Back cover blurb from Goodreads:
Darrow is a miner and a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he digs all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of the planet livable for future generations. Darrow has never seen the sky.
Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better future for his children.
But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks 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 joins a resistance group in order to infiltrate the ruling class and destroy society from within. He will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.
These days, bookshelves overflow with dystopian fiction. I am happy to say the science fiction dystopian “Red Rising” by debut author Pierce Brown is a cut above the rest. It has more than that usual plucky teenage hero struggling to bring down an oppressive government that wants to keep his/her family, friends, society in chains. Oh no! This has the blood-pumping excitement of The Hunger Games first novel mixed with the deep political, psychological examination in “Lord of the Flies”. This book is bloodydamn bad-ass. A lot of early reviewer say the Red Rising trilogy is the next big thing. I’m going to echo that sentiment. Hell! I’m going to scream it to the heavens!
Sorry. I’m still shaking from when I finished the book. Let me put the text down. There. Hold on a minute… Okay. I’m good.
At first, most readers will dismiss “Red Rising” as a Hunger Games clone. The plot is simple. Hundreds of years in the future, mankind is conquering the stars. In their quest to do so they have conquered each other, placing the strongest at the top as feudal rulers in a suedo-Victorian space society that is ordered based on color-system. The lowest in society are a serf-like people that mine a rare mineral that makes terraforming planets possible. The rulers are the Golds. The Golds live in luxury, politicking, maneuvering; life is their chessboard and the other colors are their pawns, their slaves for pleasure and labor. At the bottom are the Red. (There are a dozen more colors in between, all with varying physical traits, strengths, and weakness dictating their place in the hierarchy.) The Red are a clan-like people. Family and loyalty are their passions, expressed through song and dance. But the Red live in poverty, toiling in the dirt underneath the ground. They live a lie. The Gold tell the Red that they mine for the future of the human race, so that one day humans may live on the surface of the planets in the Milky Way as they once did on the dying Earth. Only, the humans already do! Above, on the surface of Mars (the novel’s setting), grand futuristic cities stand erected. The air on Mars is breathable. The life of the Red is a lie.
Darrow is the perfect Red, his clan’s Helldiver. Strong. Quick thinking. Loyal. Darrow takes chances in order for his clan to when the coveted laurel and increased stores of food and medicine. Except the game is rigid. His clan will never win. Still, Darrow toils under the yoke of a lie. He’s building a better future for his people on Mars. That confidence in the system is destroyed the day all is taken away from Darrow… His clan. His purpose. His wife. All he has left is his wife’s dream and revenge.
Up to this point, “Red Rising” is typical. Darrow is a man comfortable going along with his overlord’s rule as long as his life is not disrupted. While the first bit of the novel is slow and predictable, Brown is establishing Darrow as someone the reader can relate to. The everyman. Toil from sun up to sun down and even you may have a future… or at least your childrens’ children will have that future. Strive for the greater good. Don’t rock the boat. Except, when the overloads rock the boat, a hero must arise. The everyman must transform. And Darrow does transform. He is a man seeking justice and change. Albeit, the reader can still relate to Darrow, even if his motives—to punish the overlords for their subterfuge, to see his wife’s dream become real, to cast off the yoke around his people’s necks, a dream not his own—are fueled by rage and revenge. Having met the old Darrow allows the reader (and Darrow) to justify his coming bloody actions to enact change.
Once Darrow makes his choice to transform to punish his overlords, to incite revolution from the inside of the government, the novel picks up and fires off at a rapid pace. Pages fly after a clandestine group of rebels called the Sons of Aries recruit Darrow to become their mole in the Gold government and turn him in to a Gold through body trendy, stylish modification and social instruction.
The remainder of the novel consists of Darrow’s integration into the upper-crust of the Golds through acceptance into the highly competitive and sought after Institute. While the teenage initiates are sorted into houses based on Roman pantheon, this is no Hogwarts. Nor is the Institute’s version of the Hunger Games.
Darrow and the upper-crust children of the Golds are dropped into a brutal game of Capture the Flag. The only rule: become the leader (Primus) of your house and win the game by enslave the other houses.
Here’s is where “Red Rising” channels the spirit of “Lord of the Flies”.
The Red are supposed to be the most primal, barbaric part of society. The bottom rung. The Gold are superior. They settle disputes with duels of the sword. Dress in finery. Are the standard of beauty. They are the strongest in mind, body, and will. Yet, put the Gold children in the Institute’s game and the core of the ruling Gold is revealed… they are just as barbaric and primal as the Red they shun and debase as their lessers. To rule over the other houses, each Gold is to do whatever it takes. They will hunt wild animals with their bare hands. Rip flesh with their fingernails and teeth. Rape each other. Crucify their fellows. The point is to rule, to subjugate, to create the next Alexander, the next Caesar.
Darrow soon sees the magnificent Golds with dirt under the fingernails, ribs pulling at their starved flesh, hair muddied and no longer shinning the pure gold of their name. Most importantly, Darrow sees he is no better. He would like to think so. Before the Institute, Darrow wanted to bring down the Golds, tear down the society, free his people. Bring war to the Golds and the other colors that follow their rule. But Darrow would bring peace. Quickly Darrow sees how much blood is required for this peace, for a the dream, that peace is not whitewashed but messy. He tries to strive to be better than the Golds but in Darrow’s quest to win the game, to propel himself up through society so that he may bring it down from the top ranks, he learns just how far he must go. At one point, Darrow views himself through a mirror and sees the Gold he’s become. To rule in the game he tries subjugated those he would call friend and those people he would lead, just as a Gold would, but with limited success. There are many different ways to rule and like in “Lord of the Flies”, “Red Rising” shows Darrow’s struggle to figure out how to build a society. Through fear and blood? Or using compassion and brotherhood to bring people together?
One other thing Darrow struggles with is trust. He believes himself trapped in a den of pitvipers ready to strike. Maybe Darrow is trapped. He sees friends, allies, but has a hard time trusting those people. That is one of the reasons he fails so often in the novel to become a good leader. Trust. Loyalty. His revenge and hate hold him back. That is the game of the Institute. But to succeed, Darrow must learn to change the rules and look beyond colors.
“Red Rising” is a novel about building societies. It succeeds because it doesn’t focus on bringing down the color-based society but rather examining the people, the leadership, the goals. Why are we rebelling? What will we rebuild when the dust settles and all we have left is rubble?
While Brown succeeds in presenting multiple characters with layered personalities, distinguished by their actions and motives, this is Darrow’s story. The story is told by Darrow and he is a biased narrator. All the more fun to wonder just who these people are Darrow is interacting with. Are their motives actually how Darrow sees them or is there more?
A fantastic read. “Red Rising” is one of my favorite books in many years. Rush out and pick up this book when it drops on January 28, 2014. Stab your neighbor in the back. Push and shove everyone out of the way, stomp on some hands like it’s Black Friday and there’s a only two of something left and that toy/tv/video game must be yours. Or you can pre-order the book (click here to visit Amazon’s “Red Rising” product page). Just get a copy. This is the next big thing.
Support author Pierce Brown by visiting his website (click here).