Total Star Rating: 3.75 Stars
This book is like the love child of The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones…but in space. Oh my god, I know…just let that beautiful image sink into your mind as you come up with dozens of crazy, brutal, and absolutely insane possibilities! Odds are, a good chunk of those ideas are actually in this story. Add a touch of the Ancient Greek epic, The Iliad by Homer, and you’ve got the overall vibe of Red Rising by Pierce Brown.
What It’s About:
Hundreds of years into the future, mankind has finally begun to colonize on other planets, and the ruling class of citizens has installed a caste system that is distinguished by colors into our society. The godlike, arrogant and mighty Golds are the overall rulers, and the system ends all the way at the very bottom with the Reds.
Darrow, a 16-year-old Red, is part of a special group of miners called “Helldivers,” who dig deep beneath the surface of Mars in order to procure Helium-3 to terraform the planet and make it habitable for humans. You meet Darrow during one of his excursions and learn that despite him being a Red, he’s overconfident and regards himself to a higher degree than those around him. The story takes a tragic turn when him and his wife, Eo, are arrested for trespassing in a forbidden forest-like area. After getting whipped publicly, Eo sings a haunting, but forbidden song about their unfair slavery, and is hanged for her actions, per order of Mars’s arch-governor, Nero Au Augustus. Devastated over his sudden loss, Darrow makes the terrible mistake of cutting her body down from the noose and burying her body, which in turn gets him hanged as well.
Darrow awakens to discover that he was drugged and secretly brought to a terrorist covert group of Reds called the “Sons of Ares,” who’s goal is to end the oppression of the lower class citizens (aka “lowcolors”). They reveal to Darrow that the Golds had fooled them all: that society had already fully terraformed centuries before, and they continued the ruse in order to use the Reds for their cheap labor and stay under their subjugation. Furious for the unfairness of it all, Darrow joins their cause, using Eo’s haunting song as part of their smear campaign. After many painful surgeries/treatments/cosmetics, Darrow is transformed from a lowly read to an impressive Gold, and everything is set in order to infiltrate the Gold society and destroy it from within.
Through many lessons of Gold etiquette, social behaviors and receiving fake documentation, Darrow then enrolls into the Gold’s Institute, and befriends the charismatic Cassius Au Bellona, and calls out the bitchy Antonia Au Severus on her elitism. Darrow has them all fooled, and is selected to be one of a select few to represent House Mars by the gruff proctor, Fitchner. This leads to him and the others being split into several teams that have a fortress and a scepter, also known as a standard, to defend (like some space-like advanced game of Capture the Flag) in a designated area within the Institute. Darrow meets some other characters, most notably a beautiful young woman named Mustang, a raging lunatic in Titus Au Ladros, and perhaps his biggest threat: the vicious, clever and unseen figure who goes by “The Jackal.”
The winning captain who enslaves all the other teams is deemed the winner, and receives a patron to sponsor them with power, wealth, and influence. Through this contest, battle lines are drawn, alliances are formed and lost, bitter betrayals cost others their lives, twists that surprise you at every corner, and absolutely no one is safe from the brutality of those that are willing to step on whoever they need to in order to gain power in this epic tale.
What I Liked:
- The Drama! The author does an amazing job of creating tension, adding in dozens of action packed scenes, badass & diverse characters both male and female, the plot twists and reveals, and a real sense of danger between the pages. There are some brutal deaths that are handed out, and even “The Jackal” can remind GoT fans of a combination of Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton, two of the biggest villains the HBO show has ever seen. There’s even a small amount of romance, much to my delight! It’s not a major part of the plot, but feels natural and well developed between two strong characters who recognize the call to battle that’s more important towards their survival, but allow small moments of passion and tenderness.
- The Diversity of Characters! Because of the rich world building (more on that down the list), the author created a great opportunity to create a diverse cast of characters, and even does so without getting too into the terminology or risk racial issues of groups of people being misrepresented. People within the color ranks are different races of ethnicity, and it’s the same thing with sexual orientation, and the author doesn’t just straight up say if a character is black, or gay, etc. It’s implied, but never outright said, which gave me the impression that the author didn’t want these things to matter so much in the story. They do matter, but the issue of race or sexual orientation is never questioned in the world.
