My Review: Red Rising: by Pierce Brown

Publish Date: January 28th 2014
Number of Pages: 382 Pages
Publisher: Del Ray (Random House)
Genre(s): Sci-Fi/Fantasy

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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:
The Caste system of the colors, image courtesy of
  • 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

YA Fantasy

My Review: Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1): by Leigh Bardugo

Publish Date: September 29th 2015
Number of Pages: 465 Pages
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Genre(s): YA Fantasy

Total Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

Perhaps one of the most hyped up books in YA literature, part of me was worried to open the pages of this book and have the possibility of becoming disappointed that it wouldn’t live up to the expectations and fall flat. I can say with all honesty that this book not only lives up to the hype, it immensely surpasses it! Leigh Bardugo has created a masterful, epic story that felt like a mix of Ocean’s Eleven, Peaky Blinders, and Harry Potter all mixed into one; It’s got a dangerous heist set in a victorian era world with magical beings!

A Map of Bardugo’s Grishaverse, image courtesy of fandom’s wiki page

What It’s About:

The story first takes place in the fictional city of Ketterdam, a coastal trade post filled with greed, corruption, and mob violence. Organized crime is the lay of the land, and amongst the worst criminals the city has to offer, a young Kaz Brekker is given the opportunity for the biggest heist in recorded history to make him wealthier beyond his wildest dreams.

A map of Ketterdam, image courtesy of the Grishaverse wiki page

Someone has created a drug named Jurda Parem that enhances Grisha powers tremendously to the point of a deadly addiction (similar aesthetic to an addiction to meth), and the creator of it has been captured and taken prisoner in the impenetrable ice fortress in the northern land of Fjerda.

The impenetrable Ice Court in Fjerda, image courtesy of the Grishaverse fandom wiki page

No one has ever escaped from the Ice Court, so Kaz recruits several others to aid him in this seemingly impossible task:

Matthias Helvar: A Fjerdan Drüskelle (soldier) turned prisoner that burns with revenge on the woman that betrayed him.

Nina Zenik: A Heartrender Grisha who uses her magic to help herself survive the brutal streets of Ketterdam.

Jesper Fahey: One of Kaz’s men, a sharpshooter who can’t say no to any sort of gamble.

Wylan Van Eck: a runaway mechanic with a privelaged past.

Inej Ghafa: Another one of Kaz’s spies, a deadly assassin known simply as The Wraith.

A bunch of rejects, criminals, and thieves; they all must begrudgingly work together in order to rescue the prisoner, escape the Ice Court, and get their reward. Breaking in is one thing, but Kaz quickly learns that one of his biggest rivals is also after the same prize, and that their mission might be a guaranteed failure with all the secrets that are being kept amongst even his most trusted…

Before going into what I liked and disliked, I thought I’d give a short, brief summary of the Grisha. They are an integral part of the author’s world and the stories that she’s created, so below is a short lesson of who they are:

The Grisha:

The world has magical beings called “Grisha,” who have the abilities to practice magical powers. There are three classifications: Corporalki, Etheralki, and Materialki.

  1. Corporalki are known as The Order of the Living and the Dead, and have sub categories of Grisha that are Healers, Heartrenders, and Tailors. Healers are self explanatory, but Heartrenders are those that can damage internal organs like slowing the heart’s pulse or taking air from lungs. Tailors are those that can change appearances of themselves and/or others.
  2. Etherealki are known as The Order of Summoners, and have sub categories of Squallors, Inferni, and Tidemakers. Squallors can manipulate the wind, Inferni can manipulate fire, and Tidemakers can manipulate water. There are have been especially rare cases of Shadow Summoners and Sun summoners, those that can manipulate light and darkness.
  3. Materialki are known as The Order of Fabrikators, and have sub categories of Durasts, and Alkemi. Durasts can manipulate glass, steel, wood, plants, stone, or anything that is solid on a molecular level. Alkemi specialize in chemicals that aid in the production of powders, explosives and poisons.

