“Personally, I do not want to make you a man. Men are so very frail. Men break. Men die. No, I’ve always wished to make a god.”
Book Title: Red Rising
Author: Pierce Brown
Publisher: Del Rey (Random House)
Date Published: January 28th, 2014
Date Read: February 2nd 2014
This cover is pretty decent. There are some hokey, cheesy sci-fi/fantasy covers out there. The simplicity of this one is nice in comparison. I can only assume the wing has to do with the genetically altered appearances of the “Gold” members in society.
“Darrow is a Helldiver, one of a thousand men and women who live in the vast caves beneath the surface of Mars. Generations of Helldivers have spent their lives toiling to mine the precious elements that will allow the planet to be terraformed. Just knowing that one day people will be able to walk the surface of the planet is enough to justify their sacrifice. The Earth is dying, and Darrow and his people are the only hope humanity has left.
Until the day Darrow learns that it is all a lie. Mars is habitable – and indeed has been inhabited for generations by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. The Golds regard Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.
With the help of a mysterious group of rebels, Darrow disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside.
But the command school is a battlefield. And Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda…”
What I’d Add: When beginning this book, I thought this synopsis was pretty spoiler-y! It kind of spells out the losses, disillusionment, and sorrow of the book’s first hundred or so pages. But then a new kind of action picks up, that “command school battlefield” briefly mentioned, but which is the setting for the bulk of the novel. Quite a sly trick, ruining the first portion of the book while only hinting at the bigger picture ahead…
It’s Sorta Like: It’s got definite nods to Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games/Battle Royale (whose plots are incredibly similar). But with a Blade Runner-y twist. And Game of Thrones! There’s definitely something to the warring houses motif in there.
My Grade: B+
I described this book to someone as “Ender’s Game meets The Hunger Games with a really, really angry narrator.” It’s got space games, it’s got a violent competition between teenagers (who don’t act at all like teenagers, but I’ll touch on that later), and it’s got anti-government/authority figure feelings all over the place.
I’m wary of a book with such hype behind it. As soon as someone says “it’s the next insert-wildy-popular-franchise-here,” I bristle. Even the cover of Red Rising says “Ender, Katniss, and now Darrow” (comparing this book to those two Big Name Series I mentioned above). Add to that, several major magazines have pegged it as worthy – Entertainment Weekly, People, etc. And usually when I read books lauded like that, I end up being majorly disappointed. The Bone Season is a notable example.
In the span of the first 100 pages or so of Red Rising, I resented it. Darrow’s voice is overly dramatic and incredibly angry. The whole fight the machine, stick it to the man, I’m a downtrodden peon of society is already a pretty tired literary trope nowadays. And Darrow takes it to an acidic level. He’s never happy in this book. Even when he has a pleasant moment, he drags himself down and shakes his fist at the world. I became frustrated with him and the formulaic progression the plot seemed to be taking early on.
It’s been a while since a book changed my mind so drastically.
The thing with Darrow’s voice is that it becomes so immersive. The plot puts Darrow in a situation where his overwhelming anger makes more sense, where he can put it to better use than floundering around elsewhere on Mars. The action gets faster, the characters steadily more compelling (I do hope that secondary characters get more round in the next installments, though. I want to know more about them). I gobbled up the book once it got to a certain point because I really didn’t know who was going to do what next. My complaints about formula were, for the most part, addressed.
This situation Darrow is thrust into is a fight-to-the-win (not necessarily death, although some do not survive), majorly bloody capture the flag battle. And it lasts years. The houses have to survive through winters without food and summers without water if they cannot find or steal these resources. First, the members of each “house” fight to be the head of their respective houses (they have to fight to get into a house in the first place, but that’s another story), then they must fight the other houses to claim flags and slaves (who become slaves by being sealed on the forehead with the staff of the flags). Brown is skilled at writing action scenes, and there are plenty once the fighting gets good. And it’s well balanced with political agenda: the people vying for rule within the houses backstab and make backdoor deals with one another. It’s a veritable roller coaster. The winners of this war game are given top picks of sponsors for the next phase of school. It’s an insanely cool idea that Brown pulls off really well. The world-building is awesome.
Darrow’s voice, and the voice and actions of his fellow characters do seem a little advanced for their age. Yes, I get that they’re in a different society, where people live shorter lives and thus sixteen-year-olds take on more mature roles and ideas, but I mostly imagined Darrow as a twenty-something going on thirty for most of the book. This didn’t necessarily harm my image of him, though, so I guess no harm done.
And Darrow himself is somewhat of a Mary Sue, a hero who can do no wrong. In anything. Ever. This seems to bother other readers much more than it does me, but I’ve never had too much of an issue with Mary Sue heroes. I tend to notice the adventure and action rather than the exact measure of flaw a hero possesses. And really, Darrow screws up a lot – he just miraculously recovers and learns vital lessons much faster than anyone else. This sounds like the same thing, but I like to think that it’s different. Work with me here.
I found Red Rising to be an interesting, well-written start to a promising series. It is unique in voice and compelling in plot. I recommend it for major fans of dystopian fiction, like myself 🙂 The second installment, Golden Son, is slated for release January of 2015 (SO FAR AWAY!)