide and resistance is minimal. Mare unexpectedly finds herself at the center of this divide, setting events in motion which threaten the existence of the social and political system Aveyard has skillfully and vividly constructed.
The novel encompasses a variety of themes which, when brewed in the cauldron of YA fantasy novels, resulting in an addictive and engaging story line. Much like Katniss, Mare has a strong sense of social justice, values her family relationships, and is prepared to sacrifice herself for those she loves. She is an excellent protagonist and heroine, written with depth yet with flaws that are highly relatable to the reader. The central themes of oppression and prejudice are set in a mish-mash of dystopia, Ancient Rome and the future, relate as much to us in 2017 as ever. The choice to separate the two groups of humans in the novel by the color of their blood is reminiscent of many times throughout history where minority groups have suffered oppression and prejudice for a physical trait, religious beliefs or political views. In my opinion, this is the most important aspect of the novel, especially for the young adult audience. Australian school students learn about the Holocaust, the invasion of Australia and the impact that subsequently had on the Indigenous population, and human rights from the ages of 12-18, which is a large chunk of the YA target audience. Being able to apply these ideas to an action packed, magical and exciting story such as the Red Queen is hugely beneficial, and from the lens of a school teacher, I highly recommend this book for this reason alone. Aveyard has set up a rich and beautiful world full of relatable characters in her first instalment of Mare’s story, I loved wandering through the landscape of her imagination. Well, running, let’s be honest, it was my Olympic style sprint through this novel which left me with an overwhelming sense of saudade, which could only be overcome with a dive straight into the depths of the second book, Glass Sword.
** My understanding and translation of this word may be slightly off, I trusted Google on that one.