Red Rising: A Review

Every once in a while, a book comes along and before you're even a third of the way into it, you know it's going to be a phenomenon ala Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones.  Red Rising is one of those books, the first of a trilogy, and it's nearly impossible to put down.  (I ate one-handed for two days.) I hear Marc Forster (World War Z) is set to direct the movie already.

While our protagonist Darrow is a teenager, this book is not billed as a young adult, nor is it one. They grow up fast on Mars and die young, especially when they're Reds, as Helldiver Darrow, his wife and family are, and Reds are at the bottom of an oppressive caste system, with many rungs in between the Reds and the Golds, the godlike uppermost caste.  Tragedy throws Darrow into the path of a rebel group, the Sons of Ares, and for the first time he finds out the truth about his world.  Reds are the miners, living belowground, who have been told their efforts help keep the rest of humanity alive and working towards colonizing the surface of Mars. Instead, the other colors/castes have been living aboveground for many years, beautifying the planet and living in luxury while the Reds have slaved away below.  In Darrow, with his skills, intelligence and burning desire for revenge, the Sons of Ares have found their perfect weapon to use against the Golds and the horrific system of privilege they perpetuate.

Pierce Brown's storytelling moves the characters and plot of Red Rising so quickly, sometimes I felt like I had to stop and take a breath or two, much as I didn't want to.  Forget the freight train analogy, this is a heat-seeking missile. Brown says he grew up building forts and setting traps in the woods for his cousins, and as Darrow plans his moves,  Brown must be reliving his childhood strategies and delighting in giving his character all the props he could ever have imagined. For any of us that were lucky enough to grow up the same way, this is the ultimate life and death capture-the-castle game.

Red Rising manages to be much more than that. It's a hard look at prejudice, brutality, oppression and justice and what people and societies can allow themselves to become along with what it may take to effect change in a static world. I'm looking forward to the next one, Golden Son, and I hope it lives up to the first.  There will be comparisons to Hunger Games, among others, but Red Rising can withstand it. Dystopian and vengeful, yes. Memorable characters and exciting action,  yes.  Copycat, no way.

Red Rising
By Pierce Brown