What I Liked:

  1. The Plotting/ World Building! The author has truly created a masterpiece with this story; it’s obvious that the author meticulously planned it all out to keep it as tight as possible, not a single word or moment out of place. Ketterdam is an incredibly interesting place for the story to begin; I personally imagined the city looked like either Amsterdam in the Netherlands or Prague in the Czech Republic, while the Ice Court in Fjerda looks more like Siberia, Russia.
  2. It’s Able to be Read as Standalone! Leigh Bardugo has other works that takes place before the events in this story with her Shadow and Bone trilogy. While to me, the trilogy probably gives better background information on the Grisha specifically, you can start Six of Crows without having read them prior. There might be small tidbits of information or references that may go over some reader’s heads, but nothing significantly stood out that would ruin the book for anyone. The amount of information given about the magical beings of this world that is given is just enough for the reader to have a basic understanding of it all.
  3. The Morally Grey Characters & Their Development! This aspect is absolutely nailed to perfection as literally every main character grows, have unique personalities, purposes, and goals. Through the book, along with several flashback scenes, you learn more and more about them, and can enjoy how truly fleshed out they become. Inej is an assassin, a thief, but has been through hell and back and wants to ultimately do the right thing, and liberate slaves like herself. She has a hard heart, but she’s willing to open it up to those she truly cares about. Jesper is witty, sarcastic, but knows how blessed his life is from growing up on a farm. He recognizes his personal flaws and tries to fix them. Nina is a delight; she goes from a flirt to a badass force in less than 10 seconds. She is confident in her fuller figure, and is not ashamed of her love for waffles. Matthias, though perhaps the hardest to feel sympathy for, is a man constantly torn between what he’s always known and been trained to believe vs. the world that he sees and learns through his own eyes. Wylan is a shy, goody two shoes type who came from a sheltered background, and while he doesn’t get as much attention in this book, he has many different depths that readers learn in the book’s sequel, Crooked Kingdom. Kaz is a manipulative, twisted, morally black character; he’s the perfect anti-hero. He doesn’t want to rescue the scientist to be a hero or save the world, he just wants his money, and doesn’t care who he has to stomp his expensive shoes with in order to get what he wants.
  4. The Banter/Group Dynamics! Each of the characters has a special relationship amongst the others in their small crew, whether it be through owed debts, bitter enemies, employee-employer; they all form reluctant alliances amongst each other in order to obtain the prize that they are all promised.
  5. The Slow-Burn Multiple Romances! Yes, there is romance, but Bardugo does it in such a way that it never overtakes or detracts from the overall story; it’s never forced or randomly placed. It so subtle and below the radar that it’s almost unexpected until it drives you crazy and makes you want to toss the book across the room with the need to yell “Just kiss already!” Each romantic subplot is unique in itself as well, and are there for entirely different purposes, which is a relief as well, they don’t feel repetitive or too similar.
  6. The Diversity Of The Cast Of Characters! Six of Crows may have one of the most diverse casts of characters that any reader could obtain. Its not just diverse in terms of race, but also sexuality, badass females, and also in terms of disabilities. Kaz is physically disabled with a limp in his right leg and has Haphephobia, the fear of being touched or touching others. Nina is a proud fat girl who also happens to be considered the most attractive member of the group, and there’s even a dyslexic character, which is extremely rare in Fantasy, YA or Adult. It’s portrayed as a way for the character to not be embarrassed and that it doesn’t make them less of a person, so why not add another?…one character even has ADD.
  7. The Real World Undertones! The author deals with real world issues like racism, religion, sexism, LGBTQ rights, and plenty of others. She successfully manages to turn them into something amongst the characters in her work and has it represented in a different way, but the message remains the same.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Beginning Chapters…Honestly, I can’t say much that I dislike about this story, but one thing worth mentioning is that the first few chapters throw readers right into the world and takes off immediately. It’s pretty much like a sink-or-swim type of feeling, and makes it hard to gain footing for new readers, especially for those like me, who come in not having read the Grisha Trilogy beforehand.
  2. Too Many Flashbacks?…I’m someone who becomes impatient when it comes to the stories I dive into, and I do tend to get frustrated when something makes me have to slow down or gets in my way (i.e: real world adulting, work, housework, etc.) its also why I’m not a big fan of musicals…after two songs I’m like “get on with it already!” The flashbacks do provide vital information that gives us new depths to the characters and why they are the way they are, but for me, after awhile I just wanted to see what happened next in present time. This was just a personal annoyance I found, but they didn’t detract from the story in any way. In fact, they only made it more complex and interesting.


Overall, Six of Crows is a masterpiece of Fantasy Fiction filled with a rich & complex world, a cast of the most diverse group of characters anyone will ever read, and a more original plot than a lot of other works. They aren’t a Justice League of heroes out to save the world, they’re all crooked criminals who want a reward by accomplishing the most impossible heist that anyone could ever imagine!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell