(Red Rising #1)
By Pierce Brown
Genre: dystopia, science fiction
Goodreads Choice Award winner 2014
The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity’s last hope. Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it’s all a lie.
That Mars has been habitable – and inhabited – for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought. Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield – and Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda. Break the chains. Live for more.
I devoured this book front to back in one sitting. I just couldn’t put it down. This happens every now and then with me when a book sucks me into its world, but I did not expect it, especially since the first chapters were a bit slow and the exploration of the universe only fragmentary. There is no doubt why fellow readers voted it a Goodreads Choice Award winner 2014. It certainly deserves it. 😀
There were only minor things that bothered me in the beginning of the story, but not enough to lower my rating to 4.5 stars. But since I devoured the book, I may have overlooked a thing or two by not contemplating the characters and plotline more closely.
The writing style of this space dystopia sucks you in once you get familiar with the world but don’t get too comfortable; the book turns your every expectation on its head, surprising you with twists and turns, betrayals and surprising allies, secret and not so secret enemies… The element combining these elements is world-building which is based on the old Roman Empire. So you understand some elements of the society from history but see it implemented in a technologically far more advanced society than ours. It’s a potent mix that explores many themes – from slavery, political structure, military-led society, corruption, and philosophy. And I love that it’s not just a simple adventure and betrayal story but a long hard look into human psyche and society, a dystopia that makes you think and evaluate your life, your choices and your society as well. That is why it deserves such a high rating.
Colonisation of planets in our solar systems is fascinating on its own and I fully expect to see all the corners of the explored space at some point in the series. Mars is an excellent starting point because it is close enough to Earth to make the outcome of the fight more relevant and yet remote enough to give our protagonist some much needed wiggle room when he makes a miscalculation, or two. As said before, Brown doesn’t dwell too much on explaining the world; he lets us explore it through the eyes of Darrow.
“Look into yourself, Darrow, and you’ll realize that you are a good man who will have to do bad things.”….
“See. That’s what I don’t get. If I am a good man, then why do I want to do bad things?”
Darrow is just as lost as we are, so we never feel dumb for not getting things; rather we feel sympathy for him and admire his tenacity. As Darrow explores his new world, we are given the necessary information to follow the progress of his story and to speculate about what the consequences of certain actions will be. As a former Red, he must now find a place in a society that does not allow weaknesses or mistakes, not even true friendship. An almost impossible task – thankfully his way of thinking is different from others.
The social hierarchy is based on genetic manipulation and colours – from Red at the bottom to Gold at the top). No mingling of classes is allowed and the rules are brutally enforced. Yet the surprising and deadly transformation from a lowly Red into a young Gold is something the Empire does not expect because it is so impossible. That is also the perfect cover for Darrow if he wants to infiltrate the highest levels of society and free his people. But it is not so easy – he must blend into a society that is completely foreign to him, from their expressions, stories, and upbringing to their outlook on life and values.
“You do not follow me because I am the strongest. Pax is. You do not follow me because I am the brightest. Mustang is. You follow me because you do not know where you are going. I do.”
The two characters that help him the most are Mustang (a fierce female warrior and probably the smartest person in the camp) and Sevro. Sevro in particular is my favourite and if I had to choose between Darrow and Sevro I’m afraid I’d go with the latter. Sevro plays by his own rules and he’s too smart by far to get too comfortable anywhere. If the author ever decides to kill him off you can expect some angry tweets or posts by yours truly. But there are other characters that will surprise you with their depths and complexity. And you know how hard it is to find a book that treats side characters as equally important to the protagonist?
“Funny thing, watching gods realize they’ve been mortal all along.”
This book is just the start, an entry point into a very complex universe. It is a dystopia that also moonlights as gladiator games. You’ll love it because it doesn’t shy away from the ugly and brutal. It will make you question so many things you take for granted, make you doubt every character’s motives and give you one hell of reading experience. A movie studio has already bought filming rights to it so I hope we get to experience it on screen as well. 😀