Red Rising stands in a class of its own. Like The Hunger Games meets Enders Game with a bit of The Lord of the Flies and Percy Jackson tossed in for good measure. And I know we’re going to see a lot more of the hinted at Game of Thrones-esque work in the future. An incredible amalgamation of genres and archetypes come together in Red Rising to show us YA has not stalled out. It is only beginning.
Darrow is a Helldiver on Mars. He is the youngest person to ever work the most dangerous job in a mining community where food is scarce and competition drives everything. They live in a caste system created from years of breeding people to do specific jobs. Darrow is a Red, and therefore mines. The Greys are the guards. The Golds are (obviously) the ruling class. It’s a hard life.
Society has three stages: Savagery, Ascendance, Decadence. The great rise because of Savagery. They rule in Ascendance. They fall because of their own Decadence.
Like most 16 year-olds, Darrow is discontent with his lot in life, grumping at the other colors and what they have. But he finds satisfaction in his wife Eo and knowing that the work they do now will allow humanity to terraform Mars and someday live there. Darrow finds peace regularly in their quiet life, despite how hard it can be. Eo, on the other hand, is discontent, believing the happiness they are experiencing is all an illusion. “Break the chains,” is her mantra.
Through a series of unfortunate events, Darrow finds himself mixed up with an underground movement, the Sons of Ares. Darrow’s world is turned upside down as he becomes an undercover Red in the world of the Gold. Though excruciating surgeries and therapies he is altered to be exactly what the top caste expects, and is thrust into the quest to become one of the Peerless and reach the top of the Gold caste system.
This book pieces a lot of (now trope) ideas from YA together to create a vivid, breathtaking, brutal, addicting world. Some of the more obvious ones stood out to me, but in the end, I just coasted along the momentum of Browns writing. After all, the majority of the book centers around Darrow’s year at the Academy. In a The Hunger Games-esque Roman themed capture-the-flag game, Darrow wages war and begins his development as a leader. Trust me. It’s compelling.
Sharpened by hate. Strengthened by love.
Yet, the most compelling part of this book to me is Darrow’s character. Darrow is certainly flawed. He’s 16 when the book begins, and 18 when the book ends. He is thrust into jarring situation after jarring situation. He might end up leading people, but he certainly makes mistakes and poor decisions all along his journey. He struggles with his inner demons, and we are never quite certain if he will be discovered as the Red he really is, or if he will completely forget his mission and just become a member of the Gold caste. That said, I like Darrow, but I am sometimes irritated by the “Chosen One” aspect that follows him around. It’s obvious through the narrative that Brown is telling that Darrow is the only person who can step into these shoes. He is a bit holier than thou sometimes, but I blame that on writing and not character development.
I will admit, I also struggled a lot with the writing style and the pacing. It feels like when the action starts to move quickly, Brown changes how he writes. The action moves faster through words. I found that I frequently had to stop and re-read passages to try and get the image in my head. If it was intentional, it’s brilliant. I believe that in these action packed moments, Darrow is unable to really take in everything that is going on around him. However, it feels sloppy. Either way, I wish the pacing maintained itself. There are other ways to demonstrate this feeling if needed.
Money is power. But of all the things in all the worlds, words are power.
Unfortunately, I also found the way female characters were portrayed incredibly frustrating. They were obviously only present to be catalysts for the story arc and ways to help Darrow develop. Even our strongest female characters are quickly willing to cast everything aside for Darrow.
I will grow my legand and spread it amongst the peoples of all the worlds until I am fit to lead the armies that will break the chains of bondage, because I am not simply an agent for the Sons of Ares. I am not simply a tactic or a device in Ares’s schemes. I am the hope of my people. Of all people in bondage.
All in all, a very engaging YA novel– plus, we have a realistic, compelling male protagonist. I feel like we’ve seen a lot of Katniss and not a lot of Ender in our literature lately, so I’ll gladly take hold of this. It has some distraction flaws, but rumor on the street is that Golden Son surpasses this book. I wonder if that’s true in my eyes? I look forward to the rest of the trilogy!