Reminiscent of The Hunger Games, Red Rising is the first part in a debut trilogy from Pierce Brown. If you enjoy dystopic fiction, Greek and Roman mythology, or science fiction, then this is the book for you.
Our story begins beneath the surface of Mars. Mankind is terraforming planets, and requires a large force of workers to mine elements necessary to tame the ground above. Darrow is a Red, the lowest color group in a tightly controlled society modeled after the Romans. Darrow doesn’t mind working in the mines, believing that his strength will help the terraforming efforts, even though the life of a Red is a difficult, short one.
But after Darrow’s wife Eo is hung for treason, he discovers the truth about Mars—it was terraformed and colonized 700 years prior, and the higher colors chose to keep certain groups under the surface to toil as slaves (in a sort of reverse Morlocks/Eloi scenario). Recruited by the revolutionist group “the Sons of Ares,” Darrow becomes part of a clandestine endeavor to right the wrongs of their civilization. Darrow’s task is to infiltrate the high ranks of Golds, the top color tier who rule the galaxy with an iron fist.
In order to ruin the corrupt, antediluvian society from the inside out, Darrow must change everything about himself. He undergoes all types of cosmetic surgeries, learns how to speak like a Gold, and trains for the Institute. The Institute, though not a requirement, is highly reminiscent of Suzanne Collins’ Arena; teenagers play a “game” in which there is death, deception, and strategy. Broken up into Houses (i.e. House Ceres, House Apollo, House Vulcan), they must work together to defeat and conquer the other groups of children. When one becomes leader of their House, he or she becomes Primus. Whichever Primus is able to collect all the Houses wins the game, and has choice pick of alliances, apprenticeships, and so on for the rest of his or her life. This is Darrow’s impossible goal.
The plot and world building of Red Rising are both intricate and well structured. While certain elements are comparable to the surge of current YA fiction, this story is able to stand alone for a few reasons. For one, it isn’t really YA. In many ways it is more brutal than even the idea of children killing each other in the Arena for the amusement of the Capitol. It also has several political themes that are often missing in YA fiction. While there were some faults, they were few. I often found Darrow difficult to connect with at the beginning of the book (though by the end, I was cheering for him to win), and there were several areas where I felt like taking a red pen to the tome and writing show don’t tell. That is Brown’s one blunder: as a reader I didn’t feel trusted to remember details.
Overall, the story is exciting, if a bit slow at the start. I am already anxious to pick up the sequel, Golden Son. 4/5 stars.