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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 541

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Mare Barrow, the main character, understands the class distinctions between the Reds, who fight in the army and live lives of poverty, and the Silvers, who rule and have certain powers. One thing the Silvers do is show off their powers, and she, unlike her best friend, understands that the point of doing so is to remind the Reds of their place. Mare thinks,

He doesn’t understand what the Feats are about. This isn’t mindless entertainment, meant to give Reds some respite from grueling work. This is calculated, cold, a message. Only Silvers can fight in the arenas because only a Silver can survive the arena. They fight to show us their strength and power. You are no match for us. We are your betters. We are gods. It’s written in every superhuman blow the champions land.

When her best friend is sent to the Army, she knows that he'll likely die. She feels bitterness toward the Silvers because they're wasteful and have access to lots of money but still don't take care of the Reds. She thinks,

I hate them even more than usual tonight. The stockings they lose would probably be enough to save me, Kilorn, and half the Stilts from conscription.

After Mare gets a job at the Palace, she finds out that she has powers—despite her Red blood. The royal family decides to pretend she's a Silver and to engage her to their younger son. It's a way for them to keep the class barriers in place and keep her close at the same time. The following dialogue is from the king:

"And yet," he continues, rising to his feet. This close, I can see his crown is deathly sharp. The points can kill. "You are also something else. Something I cannot fathom. You are Red and Silver both, a peculiarity with deadly consequences you cannot understand. So what am I to do with you?"

However, there's more going on in the palace than a Red with powers. There's also a coup to overthrow the King and put his younger son in power instead. Mare's friend—and the brother of the former Queen—is furious at her because he wanted to keep her safe.

He narrows his eyes and I can see the cogs turning in his mind. Then he snaps entirely.
"I told you, I told you not to get in over your head!" He slams a fist down on the table, looking angrier than I’ve ever seen him before. "And now," he breathes, staring at me with so much sorrow it makes my heart hurt, "now I must watch you drown?"

Ultimately, though, Mare decides that she has to fight for the freedom of the oppressed people. She has to stand again Cal and his mother—and the class system in their country—to try to make a better life for her family and everyone else like them. Victoria Aveyard writes,

Part of me doesn’t either. Part of me wishes I could submit to chains, to captivity and silence. But I have lived that life already, in the mud, in the shadows, in a cell, in a silk dress. I will never submit again. I will never stop fighting.