- The Infusion of Greek/Roman Mythology! With some research involved, there’s actually quite a lot of comparisons to the ancient tales. The names of the characters like Nero and Cassius, to the houses within the story, and the planets that represented Roman gods and goddesses, PLUS symbolism used in the story. Upon checking out a subreddit, people pointed out many similarities that I missed: Eo being Persephone, Ares (Greek God of War) with the terrorist group, even the pyramid caste system is similar to Plato’s ideal society! I suggest looking into it, it makes the story so much more satisfying to tho
- The Setting! The author has made a truly interesting world in this series; the most notable being the caste system that keeps society in “order.” The setting is also such an integral part of the story, and I am glad to see that it doesn’t just fall in the background; its needed as more and more is revealed in terms of the society, technology and the many characters that appear. The color caste system was a nice touch and felt original, which is impressive considering all the dystopian series like Divergent and The Hunger Games that made the idea so popular. Many other stories failed to make their system something credible, but Red Rising successfully accomplished it. Below is the Caste pyramid that shows the colors and their rank, along with their societal roles:
- Golds: rulers, royalty of the society
- Silvers: financiers and Businessmen
- Whites: clergy’s and Judges
- Coppers: administrators, lawyers, and bureaucrats
- Blues: bridge Crew & pilots
- Yellows: doctors and researchers
- Greens: programmers and technicians
- Violets: artisans and creatives
- Oranges: mechanics and engineers
- Grays: regular soldiers and police force
- Browns: servants, cooks and janitors
- Obsidians: Elite soldiers and bodyguards
- Pinks: sex slaves, prostitutes and social functionaries
- Reds: manual laborers and miners
What I Didn’t Like:
- Too Wordy in Some Areas…The book is marketed as a dystopian/sci-fi thriller (some would even argue that it could be YA since Darrow is only 16 in this story), but it does get incredibly wordy throughout, much like a fantasy genre novel. the author uses a high level of technical terminology, loads and loads of characters with little descriptions and a considerably slow first half of the story that could cause readers to lose interest before the real games begin. It’s supposed to read like an ancient greek tragedy written by Homer himself, with the words that the author uses in his prose and the character dialogue, but it can seem overdramatic and cheesy at times.
- Darrow is Perfect…In fact, he’s too perfect. Sure, he’s made into a space-age Adonis as a Gold, but he gets a little too close to the “Mary Sue” character trope (or maybe “Marty Stu” in this case?). He accomplishes tasks with seemingly little issues along the way from his end; any problems he runs into is because of outside forces. Maybe his only mistakes is underestimating other characters: taking them for granted, and being upset with himself when it comes back to bite him in the ass, and learns that there’s more to others than his own assumptions. He views himself as somewhat superior to everyone around him, even when he was Red, and it’s ironic how he’d mention how annoying the arrogant Golds were. All of this, along with the idea that he’s supposed to be an average guy who is from the lowest social caste in the world and the fact that he’s only 16, is a bit hard to believe. It’s MarySue meets the Chosen One for cliché character tropes.
- The First Half is incredibly Boring…I’m not going to lie, it drags on for quite a bit. After the initial set up, the story flows at a much slower pace, with a ton of info dumped onto you as well. Darrow’s transformation is a little cringeworthy: bones are snapped and rebuilt to be longer, skin is peeled off, there’s lots of pain, screaming, and blood; and while it’s kind of awesome, but I personally wished that the author condensed more parts around this part of the story. Once Darrow and the other Gold’s get into the competition is when it gets much more interesting, but man-oh-man….it was a journey to get there.
I’d say that fans of the Hunger Games will enjoy these books because they both deal with similar themes of warfare, oppressive governments, and politics in fun, creative ways. Pierce Brown has created a rich world, probably even more complex than Panem, and the promise of so much more to come as the series develops. It’s still far from perfect; there’s still plenty of work that the author needs to improve on: like developing Darrow into a much more fleshed out, relatable character that more people can support and get behind. To end this review, I can say that the book is definitely worth checking out!
Thanks For Reading!
— Nick Goodsell