Video Review(8m): https://youtu.be/3JsqXOSlLjM
Borrowing many different ideas and tropes from other YA dystopian novels during the first half of Red Rising caused me to be quite skeptical that this was going to be more of the same. Sure, Pierce Brown writes Red Rising with an urgency and style that I might like more than authors like Marissa Meyer, James Dashner, or Suzanne Collins, nevertheless, it all seemed so familiar and unoriginal. It was a little less than halfway through when the story made me angry with Brown’s choices when things changed for me. Soon, through the unpredictable and harrowing narrative, I saw that Brown built a narrative about trust and the many unstable possibilities that a young man faces when he tries to change.
Red Rising begins in the underground mines of Mars with our pov character Darrow, a Red, who is a part of the lowest social caste. Darrow is a miner helping make Mars inhabitable for future generations until Darrow finds out that everything is a lie. Mars is already inhabited and the society leaders, the Golds, keep the Reds in ignorance about the real world. With nothing left to live for, Darrow volunteers to join a terrorist group that wants to take down the system and create everyone as equals, but to do so Darrow must undergo strenuous surgery to become what he hates the most, a Gold. Disguised as a Gold, Darrow enters the Institute School and is thrown into a game of survival of the fittest where he must take control and lead, or die.
This book is written rather well because Brown is mimicking the pacing and style of most young adult dystopian novels on purpose but adds a cinematic flair during action scenes that grabs the reader. Each chapter ends with a revelation or tension that makes the reader want to continue. Because of the short chapters with hook endings, the book reads quickly. Instead on Earth, we are on Mars, a planet with less gravity, and instead of a traditional military school, the students play a real war game that mimics the harshness of the real world. The idea is that through this war game they will learn everything they need to learn to be the masters of their society, cruel, uncaring, but efficient and deadly Golds. The most powerful student at the end of the war game, that captures the other eleven houses’ will have an easier time ascending to power in the real society, a position Darrow needs to destroy the society from within.
Where this book really succeeds for me is with the friendships between Darrow and his followers. Sevro, Roque, Pax, and Mustang are fantastic characters that Darrow ends up trusting even though they are Golds. They teach Darrow that people are more complicated than just the label that are given to them and that Golds can become good people too. This sets up the largest inner-conflict of the series, Darrow is hiding who he really is from his closest friends, but would they accept him if they knew the truth?
There are scenes within this war game that are a bit disturbing. Because this game is supposed to mature these students by many years relatively quickly, horrible things happen which include murder, rape, and atrocities committed by these students. This is the point in the book that angered me. I wasn’t comfortable at all with this situation and really questioned if this was necessary. Even though the rapes weren’t talked about in detail, a portion of the story had to deal with how things like this are punished by those that are leading these mini-societies in the game. Darrow, being a leader, has to punish a rapist and his decision on how to do this impacts how other people see him. This is going to be the major point of conflict for many people that read this book. Either readers will be completely sold on this idea of a war game, at a school, allowing these horrible things to happen in order to properly train these students in a real world situation of leadership, or they will just not want to read something like this at all. I felt that Brown’s ability to keep me interested in the book and completely sell me on this idea with deep character growth and creating a culture within the book that was fascinating was the reason why I ended up enjoying the book.
This book is violent, surprisingly deep, action orientated, with great character relationships, and growth. The YA style of writing really worked and I can see this being one of the most popular series for younger male readers because of the theme of a boy learning how to become a man. It is not without flaws and it is definitely not for everyone. It is basically Ender’s Game in a Game of Thrones world and if that sounds interesting to you, check it out.
A High 4/5
20/25 Possible Score
4 – Plot
4 – Characters
4 – World Building
4 – Writing Style
4 – Heart & Mind Aspect