While at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, the Del Rey booth was handing out free stuff. Amongst the goodies were copies of a book called Red Rising by Pierce Brown. Now maybe I’ve been under a rock, but I hadn’t heard of this book, series or author before even though it’s a New York Times Bestseller. It wasn’t high on my reading list as I wanted to finish a couple books first. But once my plate was cleared off, I looked at the to-read pile and decided it was time to give this one a chance. I started to read a little bit and got a Hunger Games vibe from it. At first I thought it was going to just be a Hunger Games rip off, but I liked the prose and there was something intriguing about it. I kept going, and then it hooked me…and it didn’t stop. The hook just sank deeper and deeper until I was sucked into the story and fist pumping at the ceiling in excitement as it reved up to full climax. To say the least, it was a joyous read. Seriously, this one is worth your time to take a look at it.
It all starts with a little passage that sets the stage.
“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war. I watch twelve hundred of their strongest sons and daughters. Listening to a pitiless Golden man speak between great marble pillars. Listening to the beast who brought the flame that gnaws at my heart.”
Right there, the prose caught my attention. But who is this “Golden man” he speaks of? What did he do to the character who is speaking that would have him speak so? The story had my curiosity going from the very beginning. But that opening passage was just the start. Here’s the beginning of chapter one.
“The first thing you should know about me is I am my father’s son. And when they came for him, I did as he asked. I did not cry. Not when the Society televised the arrest. Not when the Golds tried him. Not when the Grays hanged him. Mother hit me for that. My brother Kieran was suppose to be the stoic one. He was the elder, I the younger. I was supposed to cry. Instead, Kieran bawled like a girl when Little Eo tucked a haemanthus into Father’s left workboot and ran back to her own father’s side. My sister Leanna murmured a lament beside me. I just watched and thought it a shame that he died dancing but without his dancing shoes.
On Mars there is not much gravity. So you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.”
Now that’s an intriguing way to start a story. It paints a picture of a society categorized by colors. It describes a tragedy for the main character, but also defines his character. Then there’s the little nugget about gravity and hanging and the Society forcing the loved ones to participate. It’s a grim world, but fascinating. The book continues along this fashion, creating a dark future for humanity on the soil of foreign planets. The main character, Darrow, is a miner and he works beneath the surface of Mars. For generations the laborers known as the Reds have mined for Helium-3 which is needed to terraform Mars and to make it habitable for those suffering on Earth. Their cause is a noble one. They are the pioneers for our future. However, their way of life is harsh. They never get to see the surface. The working conditions are dangerous. On top of that, the society they live is broken down into castes with the higher colors enjoying greater privileges and an easier lifestyle. The Reds mine for minerals, the Grays oversee them, more colors fill the void and the various functions in between, and on top are the Golds.
The beginning of the story explores Darrow’s life as a helldiver, the operator of a drill in the mines. It also provides an opportunity to show what this world is like. It’s oppressive and grim, but people still find happiness in it. Then things happen and the story shifts. Going in, I knew nothing about what I was in for. In a way, I’d like to keep it that way for future readers. All you need to know is that this is a story reminiscent of The Hunger Games series, but geared for adults. It’s rich in character development, has some wonderful prose, and is a lot of fun to get sucked into. It’s also the first book in a trilogy, so be prepared to pick up another book when you finish this one. If you’re like me, you’ll be eager to find out what happens next. But if you need more to convince you of what this book has in store, read on, and beware some minor spoilers.
As you might expect, Darrow escapes the mines. What he finds on the surface of Mars surprises him. The people he hooks up with show him a new world. Through them, he finds out how the other colors of society live. This transitions to him going to a school, which mind sound like a tired trope, but ends up being a great part of the story. Darrow goes to the Institute where the Gold become the Peerless Scarred, the highest of their society. It’s not a school like Harry Potter. In this school, the classroom is a battleground. Unlike The Hunger Games, the classmates do not fight for one winner, but each class fights as a team to conquer all the others. There is violence, maiming and death. Tribes struggle for resources, to stay warm, to stay fed, and most of all, to stay safe. There are alliances, there is savagery, and there are those who learn to lead. It’s an exploration of the primitive elements of society, humanity and survival. Through the experiences in the Institute, you see the best and worst of the human race. The warring nature of this part of the book has a fantasy feel to it, but with sci-fi elements. Remember, the whole thing takes place on Mars about a thousand years in the future. They have technology to match that advancement, but in the school, such things as grav boots and ion lances must be earned. Until then, they fight with their fists, with clubs, and anything else they can get their hands on.
I started this book on a whim, feared it might be a cheap knock off, and then was floored at what a beautiful story it turned into. Red Rising is a book I highly recommend checking out. It has elements of both sci-fi and fantasy, it’s rich in character development, and the prose makes it a delightful read. If you’re looking for a book to pass the time, this should be on the top of your list right now. I give it five out of five metal bikinis and look forward to reading the next novel in the trilogy.