Book Review | Red Rising by Pierce Brown

15839976Well, heck. If this isn’t how you open a series, then I don’t know how you do.

Red Rising starts deep below the Martian surface, where Darrow, a “Red,” lives and works the mines as a helldiver retrieving helium-3 which will fuel the terraforming of Mars. Reds are on the bottom of the class system, ruled by the Society. They are promised a better future, if they will but sacrifice for the greater good, today. Darrow grumbles, but he is happy to have his beloved Eo, the love of his life and his bride. Together they will sacrifice so that someday humanity will be able to escape Earth and colonize Mars.

It is all a lie. Reds are slaves to the decadent Golds, and when Eo commits act of rebellion, she will set Darrow on a path that will send him to the heart of the Society’s empire.

With Red Rising, Pierce Brown has raised the bar for Young Adult science fiction and set a new standard by which I’ll judge genre novels. From the opening scene to the closing, Red Rising rips along at a break neck pace, pausing only to let you catch your breath, fill in a few pertinent details, and then pick back up again. Brown writes in a first person style that is both peculiar and gripping, giving the narrative an urgent quality. It took only a couple of paragraphs to fall into it, and I was soon swept away.

In addition to an exciting plot, Brown’s characters are full and three-dimensional, alive and vibrant on the page. With events, narration, and dialogue, they grow, develop, and change with an alacrity that is exciting. Every single character feels unique, alive and distinct. They interact with their world with a colorful alacrity, often violently and dramatically. Truly, characters don’t act this way in the real world–and that’s what makes Red Rising‘s cast so interesting. They are types, exaggerated beyond reality, that show the characteristics and nature of each of us. Brown’s eye towards building those characters is alert for not only details, but the right details. It’s brilliant, and the way the characters play off one another is one of my favorite aspects of the book.

When I was younger, and I could afford the opera–because I was a student and they let students in for just a few bucks up from free–I would attend every chance I had. It was music, mayhem, and revenge…a thrilling combination. Though lacking music, Red Rising has all of that. It is, at root, a story of revenge, cold revenge, redemption, and the yearning for freedom from repression. And, like the opera, it is poetic, dramatic, and, of course, thrilling.

Red Rising Book Cover Red Rising
Red Rising Trilogy #1
Pierce Brown
Young Adult - Science Fiction
Del Rey Books
January 28, 2014

“I live for the dream that my children will be born free,” she says. “That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.”

“I live for you,” I say sadly.

Eo kisses my cheek. “Then you must live for more.”

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and lush wilds spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power.  He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies . . . even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.