Book Review – Red Rising
Published by Del Rey (Random House) on January 28th 2014
Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy
“I live for the dream that my children will be born free,” she says. “That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.”
“I live for you,” I say sadly.
Eo kisses my cheek. “Then you must live for more.”
Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.
Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.
But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.
Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.
Wow, what a read! If you enjoy series like The Hunger Games, Divergent, Red Queen, and even Game of Thrones, then Pierce Brown’s Red Rising will be right up your alley. It’s like a mashup of all of them, with a dash of Lord of the Flies thrown in for good measure. From that description alone, you can imagine what an action-packed, adrenaline rush of a book this is and that’s what I loved about it.
Now to be perfectly honest, I did struggle with the first 50 pages or so as Brown was focused almost exclusively on introducing the main character Darrow and his people, the Reds. Darrow’s world is defined by a color-based caste system where he and his fellow reds are considered the lowest in status, and those who are Golds sit at the top of the food chain. In addition to the focus on describing the caste system and Darrow’s place in it, Brown also focuses on the world building aspect. These pages were the slowest part of the read for me and tended to be a little dense at times. However, since the world Brown was creating was a fully colonized solar system with Mars as its central setting (How cool is that?!), I’ll definitely forgive him for the slowness of the read because the rest of the novel more than makes up for it.
So, what did I love about Red Rising? Pretty much everything, but here are some of the highlights for me:
1. The Betrayal – For generations, Darrow and his fellow Reds have worked in mines beneath the surface of Mars. The work they do is dangerous – deadly, in fact, between the pit vipers that try to attack them and the ever present possibility of explosions as they hit pockets of gas. But they have been led to believe that what they are doing is critical – they are working to make Mars habitable for the human race because Earth’s resources are being depleted.
It’s not a good life, by any means, and Darrow’s wife, Eo, thinks they should rebel so that their children can have better than they do. She believes this so fervently that she ultimately becomes a martyr to this cause, killed by the Golds for singing a forbidden song that encourages rebellion. She is in the minority, however. For the most part, the Reds accept their lot in life because they believe that they are sacrificing themselves for the greater good of the human race. That is, until Darrow encounters someone who reveals the truth to him: that the surface of Mars has been habitable for generations. All this time that Darrow and his people have been slaving away beneath the surface, it was not to make Mars habitable, but to sustain life for the upper classes, in particular, the Golds. There are cities, parks, and Golds are even flying around wearing fancy attire and gravity boots.
Now it’s one thing to think you’re making some big and noble sacrifice to ensure the survival of the human race, but it’s quite another thing to be kept basically as slaves to make sure the Golds can keep living the good life. Once he realizes the level of betrayal that has been leveled at his kind for all these years, Darrow vows to pick up his dead wife’s cause and rise up against the Golds. I really liked how Brown drops this truth bomb on Darrow just as he is finishing up the initial world building, so that it drives the rest of the story’s plot forward like an avalanche. It also served to help put me in Darrow’s corner because I was a little conflicted about whether or not I liked him because he has kind of an obnoxious, know-it-all personality in the beginning pages. What the Golds did to the Reds, however, was so repugnant, that I became fully invested in cheering on Darrow. Those Golds need to go down!
2. Darrow’s transformation – In order to exact his revenge, Darrow, with the help of some other rebellious types, plans to defeat the Golds by becoming one of them and infiltrating their ranks. The transformation from Red to Gold is an extreme one that involves a visit to what is known as a “Carver,” which is basically like plastic surgery to the hundredth power – pretty hardcore stuff, to say the least and once carved, Darrow is completely unrecognizable from what he was. As part of his transformation, he also undergoes rigorous intellectual training so that he can mimic the Gold’s vocabulary, mannerisms, and customs, etc., so that he can more easily assimilate into their population and, most importantly, win a spot in their academy, which is where the plan for rebellion will really be set into motion.
Now I can’t say that I 100% bought into what I was reading with this whole carving/transformation business, but Brown’s descriptions of the whole process were so vivid and so phenomenal that I really didn’t care how far-fetched it was. Every few pages I was just sitting there like “OMG, no way! They’re really doing that to him?!” It was fascinating!
3. Darrow’s Squad – I don’t want to go into too many details about what happens once Darrow actually joins the Gold’s academy, since that’s where the bulk of the novel’s action is, but I will say that while pretending to be one of them, Darrow assembles a pretty amazing team of student soldiers. Even though I was conflicted about whether or not I really liked Darrow, I LOVED Mustang. Gold or not, Mustang is fantastic. She’s strong, fearless, witty, – just an all around badass character. Sevro was also a favorite of mine. He’s a quirky character, pulls off quite a few impressive moves, and is also so incredibly loyal to Darrow that it’s impossible not to like him.
Aside from their general awesomeness, what fascinated me even more about them was how much they served to humanize the Golds. Here we have Darrow trying to infiltrate the Golds in order to bring them down, yet he seems to truly like these few Golds who have assembled around him. Does he really like them or is it all just part of his plan? How will they react if they find out that he’s really a Red and not a Gold? The potential for conflict there really intrigues in terms of where this story goes in the later books.
4. The Action! – All I kept thinking while reading the action/battle sequences is “OMG, people actually WANT to go to this academy?! Why?” What takes place in the academy is why I said earlier in my review that Red Rising reminds me of The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and Lord of the Flies. The training that takes place here is seriously vicious, like, quite literally, cutthroat, and only the best of the best will endure. Again, I don’t want to go into too many details, but if you like epic fight scenes, military-style strategic maneuvers, and watching how people behave when all societal rules are tossed out the door, then you’ll love this book.
Okay, so that all sounds fabulous, right? Of course. So why didn’t I give this book 5 stars even though I’m clearly gushing about it?
Sexual Violence Against Women – Yes, I totally get that this is a violent, action-packed book with everyone trying to dominate everyone else to climb to the top of the power ranks. I was disappointed, however, to read that for one character in particular, Titus, dominating others included sexual assaulting female student/soldiers. That was just disturbing and over the top for me, and I hope it won’t be a theme that continues in the rest of the series.
Who would I recommend this book to?
I’d definitely recommend Red Rising to anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and other similar dystopian-themed books because it’s similar in themes and equally well written. However, because of the level of violence, particularly the sexual violence I just alluded to, I’d confine my recommendation to adults only. I don’t think this would be appropriate for younger readers. In terms of genre, I can’t decide whether to classify this as science fiction or fantasy, but I think that anyone who enjoys either genre would enjoy Red Rising.
Rating: 4 Stars